The story behind Ezypay's cloud communications migration

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This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of CRN magazine.

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The story behind Ezypay's cloud communications migration
Andrew Sjoquist and Andrew So

With more than 2,000 businesses using Ezypay to manage billing for their customers, the company is at the forefront of the direct debiting business in Australia. Ezypay recently enlisted Sydney-based provider ASE IT to overhaul its infrastructure, including a new unified communications system and co-location environment. CRN sat down with ASE IT’s chief executive, Andrew Sjoquist, and Ezypay infrastructure manager Andrew So to learn more. 

Tell us a little about Ezypay

Andrew So: Ezypay is an outsourced direct debiting company that manages predominantly the fitness industry – gyms and the like. So we are business-to-business, but we also have our end customers, the gym members, calling through to make changes to their accounts.

Our main service is our direct debiting service. We will facilitate the debiting of a member’s fee, and then we’ll distribute those funds back into the businesses, which will generally be the gyms. Anything that has a regular subscription service is a business that we would target and look into.

What was the trigger for the rollout?

Andrew So: We were moving to a new premises within Chatswood [on Sydney’s lower north shore]. It gave us an opportunity to look at our WAN connections and our current telephony platform. We knew we had some growth plans, so we needed to have the right solution in place to be able to support that. ASE IT came in and suggested a few different solutions for us in terms of how we can centralise our telephony and eliminate some of the risks that we had by having equipment at our local office and centralise them back into a data centre. We have a little contact centre in our office to take inbound calls predominantly.

What about your storage and server infrastructure?

Andrew So: Our core system is really around the management of those payments and transactions. [The critical IT infrastructure] is the storage, the scheduling, the intricacies around how schedules can be created, fail payments occur. Where a lot of our value-add comes into it is the smarts around how we do the direct debits and collect the funds, schedule in fail payments
or rebuilds, and ways we can also help businesses collect the money.

Where do cloud services come into this?

Andrew So: We developed a new software product called iconnect360. It’s membership management software; like a CRM but specifically for membership management. It seamlessly integrates the management of a gym with the billing. Previous to that it was all client server software – we wanted to deliver this software from the cloud. Prior to that they had to set up a direct debit with a debiting company like Ezypay. So there was a fair bit of double entry. There wasn’t any integration between the two systems.

How was your previous UC system holding you back?

Andrew So: The previous solution we had was an old TDM Avaya telephone system that didn’t have the reporting capabilities, didn’t have the ability to blend the calls, or set up the right sort of routing. We wanted a full contact centre so we could do a lot of the different mediums. We’re not just talking voice – we’re talking the potential to outbound and to do call backs; the potential to be able to receive emails. It was really around getting a unified contact centre, with the full suite of products in place.

What was deployed?

Andrew Sjoquist: We embarked on discussions around architecture – mainly from a geographical point of view to start with. That was to encompass the new Chatswood office and the Malaysian development office as well, and to make sure that each of those sites were connected appropriately with sufficient bandwidth and able to withstand failure. We needed to make sure that there was reliable access to the internet for the services being delivered over the internet. For the Chatswood office we’ve used metro Ethernet fibre services (which is an ASE Cloud Connect product) to connect it to the co-located services which are based here at Equinix.

The very first piece of work that we did was to make sure that the site in Chatswood was still able to connect to its existing infrastructure that was previously in-house and now was being stored in a co-located facility [in Equinix]. We’ve done that at 1GB speed, so it’s effectively the same user experience as they had when the equipment was within the offices in Chatswood. I don’t think anyone even noticed the difference. 

From a risk point of view, the facility or the core service and other bits of infrastructure that process payments and deliver services to the internet, are protected environmentally via generators and redundant power systems and all the other good things you get inside a data centre.

Can you tell us about the hardware?

Andrew So: We have an IBM Bladecenter H with all blades running VMware vSphere, all connected to an EMC VNX5300 SAN. We run Cisco routers and firewalls in our co-location facility, which is complemented by the ASE IT equipment.

Basically, we don’t have any servers on-premise. We have a couple of very small file servers sitting on-premise, but we’ve centralised all of our equipment into the co-lo, connected all via the metro Ethernet that ASE IT provides.

What does the UC platform look like?

Andrew Sjoquist: The connectivity platform is our Cloud Connect platform. [It includes] Cisco Unified Contact Manager, Unified Contact Centre Express, Unified Unity, Cisco Jabber instant messaging and there’s also integration with the Microsoft Exchange Platform for voice mail.

ASE core infrastructure for Cloud Connect is built on Cisco, including the Cisco 2900 series, ISR G2s.

Next: Behind the benefits 

What benefits have you seen?

