VON Down, Any Alternatives? Your Comments Are Welcomed..

We discussed recently inside our team about the opportunity to go (as exhibitors) to some VoIP conventions in the US and Europe. After all, we had a pretty good number of customers and partners around the world and it seems a good place to meet them in person while gaining additional exposure. After thoughtful researches we had to choose between Pulver Media’s VON and TMC’ s event ITExpo. They have both Spring and Fall US editions while VON had also (used to..) events in Europe.

As newcomers in US VoIP fairs and exhibitions we seek some advice and almost everybody indicated VON as the right choice. So we start preparing for that, and we missed the Amsterdam event (VON Europe) because it was too close, but decided to go to VON Fall edition in Boston. Unfortunately, while chatting with some friends from TMC I found out that all VON events have been canceled, Pulver Media no longer exists and nasty things are happening . I recommend you reading the comments above. We were so close to go to VON Europe in Amsterdam!!

So, in this case ITExpo remains the only viable option, unless you have other ideas. We’re preparing for Miami ITExpo in January 2009. Hope to meet our US friends there !! Meanwhile you can meet us this month in HostingCon (more about this later).

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Hosted PBX Market

Recently I saw some whitepapers showing how great the hosted PBX industry will develop in the following years that fill up with great expectations. Yes, VoipNow is a product that market cries for it 🙂 . Yes, hosted IP PBX market is here to stay (and grow) and offers obvious advantages. But, do we know how to capitalize the opportunities generated by this increasing demand?

There are two worlds colliding as the world communication is moving on IP basis: the telecom world and the xSP world, now becoming one big unified IP services market. When we start developing VoipNow couple of years ago we want it to be a bridge between hosting and telco world as his architecture and features were oriented to our primary target: the hosting providers. VoipNow may not be the only hosted PBX software on the market and arguably neither the best nor the most user friendly, but indeed, for xSP market, VoipNow is the most adapted product and is where it offers the greatest value proposition.

I had some chats with partners coming from traditional hosting and exploring entering into hosted voice business. They feel the potential but their lack of knowledge in telco sector could be a great business inhibitor. That’s why we think to give them a little help with some documents showing how to sell voice services to their (hosting) clients. There are real life scenarios with cost and revenue figures showing the economics behind a hosted voice business. You can find them here. In the following weeks I’ll keep searching for more useful info and white papers on the web about the hosted PBX business and share with you in the next posts.

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Vodafone is very Non(GREEN)

We receive around 150 A4 pages with the call log from Vodafone. Our monthly statement looks like a heavy book. Around 95% of these pages describe the connections to the Internet from the 3G phones. As we check mail automatically, you can realize that there are a lot of connections. The statement is useless, I don’t think that many people are interested to see how many Kb they got with an email at 4:23. However, Vodafone (at least here in Romania) sends them to every customer (there are several hundred thousand users of mobile Internet). You can realize the environment waste.

What sounded like disrespect to nature was actually more. I called them to disable these logs. They told me that the logs are normal and I can disable all (phone and data) logs only. As there is no other way to see the call logs (or I am not aware of any other way) this was less desired. But I said Yes, I prefered to have no logs at all rather that contribute to this crime.

I was amazed to see that for Vodafone this looks very normal and that they treated me like a freak because I actually wanted such a non sense (no data logs)!

What if your hosting company would send the website logs at your door every month?

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Feedback on VoipNow online trainings

We received a lot of feedback after the VoipNow online trainings this month. First, I apologize that we didn’t have enough seats for all of you that wanted to participate. It looks like the online trainings experiment was a very successful one. It is very easy for people to participate and the costs are much lower. Of course, there are some disadvantages because that human interaction is lost in a certain degree, compared to the on-site trainings. But overall the advantages are bigger than disadvantages.

I noticed that our attendants had many more business ideas after they joined the trainings. It is very easy to sense this using the question they ask like metrics 🙂 It looks like we do not communicate opportunities and system capabilities very well, so people need several presentations to realize them. But we will fix this. We also learned about some interesting businesses, for example one of our customers income grow with over 250% in the first five months of the year, only by upselling PBX to existing hosting customers. What started like a small experiment now requires automation investments.

