What Is ‘Uptime’? What Do ‘Five 9s’ Mean for Your Business?

Uptime is becoming increasingly critical for cloud-based apps, as they take centre stage in the hybrid working era. Expectations for availability are high, and every moment feels urgent. And if we’re going to make ourselves available at all times, we expect no less from our apps – both at work and at home.

But what does availability mean for an app, and how do cloud providers deliver on their uptime promises?

What is ‘uptime’?

Simply put, uptime is the percentage of time, per quarter, that a given cloud-based app is up and running. Most enterprise communications providers offer Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that commit to a certain minimum percentage of uptime in a given period (or, conversely, maximum downtime). The closer the percentage is to 100%, the less projected downtime per quarter.

What is ‘Five 9s availability’?

99.999% availability (also known as ‘Five 9s’) means that an app has less than 78 seconds of downtime per quarter. This is widely considered the holy grail of availability – remaining online virtually the entire time.

Of course, not every company can guarantee Five 9s, and lower guarantees can potentially mean significant downtime. For example, 95% availability – which sounds like a high number – actually equates to around 18 days of downtime annually.

Increased downtime for cloud communications apps can actually have potentially devastating consequences, especially in certain industries. For example:

  • Healthcare: Patients can’t reach doctors for critical information
  • Education: Students are not able to access lessons remotely
  • Local government: The public can’t reach critical government services
  • Financial services: Clients can’t trade
  • Retail: A RingCentral report found that when consumers are unable to connect to an in-store customer assistant,  46% of shoppers will not buy the intended product, 35% will switch to another retailer, and 17% will write a negative review.

The growing importance of uptime for business communications

For unified communications, the importance of continuous availability only increases. Because communication is at the heart of any successful organisation, communications solutions need to withstand a multitude of obstacles. 

These include natural disasters, seasonal surges (such as the first day of school or holiday buying), unexpected surges (such as what we experienced with the pandemic), or company-specific issues (such as hosting a large all-hands session online). 

In addition to these variables, Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) providers also need to remain available across the many different devices (laptop, mobile, or tablet) and connectivity options (WiFi, 3G/4G/5G, or a switch from one to the other) that customers might use to connect.

5 uptime questions to ask your service provider

Providers’ SLAs vary, with differing levels of commitment to uptime. When you’re evaluating cloud communication and collaboration solutions, make sure you get detailed responses to the following questions about uptime:

  1. How is the service provider ensuring data redundancy?
  2. How is the infrastructure prepared for events and surges your business might experience?
  3. Does the provider conduct in-depth and frequent disruptive testing (the process of simulating failures in real-world situations) and disaster recovery tests? Are the test results and findings shared with customers?
  4. What are the provider’s business continuity plans? Don’t just ask whether the provider has a business continuity plan – find out how often they test and revise it too.
  5. Ask for supporting third-party test reports and accreditations, where applicable.

How cloud providers ensure high uptime

There are some critical elements that all highly-available Software as a Service (SaaS) companies need to get right, starting with building a scalable, redundant, and secure infrastructure. Here are a few of the hallmarks of highly available solutions:

  1. It’s critical to host cloud solutions in top-tier data centres with geographic redundancy. This means that in the event of an outage in one data centre, another data centre in another location is already set up to automatically handle the load with no issues.
  2. Providers must also ensure this kind of capability within each data centre, by using similar architectures that feature multiple layers of redundancy, in case problems arise.
  3. Providers should have advanced system monitoring capabilities, which allow them to identify issues before they happen and quickly resolve and remediate them when they do.
  4. There should be strong internal controls and policies in place to minimise risk and ensure uptime.

To find out more about evaluating scalability, redundancy, quality of service and security, download our eBook: A guide to reliable communications.

But for now, let’s get into even more detail on this with a real company – see how we at RingCentral deliver on our uptime promise.

How RingCentral builds Five 9s availability

RingCentral’s cloud architecture is built on what’s known as a multi-cloud, multi-network, point-of-delivery (PoD) design. In other words, we use a modular approach that allows our solutions to intelligently scale and manage increases in usage across messaging, video meetings, and phone, while also providing resiliency and redundancy. 

The multi-tenant network is designed with built-in 2x capacity, which means customers can double their usage overnight without an issue. Also, systems are designed with concurrent usage in mind. This ensures that the service is always available even when there are usage fluctuations at the customer’s end.

