Posts Tagged 'Functionality'

April 10, 2013

Plivo: Tech Partner Spotlight

We invite each of our featured SoftLayer Tech Marketplace Partners to contribute a guest post to the SoftLayer Blog, and this week, we're happy to welcome Mike Lauricella from Plivo. Plivo is an open communications and messaging platform with advanced features, simple APIs, easy management and volume pricing.

Company Website: http://www.plivo.com/
Tech Partners Marketplace: http://www.softlayer.com/marketplace/plivo

Bridging the Gap Between the Web and Telephony

Businesses face a fundamental challenge in the worlds of telephony and messaging: Those worlds move too slowly, require too much telecom knowledge and take too long to adopt. As a result, developers often forgo phone and SMS functionality in their applications because the learning curves are so steep, and the dated architecture seems like a foreign language. Over the last twenty years, the web has evolved a lot faster than telephony, and that momentum only widens the gap between the "old" telecom world and the "new" Internet world. Plivo was created to bridge that gap and make telephony easy for developers to understand and incorporate into their applications with simple tools and APIs.

I could bore you to tears by describing the ins and outs of what we've learned about telephony and telecom since Plivo was founded, but I'd rather show off some of the noteworthy ways our customers have incorporated Plivo in their own businesses. After all, seeing those real-world applications is much more revealing about what Plivo does than any description of the nuts and bolts of our platform, right?

Conferencing Solution
The purest use-cases for Plivo are when our customers can simply leverage powerful telephony functionality. A perfect example is a conferencing solution one of our customers created to host large-scale conferences with up to 200 participants. The company integrated the solution into their product and CRM so that sales reps and customers could jump on conference calls quickly. With that integration, the executive management team can keep track of all kinds of information about the calls ... whether they're looking to find which calls resulted in closed sales or they just want to see the average duration of a conference call for a given time frame.

Call Tracking
Beyond facilitate conference calls quickly and seamlessly, many businesses have started using Plivo's integration to incorporate call tracking statistics in their environments. Call tracking is big business because information about who called what number, when they called, how long they talked and the result of the call (sale, no sale, follow up) can determine whether the appropriate interaction has taken place with prospects or customers.

Two Factor Authentication
With ever-increasing concerns about security online, we've seen a huge uptick in developers that come to Plivo for help with two factor authentication for web services. To ensure that a new site registrant is a real person who has provided a valid phone number (to help cut down on potential fraud), they use Plivo to send text messages with verification codes to those new registrant.

Mass Alert Messaging
Because emergencies can happen at any time, our customers have enlisted Plivo's functionality to send out mass alerts via phone calls and SMS messages when their customers are affected by an issue and need to be contacted. These voice and text messages can be sent quickly and easily with our automated tools, and while no one ever wants to deal with an emergency, having a solid communication lifeline provides some peace of mind.

WebRTC
An emerging new standard for communications is WebRTC — open project that enables web browsers with Real-Time Communications (RTC) capabilities. WebRTC make communications a feature of the Web without plugins or complex SIP clients. Plivo already supports WebRTC, and even though the project is relatively young, it's already being used in some amazing applications.

These use-cases are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how our customers are innovating on our platform, but I hope it helps paint a picture of the kinds of functionality Plivo enables simply and quickly. If you've been itching to incorporate telephony into your application, before you spending hours of your life poring over complex telecom architecture requirements, head over to plivo.com to see how easy we can make your life. We offer free developer accounts where you can start to make calls to other Plivo users and other SIP endpoints immediately, and we'd love to chat with you about how you can leverage Plivo to make your applications communicate.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop us a note at hello@plivo.com, and we'll get back to you with answers.

