4PSA Clients Area 3 Is Available!

This is quite of a long expected announcement. We have more formal announcements on our PR, but I think that you are interested on what happened behind the stages :). BTW, we have a 10% discount to celebrate this release (for all 4PSA and Parallels owned licenses). The discount code is

clarea3

and can be used in the Online Store when you make a purchase! The discount code is valid until 23 September 2008.

Why an Updated Clients Area?

There are a couple of reasons.

First:
Our ordering facilities were designed five years ago. At that time, software was owned. As far as I remember, we started to offer leased licenses, but they were not very successful. Even providers used to purchase licenses rather than lease them. However, in the last year we noticed that there is a powerful trend to lease rather than own licenses. This is quite normal, considering that most of our customers are providers. For them it makes more sense to lease licenses because this better fits into their business structure.
So, with the new Clients Area customers can provision and terminate (unfortunately providers will have customers that want to cancel their server or VPS) leased licenses. This can be done from the Clients Area or using an API. The interesting part is that they can do this not only for 4PSA products, but for Parallels products also. We have a lot of customers purchasing Parallels licenses from us and they will find it very easily to provision licenses.

Second:
Partners’ invoicing was pretty complicated for us, therefore smaller partners had to pay per purchase.
With the new features, even smaller partners can be invoiced monthly. This way they will not spend precious time on submitting payment information with any purchase.

Third:
There were some areas of the Clients Area that were not so efficient from the customer’s perspective. It was OK to manage 10-20 license keys, but we have partners with several thousands keys under their administration. For these it was kind of difficult to manage the keys.

We fixed all these issues in the latest release.

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OS Supported by VoipNow

We have received quite a few comments lately about the operating systems supported by VoipNow. Let me explain some things. The ideal operating system to run our software must:

1. Be supported by the vendor for at least three years.
2. Be stable and properly maintained.
3. Have an established community.
4. Be supported by third parties.
5. Be free!

Based on the above criteria, we are dropping support for Fedora in the next releases, because:
1. Fedora’s life cycle is very short; you can only upgrade the OS, which is not practical on a server because it introduces downtimes. In fact, Fedora was never designed for servers, but for enthusiasts.
2. 80% of the critical issues we experienced in the last two years were related to Fedora’s minor patches, usually in the libraries VoipNow is dynamically linked with. These issues often lead to crashes. However, less than 15% of our clients use Fedora.

In the future, we will focus on “Enterprise” operating systems. Redhat Enterprise Linux is very carefully maintained, supported for seven years and highly backed up by third parties. Unfortunately, it is not free. Fortunately, there is an alternative called CentOS, which is binary level compatible with Redhat Enterprise Linux (it’s a recompilation of the Redhat packages). In the last three years we have noticed only two problems that were related to improper compilation of the Redhat Enterprise Linux sources by the CentOS team. None of them was critical.

Supporting an extra operating system is a very delicate step, because it involves a lot of work on maintenance and QA. Many people think that it’s easy to support an extra operating system – that it’s just a matter of “compilation”. There are many, many issues that range from subtle differences in the linked libraries (for example VoipNow is dynamically linked with 50+ libraries that are installed by the OS, a bug in many of these could lead to crashes) to package management.

It’s easier to support extra Linux distributions rather than different operating systems (like FreeBSD). In the past, most of our products supported FreeBSD (personally I am a big fan of FreeBSD and Solaris), but we discovered that less than 2% of downloads were for FreeBSD. Due to this situation, we decided to drop support for it because the development of the FreeBSD version was quite expensive (we could use those resources on the product development).

Also, with VoipNow 2 we will support much more complicated infrastructures, like the Cluster. In this case, the operating system support is even more important because maintenance becomes more difficult.
What I can tell at this stage is that with VoipNow 2 we will support RHEL3 i386, RHEL4 i386/x86_64, RHEL5 i386/x86_64, CentOS 3 i386, CentOS 4 i386/x86_64, CentOS 5 i386/x86_64 and Suse 11 (so only Suse 11 support will be added to the list).

We are of course opened to provide support for more operating systems, but such decisions must be technically and economically founded (for example, a reason like “I hate Redhat” is not going to work :))

BTW, the same OS strategy applies to DNS Manager.

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I Want to Make It Cheap

I usually talk with 3-4 people every day. They call us asking for more details about VoipNow, they have some technical questions and, in the end, the call is directed to me. One of the first questions I ask is “What services do you want to offer?”. This way I can help the customer, but I also learn about new services. Unfortunately, at least one person per day answers me “I want to offer very cheap prices. Something like 2USD/month”.