Andrew So: We are no longer subject to local power failures in our Chatswood office. We have the ability to be a little bit more mobile as well. We have a lady that works out of Wollongong remotely and all she needs to do there is connect into our network. She has the same telephone services, chat, instant messaging, and video conferencing facilities that she would if she was in the office.

We have two New Zealand teleworkers who work from home, servicing our New Zealand market. Again, the same situation. They just need to connect to our network via VPN. They have the full UC experience that our users in our Sydney and our Malaysian office have – that’s the teleconferencing, video conferencing, chat and the like on the ASE platform. 

Andrew Sjoquist: One other interesting thing is the connectivity of the Malaysian office. Malaysia itself as a location is notoriously expensive from a telco point of view. So, as a result we utilised the internet connectivity with some VPN tunnels that run back a wholly optimised connectivity path. Because that path is so direct and so fast into Malaysia, Ezypay is able to use that to carry voice and other latency-sensitive communications across it, which I guess would reduce the cost of the international cold calling in and out of Malaysia.

Andrew So: We have our service and support centre in Malaysia, so they would often have to make calls into an Australian business. They make the calls directly off their PCs and it appears as a local number. Our CEO was astounded at how simple and easy it was for him to make a local call from the Malaysian office. We don’t have any complaints around the quality of the voice and the clarity of the calls themselves – the quality of the connections and the service has been fantastic.

Andrew Sjoquist: VoIP has had a bad rap since entering into enterprise, but it’s a good demonstration that if designed and implemented correctly it can actually be a benefit to any business and be just as good as any traditional digital or other TDM carriage service.

Andrew So: We’re able to make local phone calls from our Sydney office into Malaysia as well.

What credentials does ASE have for projects of this type?

Andrew Sjoquist: ASE is a Cisco Premier Partner in advanced unified communications, so that gives us the certification to be able to design, deploy and maintain, and operate these types of infrastructure.

We’ve got a range of customers in the same space – which Andrew has very generously conducted demos for us in the past – so people are really following that lead and seeing the same benefits. The only other thing that might differ in those scenarios is that the core platform itself for some of our other customers runs on the ASE CPU Cloud, and that’s not practical in this space because of the PCI compliance requirements.

As of this calendar year, we have our Cloud Call product – which is able to replace the Optus and Telstra type services – that may possibly be something that they may like to evolve to in the future. We remain agnostic from a carriage point of view. Our service for Ezypay is to provide the core telephony applications, and their choice of carrier is Optus, so we respect that, but we do have the capability to do it with other customers where we terminate our own calls now and
bill the minutes.

ASE Cloud Call is a new product we brought to market at Christmas time last year, and it’s a direct replacement for Telstra, Optus and any other carrier fixed-line services.

Do you have any comments about working with ASE?

Andrew So: One of the things we liked about dealing with ASE is that they are agnostic to vendor solutions. One of our criteria for the solution and in selecting our vendors is flexibility and growth, and expansion I suppose. We’ve always had a growth mindset, so we need to always plan for future expansion. The solution that’s in place now will allow us to have extra lines using Cloud Call or Telstra or TPG or whatever it is that may be, so that we can handle the capacity.

It’s the same with the WAN solution. To say we’re going to put in a fibre connection for our office was a very different sort of approach to any other traditional telco from both a costing and a solution perspective. So when we saw the solution, we were sceptical. We had some questions around performance and how realistic was this performance gain we were going to get. 

I think one of the things that sold us to a certain extent was that they were using it themselves. They had the same solution in their office, and I know they recently moved at around the same time as we did and they had the same sort of approach. I thought if it‘s good enough for the vendor, I think it’s good enough for the customer. 

We’re not a large organisation by any means, and we’ve dealt with the large integrators and vendors in the past and found that it was hard work dealing with them. 

Were there any challenges in this project?

Andrew So: I think the main challenge was probably Ezypay. We set some tight timeframes, and we decided to change them as well. We’re small, dynamic and like to move fast, and that often means that we change our minds a lot. During that time, there was never an issue with ‘no, sorry we can’t do it’ – it was ‘no worries, let’s work together on this and get through it’.

What’s next?

Andrew So: We’re expanding into Asia, as we’ve mentioned. That does mean then that we will eventually require a presence in the South-East Asian marketplace. So for us, it’s either finding a location that’s closer to Malaysia in terms of a data centre –  something a bit closer than Sydney –  or an Asian data centre to be able to replicate our equipment and our services in that region.

Andrew Sjoquist: Certainly, the ground is set now for some relatively simple expansions. Being in a facility like an Equinix really allows that to happen quite quickly, and we’ve seen that with our own business. We hope that we can continue to work with Ezypay as they grow into the South-East Asian market.  

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