-Mike Lauricella, Plivo

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
August 15, 2012

Managing Support Tickets: Email Subscriptions

This week, the development team rolled out some behind-the-scenes support functionality that I think a lot of our customers will want to take advantage of, so I put together this quick blog post to spread the word about it. With the new release, the support department is able to create "Ticket Email Subscriptions" for different ticket groups on every customer account. As a customer, you might not be jumping up and down with joy after reading that one-sentence description, but after you hear a little more about the functionality, if you're not clapping, I hope you'll at least give us a thumbs-up.

To understand the utility of the new ticket email subscription functionality, let's look at how normal tickets work in the SoftLayer portal without email subscriptions:

User Creates Ticket

  1. User A creates a ticket.
  2. User A becomes the owner of that ticket.
  3. When SoftLayer responds to the ticket, an email notification is sent to User A to let him/her know that the ticket has been updated.

SoftLayer Creates Ticket

  1. SoftLayer team creates a ticket on a customer's account.
  2. The primary customer contact on the account is notified of the new ticket.
  3. Customer logs into the portal and responds to ticket.
  4. Customer gets notifications of updates (as described above).

There's nothing wrong with the existing support notification process, but that doesn't mean there aren't ways to make the process better. What if User A creates an urgent ticket on his/her way out the door to go on vacation? User B and User C aren't notified when an update is posted on User A's ticket, so the other users aren't able to get to the ticket and respond as quickly as they would have if they received the notification. What if the primary customer contact on the account isn't the best person to receive a monitoring alert? The administrator who will investigate the monitoring alert has to see the new ticket on the account or hear about it from the primary contact (who got the notification).

Ticket email subscriptions allow for customers to set contact addresses to be notified when a ticket is created, edited or moved in a particular ticket group. Here are the ticket groups differentiated in our initial release:

  • Billing - Any ticket in our Billing department
  • Maintenance - Scheduled maintenance notifications for specific servers
  • Network Protection - DDoS mitigation and Null Routes
  • Monitoring - Host Down Alerts
  • CST, SysAdmin and Hardware - Any ticket in our support and data center departments
  • Managed Services - Tickets that relate to any managed services
  • Network Maintenance - Scheduled network maintenance

You'll notice that Abuse isn't included in this list, and the only reason it's omitted is because you've always been able to designate a contact on your account for abuse-related tickets ... Ticket subscriptions extend that functionality to other ticket groups.

Because only one email address can be "subscribed" to notifications in each ticket group, we recommend that customers use their own distribution lists as the email contacts. With a DL as the contact, you can enable multiple users in your organization to receive notifications, and you can add and remove users from each distribution list on your end quickly and easily.

When User A creates a ticket with the data center and goes on vacation, as soon as SoftLayer responds to the ticket, User A will be notified (as usual), and the supportsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will get notified as well. When a network maintenance is ticket is created by SoftLayer, the netmaintsubscription@yourdomain.com distribution will be notified.

Ticket email subscriptions are additive to the current update notification structure, and they are optional. If you want to set up ticket email subscriptions on your account, create a ticket for the support department and provide us with the email addresses you'd like to subscribe to each of the ticket groups.

We hope this tool helps provide an even better customer experience for you ... If you don't mind, I'm going to head back to the lab to work with the dev team to cook up more ways to add flexibility and improvements into the customer experience.

-Chris

June 11, 2012

"World IPv6 Launch Day" and What it Means for You

June 6, 2012, marked a milestone in the further advancement of the Internet: World IPv6 Launch Day. It was by no means an Earth-shattering event or a "flag day" where everyone switched over to IPv6 completely ... What actually happened was that content providers enabled AAAA DNS records for their websites and other applications, and ISPs committed to providing IPv6 connectivity to at least 1% of their customers by this date.

What's all of this fuss about the IPv6 transition about? The simplest way to explain the situation is that the current Internet can stay working as it does, using IPv4 addresses, forever ... if we're okay with it not growing any more. If no more homes and businesses wanted to get on the Internet, and no more new phones or tablets were produced, and no more websites or applications were created. SoftLayer wouldn't be able to keep selling new servers either. To prevent or lose that kind of organic growth would be terrible, so an alternative had to be created to break free from the limitations of IPv4.