When I got this answer for the first time, I was puzzled. I didn’t know what to say more. I didn’t want to offend my interlocutor asking him if he has a business plan. Lately, I discovered that it’s better to ask some fundamental questions, it’s best for someone to realize early that his business is not going to work. I try to explain that the market demands innovation and unique features, not just some other cheap calling cards. Many people understand me and want to learn more, but unfortunately other guys imagine that I have something against their business. 🙂

All I want is to try to make these people better spend their time and effort. Do you think that I should not care?

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VoipNow Browser Module, Ultimate Integration

We had the idea of this product when we realized that it’s very difficult and frustrating to integrate VoipNow with other software products.

I can explain how hard it is to integrate two products from different vendors and how “nice” it is to stay updated with new releases. I think that all of you imagine how such a process works.

Fortunately, for VoipNow we had an interesting integration idea. Most of the guys who wanted to integrate with VoipNow wanted to achieve click to call functions. For example, a vendor offering a mail server wanted their customers to be able to click on the contact phone number in order to call the contact. A CRM vendor wanted to offer mostly the same thing in order to provide sales guys with a quick contact method.

Although not difficult to achieve this with VoipNow Call API, the actual integration is the problem, because many products have a closed source, and even if they expose a method to do this (like an API) this would have required accommodation with that API, a design step, a coding step, a QA one, etc. An expensive and resource consuming process.

This is why we designed and created VoipNow Browser Module. We call it the Ultimate Integration, because it creates the integration between VoipNow and ANY web based application, even very dynamic ones that heavily use AJAX. The user must download VoipNow Browser Module, setup it to connect to the VoipNow user account and that’s all. In all browser windows the user will open, he will see all phone numbers replaced with a nice link. When the user clicks on a link his phone number will ring and he will be connected to that number. Easy, isn’t it?

Once again, why we see it as the Ultimate Integration? Because VoipNow works closely together with:

1. Applications we don’t know about
2. Applications that were not even released
3. Any website on the Internet

Did I mention that is free? Download and play with it. I think you understood that VoipNow is required for the module to connect to – the nice thing is that you can use it even if you have a VoipNow account from your provider (you are not the server administrator). And yes, providers are welcome to redistribute it and offer it to their customers. 🙂

Be aware that currently it’s available for Internet Explorer only, but a module for Firefox will follow.

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Virtuozzo Templates, ISO and VMware

We finally released the above, after the VoipNow 1.6.3 and DNS Manager 3.5.0 releases last week. They are available at:

DNS Manager 3.5.0
http://download1.4psa.com/dnsmanager/dnsmanager-3.5.0.iso
http://dnsmanager.4psa.com/vzdns/

VoipNow 1.6.3
http://download1.4psa.com/voipnow/voipnow-1.6.3.iso
http://voipnow.4psa.com/vz/

Of course, you can always use the command line installer, these are only additional installation methods.

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Hosting Providers Are Better Positioned than VoIP Providers

Better positioned where? 🙂 I agree that the title might be a little funny. But let me explain.

We estimate that around 75% of the providers that offer VoipNow are Internet Telephony only providers, around 15% are hosting providers that also offer Internet Telephony, and the rest of 10% are enterprises.

During the discussions with our customers, we discovered that most VoIP only providers do not usually offer value added services to their users and they only use VoipNow for a determined purpose, which is very specific (let’s say calling cards). We believe that this is unfortunate and that sooner or later the market will force them to go into value added services.

On the other hand, hosting providers usually offer more feature rich services. It’s absolutely clear that the market will converge in the next five years. The unified messaging market will force providers to offer hosting and communications bundled in one package.

For hosting providers it’s reasonably easy to start offering VoIP services, but for telephony service providers it’s not so easy. Even if hosting providers are much slower on adopting things, (surprisingly) they have a very interesting opportunity at their fingers. We can help them address it.

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DNS Manager 3.5 Is Live

You can update your systems, you can download it. We haven’t released the new ISO, Virtuozzo and VMware templates (this will happen in the next days), but the new repository is live, so you can install/update DNS Manager 3.5 using the command line updater. We tested this release with some of our partners in the last three weeks and the feedback was very positive, because we made a lot of new things possible with DNS Manager 3.5.

We have a particular customer that invested more than 50k on its custom made DNS management software in the past six years. Last year they didn’t want to use DNS Manager, but this month, after several weeks of testing, they finally adopted DNS Manager 3.5. We helped them a little to integrate it with the domain registration and customer panel, but it was not so difficult considering that this took less than two weeks.