Data centres

RingCentral maintains ‘geo-redundant data centres’, which means they’re similarly configured across multiple regions to ensure that service continues despite possible outages. 

In the event of a data centre failure, RingCentral’s automated systems (built with active-active design), in conjunction with an always-on and world-class network operations centre (NOC), ensure a rapid transition to back-up systems as needed, to maintain uninterrupted service availability. 

Simply put, if an issue arises in any one data centre, another data centre automatically assumes the load with no downtime. 

RingCentral employs three layers of network and service redundancy to ensure that customers’ phone systems remain up and running: 

  • Our data centres provide the first layer of redundancy. Data between bi-coastal locations is synchronised consistently, with latency of less than one minute. Each component has a redundant power supply, which delivers seamless operation and 99.999% availability in case of geographic outages or any natural disaster.

In fact, RingCentral has delivered 20 consecutive quarters of 99.999% uptime SLA for our flagship product RingCentral MVP. The data centres share hosted facilities space with some of the world’s largest internet companies and financial institutions. In addition, they’re in close physical proximity to the world’s top 20 internet exchange points, and are co-located with all the major telecommunications carriers to maintain the fastest response times and interconnect services possible.

  • Our architecture is vendor-agnostic and commodity-based, meaning it’s fully replaceable and fault-tolerant, providing a second layer of redundancy.
  • Our third layer of redundancy uses both load balancing and failover technology to keep our systems continuously up and running. For example, primary and secondary servers contain multiple servers that back each other up.

Beyond Five 9s: Our commitment to relentless innovation

At RingCentral, we’ve concentrated our attention in several areas, in an effort to continuously improve our availability:

Agile development

With decades of stable, mature operational procedures, our proven architecture enables agile development with the ability to support our growing global customer base and partners.

Application lifecycle management

Our investments here help minimise errors, disruptions, and the risk of failure. Our engineering, cloud operations, and support teams work closely with customers to deploy new innovations while minimising potential impacts. 

Our PoD deployment architecture, combined with our rigorous testing, Q&A, and staging processes, ensure that changes get synchronised while isolating updates and changes as they’re rolled into production. 

This very controlled synchronisation of updates means that changes don’t inadvertently create delays, outages, or downtime. It’s also important that we work closely with customers to consider critical situational factors (e.g., surges in usage for the first day of virtual school or Black Friday, etc.) and evaluate the most appropriate times for change. It’s critical to ensure that any changes have been made and tested well before these major events.

Sophisticated machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) automation

When it comes to insights, collecting data is the easy part. RingCentral has built the supporting technology infrastructure and combined that knowledge with decades of industry expertise in messaging, video, and phone to create meaningful and actionable insights. 

Our ML and AI layers are built on a single data lake that aggregates all operational, usage, and simulated testing data to identify events, correlate them, respond, and remediate. RingCentral’s sophisticated architecture is the key to enabling a data-driven approach to product development, engineering, operations, and support. 

RingCentral monitors and manages every aspect of the service from top to bottom – from edge to core – to ensure the highest quality, reliability, and security. This architecture has also enabled RingCentral to provide customers with high quality-of-service analytics and insights in a single pane of glass across messaging, video meetings, and phone with tremendous detail. 

Team building and a culture of trust

Low angle shot over the table top, waist up image of three female and a male mid adult business people from various countries, discussing projects at a meeting table, looking at each other, side view of all.

RingCentral teams prepare for everything using rigorous testing. Everybody brings a different opinion and skillset. Such exercises build trust in each other’s capabilities so teams can rely on one another in every situation.

Reliability for tomorrow’s workplace

Since hybrid working became commonplace, businesses are now depending on cloud communications more than ever. From team messaging to video conferencing and virtual calling – remote workforces need their cloud communications to work flawlessly under any circumstances if they want to succeed.

Service providers that offer a 99.999% uptime SLA ensure that no matter where your future employees work, you can trust that their communication tools will always be available. 

Published by
Samantha is RingCentral’s Content Manager for EMEA Marketing. Before joining the business, she worked in content and public relations roles. She has worked with companies in ed tech, marketing and advertising, connected home, telecoms and publishing.
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