IPv4 to IPv6

The long-term goal is to migrate the entire Internet to the IPv6 standard in order to eliminate the stifling effect of impending and inevitable IP address shortages. It is estimated that there are roughly 2.5 billion current connections to the Internet today, so to say the transition has a lot of moving parts would be an understatement. That complexity doesn't lessen the urgency of the need to make the change, though ... In the very near future, end-users and servers will no longer be able to get IPv4 connections to the Internet, and will only connect via IPv6.

The primary transition plan is to "dual-stack" all current devices by adding IPv6 support to everything that currently has an IPv4 address. By adding native IPv6 functionality to devices using IPv4, all of that connectivity will be able to speak via IPv6 without transitional technologies like NAT (Network Address Translation). This work will take several years, and time is not a luxury we have with the dwindling IPv4 pool.

Like George mentioned in a previous post, I see World IPv6 Launch day as a call-to-action for a "game changer." The IPv6 transition has gotten a ton of visibility from some of the most recognizable names on the Internet, but the importance and urgency of the transition can't be overstated.

So, what does that mean for you?

To a certain extent, that depends on what your involvement is on the Internet. Here are a few steps everyone can take:

  • Learn all you can about IPv6 to prepare for the work ahead. A few good books about IPv6 have been published, and resources like ARIN's IPv6 Information Wiki are perfect places to get more information.
  • If you own servers or network equipment, check them for IPv6 functionality. Upgrade or replace any software or devices to ensure that you can deliver native IPv6 connectivity end-to-end without any adverse impact to IPv6 users. If any piece of gear isn't IPv6-capable, IPv6 traffic won't be able to pass through your network.
  • If you are a content provider, make your content available via IPv6. This starts with requesting IPv6 service from your ISP. At SoftLayer, that's done via a zero-cost sales request to add IPv6 addresses to your VLANs. You should target 100% coverage for your services or applications — providing the same content via IPv6 as you do via IPv4. Take an inventory of all your DNS records, and after you've tested extensively, publish AAAA records for all hostnames to start attracting IPv6 traffic.
  • If you are receiving Internet connectivity to your home or business desktops, demand IPv6 services from your upstream ISP. Also be sure to check your access routers, switches and desktops to ensure they are running the most recent code with stable IPv6 support.
  • If you are running equipment such as firewalls, load balancers, IDS, etc., contact your vendors to learn about their IPv6 support and how to properly configure those devices. You want to make sure you aren't limiting performance or exposing any vulnerabilities.

Starting now, there are no more excuses. It's time to get IPv6 up and running if you want to play a part in tomorrow's Internet.

-Dani

May 9, 2012

Nexmo: Tech Partner Spotlight

This guest blog comes to us from Nexmo, a featured member of the SoftLayer Technology Partners Marketplace. Nexmo is the wholesale messaging API that lets you send and receive high volumes of SMS at a global level. In this video we talk to Nexmo CEO Tony Jamous about the benefits of Nexmo, how it came to be and the problem it solves for you.

Cutting out the Middleman with Nexmo

These days, optimizing mobile messaging deliverability comes at a price. Businesses must connect to multiple carriers, operate heavy infrastructure, and build their own data analytics. On top of that, many third-party SMS solutions require contracts, price negotiations and significant up-front costs.

