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Multi-System Synchronizer Frequently Asked Questions

What is MSS?
MSS stands for Multi-System Synchronizer.  Synchronization is the automatic, enforced implementation of policies for service delivery (call flows) and Business Continuity across multiple ACDs performing common or overlapping missions.  
Why do I need MSS?
MSS is a vital component of all multi-ACD call center networks, except in the unusual case where each ACD has a completely unique task.  MSS works in the background, implementing and enforcing policies for synchronization of common call flow programming resources such as VDNs and Vectors.  MSS also enables multiple Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery strategies to keep your ACD network running despite many types of failures.  You can even mix and match strategies in different corporate divisions or sub-networks.
What Avaya Integrated Management (AIM) tools does MSS replace or compete with?
None.   AIM tools such as ASA allow you to administer all switches in the network, but one at a time.  MSS elevates ASA to an enterprise level tool, by replicating what you do with ASA to other switches in the network, under control of policies tailored to your enterprise.  For example: if your service delivery policies require vectors 100 through 250 to be the same on all your ACDs, a change to vector 207 on your “control” ACD from ASA will be recognized by MSS and synchronized to all the other ACDs.  The same is true for changes from SAT sessions, CMS, and any other administrative tools you may be using.  Your switch administration staff just keeps using the tools they already have, but they have less work to do and your business continuity / service delivery plan is automatically and accurately implemented every time administration is performed.
Is MSS only for ACDs?
No, MSS works well with administrative PBXs.  Early customers have been call center oriented, but MSS replication of stations and other resource types works the same way for purely administrative PBX applications.
Does MSS work with switches from vendors other than Avaya?
MSS works exclusively with the Avaya Definity, MultiVantage, and Communications Manager based switching systems. 
Do I have to upgrade or modify my Avaya switching machine to run MSS?
MSS works with any Avaya software from Definity 9.5 onward.  One Avaya patch may be necessary for versions before Communications Manager 2.2, depending on what is being synchronized.   MSS compatibility with this large range of versions offers options to customers that are not yet ready for an upgrade to the latest Avaya software release, or that have very large networks taking a long time to upgrade or consolidate.  The capacity and feature differences between versions might make it difficult for MSS to accomplish your goals, so please consult with the professionals at Consistacom.
I have ESS, so why do I need MSS?
Avaya’s Enterprise Survivable Server (ESS) provides only a subset of MSS capabilities.  Very briefly, ESS handles one Communications Manager switching machine, while MSS handles many, ESS translations are only updated when a “save translations” command is issued but MSS replicates all translation changes as they happen, and only MSS provides a single point of administration for multiple switches.  If you have only one switch and are satisfied with reverting to last night’s configuration when a switchover to ESS occurs, ESS is all you need.  If you have multiple ACDs with common missions, or a single PBX or ACD  plus ESS that must have up to the minute configuration whenever a failover occurs, you need MSS.  If you have Sarbanes-Oxley or SEC requirements to prove you are ready for a disaster, and need to prove it again every day, only MSS can do the job.
Does MSS work with Best Services Routing (BSR)?
Yes.  BSR is driven by VDNs and Applications Plans.  In a typical BSR deployment, the VDNs will be the same on all the ACDs, but the application plans will be different.  MSS synchronizes the VDNs.
Does MSS work with ICM?
Yes.  The switch VDNs associated with ICM can be synchronized.  The configuration of ICM itself is not synchronized by MSS.
How does MSS communicate with my switches?
MSS connects to your Avaya PBX or ACD through a TCP connection, typically at a CLAN. It is also possible to connect directly with S87XX media server complexes, if security or other considerations make that more desirable.  MSS requires two connections to each switch, using a single login ID. 
How do I administer my switches after MSS is installed?
The same as before MSS.  A key feature of MSS is that it does not require the switch administrators, workforce management staff, or anyone else to use a different switch administration tool. MSS works transparently in the background, monitoring all administration activity made by any means.  That includes Avaya’s Integrated Management tools, SAT sessions, CMS, and home-grown administration tools.
What resources can be synchronized?
The current release of MSS (2.1) can synchronize ACD Agents, Hunt Groups (including ACD skills), Stations, VDNs, Vectors, Trunks, and Announcement Administration. 
Why doesn’t MSS synchronize announcement files on VAL boards and gateways?
It does in the lab, but some VAL features are needed before announcement file synchronization can be rolled out with the reliability and performance required by our customers.
How does MSS decide what to synchronize?
Synchronization is controlled by a set of policies, which are very flexible and based on resource numbering ranges.  A publish and subscribe control metaphor is used.  Any range of numbers (for example, Vectors 100-999) can be published (i.e., controlled) by one switch and subscribed to (replicated on) any number of other switches.  Different ranges can be published by different switches, and each subscribing switch may have a unique mix of  resources and ranges it subscribes to – so long as they have been published.
 It is common to reserve a range of each resource type for local use, and not synchronize it.  (For example, leaving vectors 1-99 to meet the local needs of each ACD.) 
What if MSS cannot update a subscribing switch due to network errors or update conflicts?
The real time synchronization component of MSS tries to update subscribing switches one time.  If that fails, the nightly audit will recognize the resulting deviation from policy and update the subscribing switch.
Automatic synchronization sounds scary. What safeguards are built in?
