Varolii provides cloud-based automated solutions that help customers deliver personalized communications on a large scale. In fact, one out of every three Americans communicates with Varolii each year through the company’s customer interaction applications. To stay ahead of its competition, the company needs to provide high application uptime and ensure strong compliance.
The company implemented F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM) devices, which have improved resiliency and uptime and reduced application failover from 45 minutes to 30 seconds. The solution has also helped Varolii meet customer compliance requirements and lower its data center server count by 40 percent.
Headquartered in Seattle, Washington, Varolii is a leading provider of cloud-based customer interaction management solutions to Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies across the United States. The company offers hundreds of Software as a Service (SaaS) applications that enable automated customer services for major organizations in the healthcare, financial services, telecommunications, utilities, and airline industries.
Some of the firm’s most prominent customers are large banks, airlines, and utility companies. For example, the ninth-largest American bank uses the Varolii Interact platform to communicate proactively about time-sensitive topics to its mortgage holders through voice, SMS, and email.
A large, growing U.S.-based airline, relies on a Varolii interactive customer communications application to notify thousands of customers about their flight status. A personalized voice message, text message, or email communicates the details of the passenger’s updated itinerary, including airline, flight number, and departure date and time, and gate number. Another prominent U.S.-based airline uses Varolii Flight Team Management, an automated communications application, to quickly adjust flight and ground crew schedules when regularly scheduled crew members cannot work due to flight delays or cancellations. The application uses outbound two-way messages via phone calls, text message, and emails.
Finally, Varolii is also used for critical communications during a disaster or business disruption. For example, more than 150 organizations used the Varolii system to send hurricane-related communications to their employees, crisis teams, state and local emergency responders, utility customers, and students during Superstorm Sandy in November 2012. The volume of messages for those five days was 7.5 million deliveries, across multiple channels, including voice, text, and email.
To best serve its customers, Varolii must ensure reliability, supportability, and high performance. “Our customers have critical application requirements such as airline flight crew notifications and emergency communications, all of which demand near 100 percent uptime,” says David McCann, President and CEO of Varolii. “We also need to provide zero downtime for maintenance capabilities for our most high-profile customers.” Additionally, Varolii needs to best utilize its network and data center services for maximum capacity utilization.
Meeting these business goals was sometimes difficult in the company’s previous IT environment, however. “Our prior system was too slow and too expensive,” says Joel Chaplin, Vice President of Operations and CIO for Varolii. “We also wanted to remove the load balancing burden from our application server layer.” In addition, the organization had to manually redirect web traffic to alternate data centers through application configurations, some of which required changes by customers.
“It used to take up to an hour to coordinate resources and reconfigure application settings,” Chaplin states. “Planned downtime was another challenge. We used up to four hours of planned downtime each month, and that was just too much for our customers.”
Taken together, these technology challenges were holding Varolii back from growing its business. “To continue to grow, we knew we had to reduce costs and increase application availability,” remarks Chaplin.
In 2009, Varolii chose to implement a new network optimization infrastructure based on technology from F5. “We looked at several different vendors, but F5 offered the best features, the most platform flexibility, and the most easy-to-manage products on the market,” says McCann.
Varolii initially implemented several F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) devices in its four data centers in Denver, Colorado; Seattle, Washington; Watertown, Massachusetts; and Chicago, Illinois. BIG-IP LTM provides Varolii with intelligent network management and high availability for more than 200 servers. It functions as a reverse proxy to offer SSL acceleration and termination and re-encryption to web servers. In addition, the devices give Varolii the ability to utilize failover and health monitoring functionality. The organization uses the BIG-IP LTM devices in front of all inbound and outbound network traffic in its environment.
In 2011, Varolii consolidated its four data centers into two locations and integrated its BIG-IP LTM devices with two F5 BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager (GTM) devices. With the BIG-IP GTM devices, Varolii can provide geo-redundant operational capabilities for several of its key clients.