Nexmo was created to eliminate the need for a business to connect to carriers or complex third party protocols through simple, powerful RESTful and SMPP APIs. Our scalable infrastructure allows you to send and receive SMS in high volumes to over 5 billion users around the world. This is a market need that hasn't been addressed, and we approached it with a few ideas in mind. If you were going to replicate the functionality of Nexmo on your own, these are the key areas you'd have to look at:

Direct to Carrier Model

With every hop, the quality of a connection has the potential to degrade, and cost inflates. Adding intermediaries in the chain also impact the granularity of collected data, such as delivery reports and reasons of failure. By reducing the number of hops to the final subscriber you'll see:

  • An improved delivery ratio and lower latency
  • Enhanced security
  • Fewer single points of failure
  • Reduced cost, less fat in the chain

With a closer position to the final carrier, a business can access more "Telco" data like phone status, whether it is ported to another network, or if it's roaming abroad. With that information, you can also make better routing decisions and ultimately see higher delivery ratios.

Get Your own SMS-Enabled Phone Numbers

We've seen in the last two years the emergence of "Over the Top" (OTT) messaging apps such as Google Voice and TextPlus. Those apps provide a virtual phone number to each user, and Nexmo behaves similarly by enabling apps to behave like a "super virtual carrier" without the need for heavy Telco infrastructure. North America is the most mature market with OTT players generating significant SMS traffic, and now these models are going abroad. We pinpointed a unique need in the value chain:

  • Source virtual phone numbers from global carriers
  • Build the business models that protect carriers' interests without eliminating the opportunity for innovative apps
  • Provide the elastic and scalable cloud infrastructure for high volume two-way transactions

Nexmo approached those needs with APIs that enabled app developers to search for available phone numbers, provision new numbers and cancel numbers they weren't using any more. It doesn't take days or weeks to launch in a new market ... Apps can launch in a new market in a matter of hours with minimal upfront investment!

Improve and Track Deliverability

Enterprises and developers have shifted the focus in the buying process. They are looking for more transparency and accountability, so tracking and monitoring hundreds, thousands or even millions of messages can be of utmost importance.

For every SMS sent, the Nexmo API provides a detailed report of delivery. We push this data into the cloud in real time, displayed in two ratios:

  • The Success Ratio: The percentage of message received by the phone. This ratio measures how well traffic is performing.
  • The DLR Ratio: The percentage of messages with a delivery receipt. This ratio tracks infrastructure and route performance.

Follow the Life of a Message from the Cloud

Most B2C services and resellers that send millions of SMS for things like alerts, phone verifications and access codes can get swarmed when it comes to user support. We know that's an intimidating prospect for any business looking to add SMS functionality to their app or platform, so we let our customers follow the life of a message from the cloud and gather more information about it. Some of the information we've found most helpful to track:

  • How fast was the message was delivered?
  • Was the phone available for receiving SMS?
  • Did the user enter the correct phone number?

Keeping an eye on these basic kinds of stats reduces the pain of supporting a large user base and enables your support staff to answer questions quickly because they have a good foundation of information.

Receive Outstanding Support

Building a customer centric culture is a sustainable competitive advantage. It is even more meaningful in a commoditized, price-driven industry like wholesale telecom. If you're going to approach the world of SMS messaging and deliverability, the need for outstanding support is even more urgent because, given the nature of SMS messaging, results are expected immediately.

When we started Nexmo, we knew that, and I'm proud to report that we constantly score over 95% in customer satisfaction, and we've noticed a few tricks that have helped us maintain that level of support:

  • Hire the right people: Empathy and service mindset are more important than technical skills
  • Provide self-help tools and open knowledge bases: Customers appreciate finding solutions by themselves
  • Measure help-desk performance and constantly improve: KPI includes first meaningful reply time, resolution time and satisfaction ratio.

We hope these tips can help you build on your existing support or give you a jumping-off point if you're just getting started.

There is so much more I could tell you about our experience in building Nexmo into the platform it is today, but it's a lot easier for you to just see for yourself. If you're interested in learning more about Nexmo, visit http://nexmo.com, sign up, and be ready to go live with us in a matter of minutes ... And to make it even easier, you can use the free credits we provide to give the platform a test drive.

If you've been intimidated by the daunting task of knocking on the doors of telcos and carriers to get easy-to-use and easy-to-track SMS functionality in your app, Nexmo can save you a lot of headaches.

