How Fastly Builds Support, Part 2

Note: this is the second part of a multi-part series on how Fastly architects and builds our support process. You can read part one here.

Part 2: What the customer experiences, and how that happens.

What customers encounter when evaluating Fastly, and as they onboard, isn't arbitrary. It's an experience that we've intentionally crafted. This piece will goes into what customers experience, and what we have in place to make sure this happens every time, for every customer.

The Customer Process

Before we go too deep into our support scaling process, lets take a quick look at what happens when a person or company signs up for Fastly. Inevitably, this shapes the support need and the service we provide, so it's important to keep this in mind.

Most customers come to us with a scaling or ops need. They may be looking for a new CDN vendor, they may have a difficult problem to solve such as scaling a service API, or they may just be growing exponentially. In any case, there's an obvious operational pain point that we can address.

We intentionally provide a frictionless signup process so customers can begin configuring and testing without needing to talk to a human first. We're ready to assist, and we make sure that new customers feel free to reach out, but we don't force ourselves into the picture unnecessarily.

This is a core value of Fastly's support: we give you as much (or as little) assistance as you want, exactly when you determine.

Inevitably, customers do reach out with questions during the setup process. This is infrastructure: communication is to be expected and encouraged. Either over some email or phone exchanges we discuss fine tuning the system for the customer's needs. We're intentionally flexible as a service: you know your application and needs better than we ever will. But that doesn't mean that there aren't onboarding questions.

Some customers can configure their service on their own, and move traffic over quickly and easily. We've put a great deal of work into our documentation and application design to enable self service. But, there are always cases where our teams need to assist. In that case, we may spin up an IRC room for our team and yours too coordinate the switchover, or debug any setup issues in real time. Sometimes chatting for 15 minutes can save days of frustrating email exchange. We'd rather get to the bottom of things right away.

At this point some portion of a customer's traffic has been moved over. There may be a slow ramp over time. We may be serving a niche portion of a customer's traffic. We may get the 100% of a customer's public traffic in one day. In any case, some traffic is now flowing through the customer network.

In many cases, this is where the interest and support ends. With Fastly, it's only the beginning.

Because we're a CDN, we need a connection to your origin server. This gives us the ability to see service issues or error spikes almost immediately. Our teams can proactively reach out in the event of a service disruption. We then work with you to as needed to adjust your CDN or troubleshoot issues.

This ability to proactively assist is possibly the most impressive post of our support. If you're planning support and you have one takeaway from this piece, it's to find a problem your users have that you can predict, and proactively reach out when you see issues arise. A fast response to a customer's ticket is amazing, but if you can spot a problem before it starts that's even better.

At some point a customer may want to put more traffic on to Fastly, fine tune their current traffic for a higher hit ratio, build in automated purging or set up detailed logging from the edge. This is a more traditional, consultative support. We view ourselves as scalability partners for our customers, and this is an extremely rewarding part of the job. We push the limits of what can be offloaded, and it's fun to work with customers from an architectural standpoint to help hit their goals.

This has basically been the support process for every single Fastly customer from day one, with very few exceptions. This experience is what we work on scaling and improving. We've absolutely made some changes to how we prepare and carry this process out on our end, but there have not been major changes to what aim for when providing support. You should be able to speak with an early Fastly customer and a recently ramped Fastly customer, regardless of size large or small, and those two customers should describe roughly the same experience. That's not by accident.

The Support Process

So what's happening under the hood in the above section? What steps and processes do we have in place to make customer setup and traffic ramping go smoothly?

Pull up a chair and we'll go right into the thick of things.

Our process starts when the customer contacts Fastly to investigate the product, or shortly after the customer begins configuring a service after signup. We then discuss their end goals over email, phone, IRC, or in person. More often than not, our documentation base can help them get set up with most configurations. But, in the off case that our documentation doesn't address everything, we work directly with the customer over the course of a few days or weeks to build up a configuration that does what they need.

This is configuration is usually done in our web application, but occasionally we dig in and write some VCL (Varnish Control Language, the scripting language that powers our caching system) to get things done. We may help with setting up logging and analytics, but those are easy to self-provision.

Now we're ready to start testing traffic with the customer. In prep for this we work with our ops and neteng teams to forecast traffic. As we're now serving a consistent 1.8 million requests per second worldwide, individual sites and customers don't cause the network delta they once did, but we still loop in everyone. When it's time for a customer to finally flip the switch, we have a group of folks standing by from ops, neteng, product engineering, and support.

Of course, this process always doesn't happen exactly as I describe here. The process is as unique as their own application, so we help iteratively as needed. Every few weeks, customers may come back and file a ticket or two, or bump us in IRC, but the bulk of the work is up front.

The actual coordination of these processes is jointly run by the customer's account manager and our support team. Our account managers typically will get the relevant information regarding a turn up, and plan with our support and engineering teams for a successful traffic switchover. The main takeaway is that the entire company contributes to the customer success. It's the majority of what our support team does on a daily basis, but every team at Fastly is partially involved with and responsible for customer success.

Next Time

The next piece in this series will dive down into the structure of Fastly's support team, and how the team interacts with the rest of the company. This has been the most requested topic so far, so I'm excited to publish it. All things equal, this team and cross-company interaction is possibly the most unique aspect of our support architecture. Follow me on twitter to hear when updates are live