With 93 percent of Fortune 100 companies using its collaboration solutions, Cisco WebEx® is already the global leader in web and video conferencing. But there’s always room for improvement.
“We want to be more operationally efficient, make better decisions, and deliver a better quality of service,” says Joe Hsy, director of software engineering at Cisco. “It all starts with data.”
And WebEx® has a lot. Roughly 12 million WebEx meetings are conducted each month, with more than 50 million attendees from 230 countries on average. What represents some 20 billion minutes of collaboration every month also generates an avalanche of data that can be collected and analyzed. According to recent estimates, WebEx will collect petabytes of data over the next two years alone.
“We’re making the transition to a true data-driven business,” says Hsy.
Better scalability, simplified analytics
To do so, the organization needed a new big data discovery platform—one that would provide better scalability at a lower cost than its pre-existing data warehouse and simplified analytics for non-technical business users.
According to Hsy, WebEx’s incumbent data warehouse was expensive to scale. It required an inordinate amount of time and effort to clean and prepare workloads before they could be analyzed. And it did not provide a clear path for business users to access and examine the data. Fortunately, WebEx was able to solve these challenges by leveraging Platfora’s Big Data Discovery Platform and Cloudera’s Hadoop cluster running on the Intel® Xeon® processor-based Cisco Unified Computing System™ (Cisco UCS®).
“Traditional tools can’t handle the volume or variety of data that modern enterprises need to analyze to stay competitive,” says David Littlewood, senior director of alliances at Platfora. “Analytics need to be easy to use for business people, and they need to be fast. The combination of Platfora, Hadoop, and Cisco UCS provides a complete big data platform that removes complexity and rapidly delivers business insights.”
With the new platform in place, WebEx was able to define three preliminary use cases focused on:
- Meeting join time
- Survey data
- Fraud analytics
These use cases were not driven forward by WebEx technical staff, but rather product management, marketing, and operations teams.
Meeting join time is a critical performance indicator for WebEx, showing how quickly attendees are able to get into a meeting and directly impacting their overall experience with the service. This seemingly simple metric is made up from a variety of sources, including web, server, gateway, user, and back-end system data.
“With Platfora, the team was not only able to bring all those data points together to provide a coherent view of meeting join time, they were able to view the process in a completely new way,” Hsy explains. “Just knowing where in the process a delay might occur doesn’t tell you much. You need to know why it is happening there. Is it the time of day? The number of callers in the meeting? The device that is being used?”
Based on the analytics, WebEx was able to pinpoint certain regions, Internet service providers, and customers that were experiencing meeting delays. With many of those issues involving traffic routing and security scans, WebEx was able to proactively communicate—and in some cases, resolve—the underlying sources of latency.
WebEx is also using the new data platform to draw parallels between customer surveys and product performance.
“We had previously built some analytics tools that focused primarily on audio and visual quality, but we could never correlate and analyze both product and business performance,” says Hsy. “With our new platform, we can analyze end-to-end processes and get a better feel for the full customer experience.”
The who, where, when of fraud
They can also detect patterns and anomalies, such as illicit use of the service. In pulling together a variety of data sources, WebEx is not only able to identify these patterns, but also the who, where, and when of fraudulent activities.
WebEx is now expanding its use of analytics and pursuing a number of new use cases. For example, the organization is examining user telemetry to better understand customer preferences and the most and least used features. Those insights will be utilized to optimize products and pricing, and to develop a recommendation engine that improves upselling.
WebEx also plans to share its analytical capabilities with others. A new portal is in the works that will allow customers and partners alike to access and analyze data about their usage of the service.
“With self-service capabilities built in, we can segment and expose data in a secure and confidential way,” says Hsy, “allowing our business users, our customers, and our partners to conduct their own analytics and gain new insights.”