-Tony Jamous, Nexmo

This guest blog series highlights companies in SoftLayer's Technology Partners Marketplace.
These Partners have built their businesses on the SoftLayer Platform, and we're excited for them to tell their stories. New Partners will be added to the Marketplace each month, so stay tuned for many more come.
March 28, 2012

SoftLayer Mobile on WP7 - Live Tiles and Notifications

In the past couple of months we've added some really cool Windows Phone 7.1 (Mango) features to the Softlayer Mobile application, including Lives Tiles and Notifications. While a basic Live Tile implementation is relatively easy, there's a fair amount of coding and architecture requirements to facilitate cooler Live Tile functionality and Notifications ... And we're all about doing things cooler.

Live Tiles is a such great feature of Windows Phone 7 largely because it gives the developer much more control over the device's user experience when compared to other mobile OSes. Live Tile functionality in its simplest form can be just 'Pinning' the Tile to the Start Menu with a deep link to a specific location within the application so that when clicked the user is taken to that location within the app. This can save the user a lot of time in having to navigate deep into an app if they know where they want to go. More advanced features of Live Tiles include programmatically giving the Tile a custom background image and displaying a notification message on the background when the Tile flips.

Adding a Live Tile

To add a Live Tile, a user simply clicks and holds the module they'd like to pin to the start menu. When the context menu appears, the user can select 'pin as tile,' and he or she will be taken to the Start page where the new Tile is displayed:

SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

The Magic Behind Sending Notifications

We really wanted to be able to notify a user when a notable event happens on his or her account (new ticket is created/updated, when a bill is overdue, etc.), and Windows Phone 7 provides some pretty phenomenal functionality in that area ... I wouldn't be surprised if other big mobile OSes copy Windows Phone 7's notifications in the future. When it comes to implementing notifications in SoftLayer Mobile, we needed to handle a few things:

  1. Get a Unique App+User Channel URI from Windows Push Notification Server
  2. Register URI & Channel Name with the Softlayer Registration Service (WCF we created)
  3. Store this URI, Channel Name and the user's Account in a DB
  4. Periodically poll for new tickets or updates (since we don't have a mechanism yet that can 'push' this alert when any notification event is triggered)
  5. Send Notification (whether it's a Toast or Tile notification) to device via the unique URI & Channel name.

I was going to include the architecture diagram here showing this relationship and process, but the designer sitting next to me told that nobody wants to see that.

What do the Numbers on the Tiles Mean?

We wanted to make our Tiles show information that the user would find useful, so we send the account's total unread ticket count to the main app's Tile, and we display the account's unread ticket update count on the "Ticket" Tile we pinned to the Start screen:

SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

Why is the Tile Flipping?

We also have the ability to have the Tiles flip over and show an image or text on the TileBack, so we use that to explain the number shown on the Tile (so you don't have to remember):

SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

What is a Toast Notification?

A Toast Notification is a message that pops up on the screen for 10 seconds. If the user clicks on it, he or she is taken to the application, but if the notification is not clicked, it will disappear. Here is the Toast Notification that is sent to a user when a ticket is updated if they subscribe to Toast Notifications:

SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

How do I Enable Notifications in SoftLayer Mobile?

To enable Live Tiles, all you have to do is turn on the 'Use Push Notifications' option on the Settings view.

SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

You'll be asked if you'd like to receive Toast Notifications, and if you click 'OK,' you'll start getting them:

SoftLayer on Windows Phone 7

We Love Feedback and Requests!

Now that you have Live Tiles & Notifications in Softlayer Mobile for WP7 (and coming soon for iPhone & Android), what else would you like to see in the mobile clients?

-Erik

November 1, 2011

SoftLayer on the iPad

Shortly after we began implementing the SoftLayer Mobile application for the iPhone and Android, Apple released the iPad. With our development resources limited, we focused on adding the functionality our customers required to the iPhone application with only a few small features added to support the new device.