MSS has very fine grained controls.  At the  highest level, it is possible to run MSS in a pure simulation mode that identifies what should be synchronized, but doesn’t take any action.  Next, it is possible to run live but turn off all activity for any switch.  At the next layer, the number of changes to be made by any MSS auditing run can be limited.  It is also possible to turn off all synchronization activity for a specific resource type.  The idea is to allow rapid and safe inactivation of synchronization that may be temporarily undesirable or suspected of causing problems, while letting all other synchronization continue.
How do I know what MSS is doing, since it runs in the background?
MSS provides extensive auditing and reporting capabilities.  In real time, it is possible to see all administration activity (not just what MSS has initiated) using Consistacom’s Enterprise Event Monitor utility.  That activity can also be retrieved from the Consistacom Configuration Archive, which stores all event activity for retrieval and analysis.  Separately, MSS records every action it takes, and every error it detects, and every deviation from synchronization policy it finds,  in a Synchronization Reporting Database (SRD).  The SRD is very valuable for proving your network of ACDs is in conformance with your Business Continuity plan, a requirement of Sarbanes-Oxley and SEC regulations.
How long does it take?
Real time synchronization depends on the type of resource being synchronized and overall switch load.  MSS specifications call for synchronization within 5 minutes.  Most customers see actual performance of 20 seconds or less – but that is not guaranteed.
The duration of nightly audit runs depends on how many switches and resources must be audited, and how many deviations must be corrected.  Experience shows that four of the largest ACDs in the Avaya universe today can be audited in under 2 hours.
The initial synchronization of a network of switches can take many hours, because MSS must wait for each individual administration request it generates to complete.  ACD agents take about 2.5 seconds to administer on an S8700, so 100 agent updates will take about 4 minutes.  It is common for an initial synchronization to take several days, running one resource type at a time.
How many switches can a single MSS Sync Controller handle?
It depends, especially on how big each switch is.   The minimum capacity of one Sync Controller is about twelve switches.
My switch network architecture and strategy keeps changing.  Should I wait until it is settled to deploy MSS?
No, MSS is very flexible and can adapt as your network evolves.  Experience has shown conclusively that it is much better to deploy MSS right away.  Even new networks should have MSS turned on soon along with the first ACD, because it makes sure all the additional ACDs will be configured according to policy.  Building the switches individually inevitably leads to deviations from policy and the need for much detective time and many conferences to bring the switches all back in compliance.  Using MSS from the start gets your network up and running faster, and keeps it running smoother.
Is there a redundancy option available for MSS?
Yes, in the form of a warm standby SYNC controller.  The entire SYNC environment and MSS are duplicated. In the event the primary SYNC controller should fail or need to be taken out of service for maintenance, the standby server is manually placed in service.
How much switch CPU occupancy does MSS add?
No call processing occupancy is added.  The add/change/delete activity from MSS takes about the same amount of CPU as if it were done through any other tool, such as ASA or a SAT session.  Remember that MSS causes administration activity on one switch to be mimicked on additional switches.  No single switch is presented with any more of a load than if each were individually administered by a human.  A scheduled weekly re-scan of each switch (for data integrity checking) causes brief bursts of very high administrative activity within the switch, but it is at a lower priority than call processing, which will not be affected.
How do I compute the ROI for MSS?
That varies by customer and mission.  If your focus us purely Disaster Recovery, it is appropriate to view the cost of MSS as an “insurance premium” – except that you also enjoy the consistency, quality, and lower TCO benefits that flow from a single point of presence for all multi-switch customers.  The lower TCO comes largely from the reduced staff necessary to maintain the multi-switch networks.  The value of consistency and quality is subjective, but call centers such as catalog sales and new customer signup for service providers want to make sure their callers are presented with the best possible experience, and assign a value to that.  Finally, performance based call centers that make a large number of agent changes daily and have a failover strategy in place gain value from always having the latest agent configuration on the failover ACD.  That ensures the performance plan is intact through any event that causes a failover. 
If you have a need for proving Sarbanes-Oxley or SEC business continuity compliance, MSS’ nightly audit of your entire system is of arguably immeasurable value.  Nothing else compares to it.  The audit trail and reporting from MSS shows what was out of compliance and what was fixed, day by day.  It does in one night what takes a team of experts several weeks, and does it more accurately.
Can I install MSS myself?
No, the installation must be performed by a trained Consistacom installer to ensure proper operation.  MSS performs a vital function to the enterprise, and Consistacom cannot warrant proper operation unless we are responsible for installation and configuration.
What else do I need to buy?
Consistacom provides MSS as a complete package: hardware, software, installation, and professional services.  The customer needs to have the Avaya switching machine and a license for Avaya’s DEM.  The Consistacom Synchronization controller is pre-configured for each customer’s environment and installs into your data network as an appliance.
Can I provide my own hardware?
No.  MSS is provided as a total solution. 
How much maintenance effort does MSS require?
MSS and the Consistacom SYNC Controller are largely self-maintaining once the initial synchronization of switches is complete.  Everyday chores such as database backups are performed automatically, and synchronization results can be emailed to everyone interested.  There are two essential tasks that must be routinely performed.  First, the health of MSS and the SYNC controller must be checked daily.  A thorough examination takes about 30 minutes.  Second, the synchronization control tables must be kept in step with the business’s current service delivery and business continuity policies.  Consistacom’s experience is that customers have trouble keeping up with these two chores, largely because of staff turnover and changing staff responsibilities.  That is why we offer a management service to provide our customer with an assigned synchronization expert, one who understands their policies and has the training and experience to ensure these vital functions are performed.
How do I buy MSS?
Either through your Avaya sales team or direct from Consistacom

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