The last month has been a wild time for Sage SalesLogix users, particularly for those using a cloud implementation. Between Amazon outages and a nasty hurricane, very little could bring the inherent limitations of the cloud into sharper relief. And nothing like a first class disaster can better emphasize the need for preparedness. There are things outside of your control, and even outside of our control here at Sage SalesLogix Support, but you can minimize the impact of those events with a little foresight and planning. An ounce of prevention really can be worth a pound of cure.
What do you mean I need Internet access to use the cloud?
If there is one scenario that can generate panic faster than fire, flood, or a bomb threat, it is embodied in four little words: “The Internet is down!” This phrase, along with its ancestor “the network is down!”, is understandably terrifying. With so much of the daily workload handled by an Internet-based application, anything that impedes or outright blocks the flow of data is an issue that needs to be addressed with all possible alacrity. However, your fingers should not be punching the speed dial button for Sage SalesLogix Support as the very first step to resolve the issue.
First, don’t panic. Yes, the potential loss of revenue is serious and needs to be treated as such, but calling Sage SalesLogix Support when you’re in the middle of coming unglued mentally and emotionally is only going to make things worse. Take a few moments, get yourself centered, then set your mind to examining the problem.
Work your way out from your workstation to the cloud server. If you’re having a problem, see if you’re the only one having a problem or if everybody is having a problem. Check with your network admins and make sure they’re not having a problem with the network routers, firewalls, or proxy servers in your location. If the internal network seems to be good, try regular Internet browsing. Most people will simply try to hit Google and call it good if they can reach it. Go a little further. Hit multiple different sites. Check with your ISP, make sure there isn’t some sort of outage or reported issue currently ongoing. Once you’re certain that the issue is on the cloud servers, give Sage SalesLogix Support a call and bring us into the picture.
Aren’t you guys hosting my cloud servers?
In a word: nope. Sage does not have the infrastructure in place to host cloud environments, and we’re unlikely to have that infrastructure in place anytime in the future. We’ve partnered up with Amazon Web Services for our cloud environments, because they have the infrastructure available and can get new environments spun up rapidly.
This is all predicated on the premise that Amazon will be able to keep the servers up 99.9% of the time. Most of the time, they do just that. Once in a while, however, things fall apart. To their credit, Amazon does have procedures in place for most common sorts of outages, but there are some scenarios where Amazon does not have a procedure and the scope of the outage is complex enough or unusual enough that an effort greater than rebooting a server will be required.
The thing that must be kept in mind at all times with cloud computing is this: there is no such thing as a free lunch. The server or servers that make up a Sage SalesLogix Cloud environment is not physically present. It is a virtual server, a simulated server, which is being backstopped by a section of an actual physical server in a data center. As the recent Amazon outage demonstrated, when hardware or software in that data center fails, it takes out every virtual server built on it. And until Amazon gets that hardware back up and running, nobody is getting anything done.
What do I do?! I’ve got customers that need to be serviced! I’M LOSING MONEY!
Again, don’t panic. You have to treat a cloud environment outage in much the same way that you would treat a power outage at your location or a loss of telecom infrastructure. Hopefully, you’ve prepared contingencies for those scenarios, so applying those contingencies should be no problem at all.
If you haven’t prepared contingencies, now is a good time to start, before the next disaster hits. Start by getting together with your management teams and let them know this is going to be a group effort. Sales is going to be doing the same thing as Customer Service, which is doing the same thing as Billing, which is doing the same thing as Shipping & Receiving. Map out the workflow of your departments and how they interact with Sage SalesLogix. Determine what information is entered on a normal interaction and what information comes out that is passed to contacts (ticket numbers, contract numbers, etc.). Figure out the absolute minimum that you need to obtain in order to get business done.
Once you’ve made that assessment, consider putting together logbooks for departments to enter information into. They can be as fancy as three ring binders with printed forms to fill out or as simple as spiral notebooks with a basic format pasted on the inside of the front cover. Why paper forms? Paper has the virtue of being easily accessible under all but the most catastrophic circumstances. You could create a Word document template and tell users to use that, saving interactions to a specific folder on their hard drives or on a network drive. But if you’re hit by a power outage at your site or somebody carelessly cut through a chunk of fiber optic cable near you, your cloud environment is just as inaccessible as it would be if there was a data center issue at Amazon, in which case you’d be down to using paper anyway.
After everything has passed and you have access to your cloud environment once more, you’ll have the information on hand to start entering into Sage SalesLogix. It won’t be fun, and depending on the length of the outage, you may be looking at a lot of backfilling. But you won’t be completely dead in the water.
Isn’t there any way to avoid this? There’s got to be something!
Cloud computing is exciting from a technological and logistical standpoint, but it is not a magic bullet. There are benefits and liabilities to it, and you need to be aware of those liabilities so you can plan around them. Going forward, new possibilities may arise. Right now, Sage has partnered with Amazon, but with Microsoft announcing their Azure cloud service and the rise of other cloud providers, there may be potential opportunities for creating or maintaining a “hot backup” failover environment with another provider if Amazon goes down on us. The emergence of “hybrid clouds” which mingle Amazon-style hosted services and on-premise data center infrastructure is also another avenue which we may look at in the future.
For right now, we work with what we have, and we need to plan for every possible contingency. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, from us and from yourselves. Remember, the only silly question is the one you don’t ask.