As we became more familiar with the iPad, we started seeing a few key areas where SoftLayer Mobile could benefit from the large format iPad user interface. We've been able to incorporate a phenomenal feature set in the SoftLayer Mobile application, and as our desired feature set has become more and more complete, we've gotten a bit of breathing room from our iPhone releases. We used that breathing room to re-visit the iPad and what it could mean for the SoftLayer Mobile customer experience on a tablet. The result of that investigation is the SoftLayer Mobile HD application:

SL HD

As you might expect, SoftLayer Mobile HD shares quite a bit of functionality with its iPhone sibling. The application offers a window into your SoftLayer environment so that you can browse, create and edit support tickets; discover information about computing resources and bandwidth; and keep up-to-date on the latest notifications from our data centers. The iPad application also helps you keep track of financial information by allowing you to browse your account and its invoices. All this functionality benefits from the intuitive interface of the iPad. You have more room to browse, more room to edit, and fewer screens to navigate as you manage and explore your virtual SoftLayer data center.

SL HD

SL HD

Best of all: The application is only in its first release, and already shows great promise! We have plenty of room to grow and tons of ideas about the next features and functions we want to add. If you're iPad-equipped, get the SoftLayer Mobile HD application in the iTunes App Store. When you're navigating through the interface, take note of anything you'd like to see us change or add, and let us know!

-Scott

June 4, 2010

The Conception and Design of the SoftLayer Mobile Client for iPhone

A few short months ago, SoftLayer began a new application initiative, the Mobile Client. Our overarching goal is straightforward, take the powerful capabilities of the SoftLayer web portal, and put them in the palm of your hand. As is often the case, however, the things that are easiest to say, are not so easily done.

The fundamental problem we face in designing the mobile portal is the sheer volume of functionality available. On the web, the SoftLayer portal keeps the customer in control of their server environment. To offer that level of control the portal offers access to both a broad spectrum of information and a host of useful functionality. With the bar set that high, a mobile device with its comparatively sparse resources and small screen presents something of a challenge.

When computer scientists face a difficult problem, the first step is to narrow that problem down to a manageable size. There are some things you can do the vast, open range of a browser’s web page that are simply impractical on the small screen of a mobile device. Moreover, there are tasks you would perform when sitting at your computer in the office that you would likely never need to do from a mobile device when you are on-the-go. These two criteria helped us set aside some of the functionality found in the Web Portal as being not well suited for implementation on a mobile device.

Of course, a monkey wrench was thrown into this evaluation right in the middle of development. While we were working on the first version of the Mobile Client, Apple released the iPad. Suddenly things that would not have worked well on the small screen of a smart phone, were practical for a mobile device. Unfortunately (since happened in the middle of our development effort) we were unable to fully change our plans to incorporate the iPad, but it does offer an attractive avenue for future consideration.

In the end, what we decided was that the best way to focus our efforts, the best way to ensure that customers get the tools they need at their disposal as quickly as possible, was to make the customers a part of the design process. Our strategy would be to create a small application, one which could be developed quickly, and get that into our customer’s hands. From there we would let the customers help guide us to the additional functionality they desired the most.

Working with the body of experience at hand, we narrowed down the functionality of the vast web portal to a small seed, a set of features that are absolutely crucial for our customers. We focused on that small set of core functionality and planned out an application that would both be an asset to our customers and meet our goal of putting it in their hands quickly. The result is the Mobile Client we offer today.

At SoftLayer we are committed to providing customers with building complete access, control, security, and scalability into all of our portals. For the Mobile Client, however, we have intentionally started with a small, focused subset. As we grow the Mobile Client, we will do so in response to customer feedback to help ensure that the tool focuses on providing the functionality our customers need the most as soon as possible. The Mobile Client team invites you to try our application on your favorite mobile device and add your voice to helping it grow.

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