How we support our partners - a look behind the scenes

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Landing photo by punctum books

Over at Cloud68.co, we have always taken the mission of helping more and more people migrate from the nefarious data-hungry Big Tech to open source alternatives that believe that your data should be yours. Fighting the Tech oligopolies is no easy feat! They can invest in design and branding, have big pockets from venture capitalists, manage the rhetoric through sponsored content and PR departments and easily scale their support systems. In this David vs Goliath reality our team needs to offer open source instances (as the default, not the alternative) that work without interruptions with an user experience that is of the highest standards. Without the deep pockets, without inflated startup evaluations, without selling your data for ads to third parties! In such an environment we don’t have much choice other than to work hard, offer nothing less than exceptional service to our partners and always be alert to make sure that everything runs smoothly. This way our partners focus on their work and not on their digital infrastructure. After all, that’s our job, right? :) But what exactly is my job and what do I do as part of a team that works intensively to ensure that your open source digital infrastructure is in safe hands? To answer that, let’s take a look into what I do throughout the day.

I start the day by signing into our support system, powered by Zammad, and check if our customers have any new inquiries for us, so that I can assist them into getting in touch with the right person from our team. Opening a ticket is easy, all you have to do is send an email at support@cloud68.co. The majority of the partners we have are from the open source world or good friends of ours from co-working spaces or other industries and supporting them is one of our most important priorities. This is the reason why I’m happy we recently decided to have an increased support team that will hopefully have an immediate impact for you. It’s important to us that all our team members understand the importance of having an open source digital infrastructure, which is why we have also decided to grow our team organically and with an open source background. Having a corporate mindset for growth is easy, but we don’t think that’s the way to go for Cloud68.co. More on our growing support team in upcoming blog posts. zammad A view into our ticketing system

After answering our tickets, the team and I have a call, with the good company of a big cup of coffee, to organize ourselves for the day. BigBlueButton has proven to be quite effective for this, especially with the current situation created by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. We want to make sure that all of our team members are healthy, which is why we decided to continue our work remotely, in order to minimize the chances of getting sick. On a remote environment, coordination is key in managing everything, so we need to make sure that our communication medium is stable. A very good outcome of our video calls has been brainstorming ideas on how to make our support system better which usually generates a dedicated issue in our project management system to follow up for implementation. bigbluebutton A view into our videocall system

After making sure that we have the right priorities, I then proceed to check out our internal GitLab instance, which we use for asynchronous communication for tasks that should be done. This is where we discuss which instances we should automate, and try to find if we have any logic flaw in the way we install platforms, take backups or if there’s something wrong with how we upgrade our instances. Just because we know our priorities, doesn’t mean that there won’t be questions throughout the day. Which is why we also use Mattermost, for quick messages. To be honest I mostly use it to send GIFs, but jokes aside it is also a place where friends and partners chat with us at our public chat or by sending us DMs. As a matter of fact, we’d love to have you there too: Join our public chat (you have to create an account first). mattermost A view into our public chat

Until now I mentioned my work on managing support requests from our actual partners. What about new requests for instances? Whenever we receive a notification that someone wants to activate their Nextcloud, Editoria, Discourse or another instance, one of our team-mates “bakes” the source code of the platform for our new friends. We always try to do this process in 1 business day, but if the requested instance is a new platform, we first need to experiment on how to set it up correctly, which might delay it’s implementation. Once we know how to configure the platform, we automate it’s installation, so that it won’t take as much time in the future. We do this by using Ansible, which is also open source of course. I was exposed to it from my friend Justin Flory, who was kind enough to spend some time on video calls and chats to give me all the details. Thanks my friend! You might be wondering, “Since you use so many open source tools, why isn’t your Ansible code open?”. We do want to have our code open, but in order to do that, we feel that it’s important for us to audit this code so that (a) our credentials are secure and (b) there isn’t any vulnerability on the code, so that our users’ data won’t be affected. We do however, plan to make it open, and will announce it as soon as it is ready!

After the instance has been installed, we apply a lot of love and dedication on teaching it our ethics & how to behave with it’s users data. Then we make sure that the instance has understood the ethics, by testing if the configuration is similar to it’s siblings. If our instance is behaving correctly, we inform the people who requested it that we’re ready to migrate their data. Before migrating, we usually have a call to figure out their current setup and try to figure out how to migrate the data. Installing & migrating is one of the easiest processes, compared to on-boarding users, which is why we try to facilitate the onboarding process as much as we can. How do we do that? There are a couple of factors to make it easier, such as having a responsive support team, making sure the instance is running smoothly, making frequent backups and monitoring the health of our digital infrastructure where instances are installed.

Of course all these operations are not done altogether during one day. It always depends on priorities that we set and also if I have to cook or not, a process that, if led by myself, will take forever even if it is just eggs. These are the things I do together with my colleagues, which also happen to be some of my favorite things to get involved with. Have comments on how we roll here at Cloud68.co? Ping my Twitter or Mastodon profile :)

As a newly established tradition, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs lately. Just to know us better: