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  1. #1

    Redundant helpdesks

    Hi,

    So far, support at RetroWeb.net has been via email and DirectAdmin's own ticket system, which is part of the control panel.

    I'm conducting a huge overhaul of the customer interface, and streamlining support so that it is by support ticket (helpdesk) only (without email piping). Emails sent to [email protected] will be sent an auto-responder requesting the customer to use the helpdesk, just in case someone tries to contact using the old method. My reasons for doing this are:
    • Security - if the customer has to be logged in to open a ticket, it means they've already been verified, and I'll know that they are who they say they are.
    • Auditing - Using a ticket system is so much easier to track issues, especially between multiple staff. It should also make resolving issues much quicker.
    • Spam - If customers have to login to post a support ticket, I don't risk accidentally deleting their enquiry thinking it's a spam email.


    I'm thinking that I'll keep all other functions (sales, accounting etc) via email.

    Now here's my question: a lot of hosts use Kayako, Cerberus, etc as their helpdesks. I'll be coding my own in-house ticket system, exactly to my needs. Since Kayako and Cerberus etc are MySQL-driven, what precautions are in place to keep the helpdesk redundant?

    If your helpdesk goes down, how do you handle support? With an emergency email address? Or do you just hope you can fix it quickly (not ideal at all).

    Obviously there's the options of MySQL master->slave replication (although you'd only have read access from the slave), or using a MySQL cluster.

    Many thanks for reading,
    Matt
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  2. #2
    Join Date
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    You raise some good points about helpdesks. I myself use phpCoin for my site which has an integrated helpdesk ticket system that creates tickets from emails to support as well as through the users's control pannel on our site. But the only problem I have is that if for some reason the server was to ever go down the customers would only be left with calling us up on the phone which could get expensive for our non-local customers and would occupy alot of our time while we are trying to repair the server.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
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    The only way to setup a redundant help desk like the type you are talking about would be to set it up like a redundant website, which would include multiple servers.
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  4. #4
    Well, yes, exactly How one would go about that is really my question. I know the various methods, but I'd love to hear from others' experiences.

    Either I make the database redundant using either clustering or replication, or I provide an alternative method of support in emergencies.

    How do the major ticket systems handle this? What alternatives are other hosts using?

    Many thanks,
    Matt
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  5. #5
    Join Date
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    The easiest way to do it IMO would be replication. I've been working on a similar system (except server usage graphing) where there is one main server, which hosts the main system (software graphing and polling in my case). Each satellite server then hosts a stripped down version (might want to host the full version of your helpdesk) of the polling software. Every 5 minutes each system polls the server and retreives data which it stores.

    Another script then checks for consitency between the data on each satellite server and if it finds errors between the data on each server (in this case not present data) it will find a server that has the data on it and update the main server with the record. Of course if none of the servers have the data then it means none of the server could poll the server they are trying to connect to and the data is then listed as missing.


    This example is quite a bit different from running redundant helpdesks, but it should give you a starting point.
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  6. #6
    Using MySQL there are two options:
    - MySQL Cluster
    - MySQL Master->Slave Replication

    At this stage, I've decided not to use MySQL Cluster. It's a new product, administration is quite difficult and it's quite a complex solution. Right now I think it would over-complicate things.

    MySQL replication is a good option - the helpdesk could be coded to use the slave database in the event of the master MySQL server going down. The slave would have to be read-only to prevent data inconsistencies between master and slave, and a seperate, 'emergency' database could be utilised for write operations on a seperate MySQL server.

    The only problem would be how to synchronise the tickets from the emergency database back to the master database after the outage.

    I think I've almost worked this out, but I'm most interested to hear how the major helpdesk software handles this.

    Thanks again,
    Matt
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  7. #7
    Join Date
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    The major helpdesks (cerberus / kayako) do not 'handle this' Though cerberus could be setup to work nicely with it... as you could host your mail off-site with mx records on a more secure machine that will have less problems. We've been investigating a VPS for this exact purpose, but I have not come up with a concrete plan for it as of yet.
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  8. #8
    Interesting

    The database for the helpdesk will be off-site on a seperate machine anyway (with several webservers for the front-end), so it's less likely to encounter problems... but even then, if the helpdesk was down for 20-60 minutes it could cause chaos on a busy helpdesk.

    Matt
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  9. #9
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    RetroWeb, we handle this pretty simply. We maintain a separate "desk" on a different server, although this desk is only accessible via e-mail piping -- there is no customer front-end. They just send an e-mail to [email protected] and it pipes in the desk (Cerberus). That in turn pages our support staff so they know there is a ticket in the back-up desk.

    Since both the main desk & back-up desk are in the same data center, we also encourage clients to e-mail us at a GMAIL account "if all else fails." GMAIL is more reliable, faster, and doesn't "lose" mail like Yahoo and Hotmail.

    We wrestled with the mirror databases, mirror sites, etc. etc. thing long ago. In the end it was much more straightforward to tell customers "if you can't reach the main support desk, please just send an e-mail to us at ______________ and we will be right in touch with you." Personal, straightforward, and yet it remains nicely organized since it is through a desk!

    Bailey
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