Varolii uses F5 BIG-IP technology for both local and geographical high availability of IP and DNS services, including all of its internal and external web and application service networks. Varolii also uses BIG-IP LTM to centrally manage SSL vulnerabilities and to customize application layer protocols such as HTTP.
“Every customer application we support goes through F5 BIG-IP LTM and GTM,” says Chaplin. “It has become an absolutely critical part of our entire infrastructure.”
Varolii also employs the advanced F5 iRules customizable scripting language in BIG-IP LTM to create custom redirects for pointing IP traffic to web servers. The company also uses advanced features such as intelligent compression to lower the volume of traffic sent from web servers. This helps reduce bottlenecks and can lead to improved performance for end users.
Varolii is using BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM to give its customers high uptime and resiliency for thousands of critical applications. The solution has reduced the failover time for a key Varolii airline industry application from 45 minutes to 30 seconds, and gives the company simplified IT management capabilities. Using F5, Varolii has also been able to cut the number of servers in its two data centers by 40 percent.
With its BIG-IP LTM devices, Varolii can quickly and easily direct network traffic between servers to guarantee the highest availability for critical applications. And by using advanced features such as iRules and compression in BIG-IP LTM, the organization can increase the performance of these applications.
“BIG-IP LTM gives us much stronger reliability and redundancy for our core SaaS platform services, so we can deliver critical time-sensitive applications such as airline flight crew notifications and emergency communications that demand near 100 percent uptime,” says Chaplin. “This technology allows us to meet the higher service-level requirements our customers are demanding, and that our competition cannot offer.”
BIG-IP LTM has also helped Varolii eliminate up to four hours of monthly planned maintenance outages for its customers. For maintenance, the company no longer needs to manually redirect traffic by configuring applications. Instead, applications are proactively redirected to an alternate data center prior to maintenance. “We can provide zero downtime maintenance capabilities using BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM,” Chaplin states. “Downtime is no longer an issue.”
The F5 solution also gives Varolii much faster failover capabilities, because traffic is automatically failed over between data centers. “It used to take up to an hour to coordinate resources and reconfigure application settings, and we used to have multiple points of failure,” Chaplin remarks. “But with BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP GTM, we can access multiple service points and we have near-instantaneous geo-redundant application failover. We can provide the resilience our customers need, at a very affordable cost to our company.”
These capabilities have greatly improved the failover time for an application used by airlines to send automated text messages to replacement pilots for rescheduled flights. “By deploying BIG-IP LTM and GTM, we were able to reduce the service recovery window by 98 percent, from 45 minutes to just 30 seconds, for one of our most critical airline industry applications,” says McCann.
Varolii can better meet the compliance needs of its customers because BIG-IP LTM gives the firm a way to consolidate and manage SSL traffic and vulnerabilities for application protocols such as HTTP and HTTPS. As a result, Varolii can more efficiently provide evidence during multiple annual security audits. “Our financial services and healthcare customers demand highly-secure cloud services, and if we don’t offer that to them, we lose their business,” says McCann. “The F5 solution helps improve the way we manage security, and makes customer compliance more efficient.”
Because Varolii can use BIG-IP LTM to provide visibility and control of more than 100,000 concurrent SSL connections, management time is reduced. “We have seen at least a 25 percent reduction in administrative time by managing SSL with BIG-IP LTM,” says Chaplin. “And overall, with the solution’s web- based graphical user interface, application configuration and management is very simple. It only takes 2 people to manage the entire environment, where it would take us 10 people to manage with other solutions.”
The organization has also been able to take advantage of the simplified management capabilities of BIG-IP LTM and GTM to reduce its server counts. “BIG-IP LTM and GTM played a huge role in our data center consolidation, and both solutions have helped us reduce our number of servers by 40 percent,” says Chaplin. “That will save us a substantial amount of money.”
With these lower costs, along with higher availability and better performance, Varolii can better differentiate itself. “To stay ahead of our many competitors, we need to give our customers high availability and fast performance,” McCann says. “F5 BIG-IP LTM and GTM help us deliver all of those things, while saving us money. It’s the right technology for us, now and into the future.”