Key features in DNS Manager 3.5:
– round robin (DNS load balancing) automation
– support for AAAA, SRV and NAPTR
– speed boost on remote updates

I guess you can discover by yourselves the rest of the 30 new features (or you can read the release notes :))

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4PSA Server Controller – new version

We launched a new version of Server Controller. Server Controller is not such popular 4PSA software, and personally I fell sorry for this, because I think that it deserved more. The main problem with it was that no other control panel had such an addon and for most people it was (and it still is) difficult to understand what is Server Controller and what it does (looks like we weren’t either very good at explaining this).

The software is a Microsoft Windows program that can be used to manage and monitor multiple Plesk servers. I use it almost every day, because in many cases it’s hard to remember the logins, than login in the browser to the correct server in order to check customers and domains, add new domains, etc. With Server Controller this is very easy, because everything is accessible at a click of a mouse (you only have to add the server to it once). I estimate that most companies with serveral Plesk servers can save a lot of minutes every days with Server Controller.

The software also allows you to monitor the most important parameters of a Plesk server (an agent must be installed on the server). The new version is compatible with Microsoft Vista and also brings some other improvements. I recommended you to check it.

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4PSA Clean Server 4 – A giant step forward

A new version of 4PSA Clean Server is scheduled for September. There are many unique features built in this new version. You know that 4PSA Clean Server was the first mail antivirus for Plesk (it was released almost five years ago). Parallels also introduced some antiviruses, using engines from Dr.Web and Kaspersky. Although much more expensive than Clean Server, especially Dr.web is quite popular. There is no major difference between Clean Server and Parallels offering (well, two years ago Clean Server was considerable faster and more stable, today the difference is minimal). Clean Server still has many more features than any of them, but we felt that this was not enough for our next generation product.

One of the common problems with antiviruses (the same with antispam – yes, a new Spam Guardian 4 is also in development) is that in one massive email flow, some emails might not be scanned because the scanning engine is too busy. In order to prevent this, with Clean Server 4 we introduced a Grid scanning infrastructure. Let me explain.

Let’s say that you have a single Plesk server. You will install Clean Server on this server and it will work like previous versions. But, let’s say that you do not want your machine to be loaded by antiviruse scanning. No problem, you can get another server (a VPS might be fine) and install there the scanning engine. Then you point your Clean Server to that scanning engine. Even better, you can have multiple Plesk servers pointing to the same scanning engine, which means that a machine will be dedicated only to antivirus scanning.

Wait, that’s not all. Let’s suppose that this scanning server gets too loaded. No problem, add another scanning server and point your Plesk servers to both scanning machines. Add three, four – it does not matter. The Plesk servers will load balance scanning requests between servers in the infrastructure.

Benefits? Hard to count them all:

– It will be impossible for a hosting machine to be loaded with too many scanning requests, meaning that other services will not be affected by high loads.

– Emails can no longer pass unscanned due to QoS settings. When your scanning machine is too loaded, simply add another machine!

– Resources are much smarter spent.

– The scanning engines collect information from multiple machines, which mean that they can learn better about nasty email profiles.

This is just the most important architectural improvement in Clean Server 4. We also increased its speed by more than 200%, added more control features for end-users, improved interface, etc.

With Clean Server 4 we make a considerable jump ahead our competition. I am fully confident that this idea will be sooner or later copied. But this will take some time and guess what – we already know which one will be the next generation architecture and we started the research on it 🙂

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Do I need Plesk to use VoipNow?

The idea to write here answers to some popular questions came to us after HostingCon 2008 (yes, we got lots of questions there). In the following days we will try to answer to such questions.

People often asked if Plesk is required in order to use VoipNow. The answer is that VoipNow has nothing to do with Plesk, it’s a totally different software. Its interface looks pretty much alike, and it was created this way for end users, because it’s easier for them to learn software with a familiar interface. In fact VoipNow cannot be installed on the same server with Plesk. However, we created a Plesk addon, called VoipNow Plesk Module that allows server administrators to link together Plesk servers with VoipNow servers. This software builds an interesting opportunity for a hosting company, because they can use their customer base to upsell VoIP services. As VoipNow is ready for SMB customers, the hosting company business will boost.

The free VoipNow Plesk Module allows hosting customers to perform all hosting and VoIP related operations under Plesk. But even in this case you will need a server with Plesk and a server with VoipNow (VPSes are ok).

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