I hope we will see you at the next training, BTW we published the schedule for July.. My recommendation is to join early.

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DNS Manager 3.0.1 maintenance release

Yes, we made available yesterday a new version of DNS Manager. From the functionality point of view this is a minor update, but there are some annoying bugs fixed as well.

This will be most likely the last version before the DNS Manager 3.2 release, which will come with many interesting new features, like support for SRV, NAPTR, IPv6, automatic round robin, etc. You guessed, it’s very easy to build VoIP infrastructures with the new version and we also included the support for round robin load balancing on the DNS Manager level. It’s not a simple round robin, but the resource monitoring is built into the server.

Meanwhile check the DNS Manager 3.0.1 announcement.

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Help us prioritize posts…

We have so many ideas for new discussion subjects… Unfortunately this makes quite difficult to prioritize posts. Please let us know what do you want to read about and we will do our best to satisfy you all.

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Discount code for blog readers!

Yes, I managed to get approved a discount code for blog readers. It is available until the end of the month, but I am sure that some others will follow. The discount code is:

BLOGRELOADED

As far as I know it’s case sensitive, so make sure that you use it this way in the 4PSA Store. It will give you 15% discount to all 4PSA software products!

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Interesting stuff behind the VoipNow Call API

I see a lot of questions in support and sales (especially after the VoipNow 1.6.2 release) about VoipNow Call API. It looks to be some confusion around this subject. In VoipNow we have two Call APIs:

  • a very easy to use HTTP interface, you can use to send calls, list, hangup, etc using HTTP GET requests. Docs are here.
  • an Asterisk Manager interface that technically can be used with any client that can work with Asterisk Manager

I want to discuss about the Asterisk Manager interface, as it’s more difficult to understand. As you know VoipNow is a multitenant system. This means that you can have multiple customers on the same machine. You do not want customer X to see customer Y calls or to hangup them. Unfortunately the Asterisk manager does not care about multi-tenancy, scales very poorly with multiple connections and the authentication mechanisms are far from great. We could have rewritten the entire manager interface, but this would have created a management issue for our Asterisk build.

The natural solution was to create a proxy. There is one Open Source proxy called Astmanproxy, which is pretty well known, so the approach is not new. New was what we wanted to achieve with this proxy:

  • Integration with VoipNow. This means that the proxy should read the MySQL database
  • Quality Of Service. We were particularly interested in limiting the number of connections and number of commands sent by a user, to add black list and whitelist per IP. Otherwise you cannot really open such a service to the Internet.
  • Filtering and isolation, this means that a user logging to Call API as customer X should receive only events that are related to customer X. The proxy should ignore any command that targets a resource not owned by customer X.
  • LUA scripting for requests and answers, so the engine could translate requests and server answers before they are sent to the customer. This way the proxy could work with virtually any Asterisk Manager client, because the user can use LUA to translate requests, if these are not properly made (clients are quite different).

When we started the project we want to build these features on Astmanproxy. It was an Open Source project and we didn’t want to spend time reinventing the hot water. Unfortunately after we added most of the features to Astmanproxy, we discovered a lot of issues with it under load tests (most issues due to the threading implementation), so we started to modify it extensively. I think that today only around 20% of the original code was preserved, which is not the brightest example of software engineering.

This project was made open source and will be committed to the upcoming 4PSA Developers Network which is due this summer. I will let you know of course as soon as it will become available.

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Yes, we will start to post on this blog

This blog has been dead for the last two years. When we created it, we really wanted to share interesting things and visions with it, but unfortunately we were too busy to write here :(. The fact that we finally decided to do something about this was influenced by several things:

1. I think that the time spent on this blog will be usefull for our customers. I usually find myself in the position to explain over and over the same thing, and I could explain it only once. Here.
2. We reshaped the blog to be more like a “product blog”.  So most topics will cover products, functionality and features. Of course, there will be some general posts also.
3. I hope we will gather feedback from comments.

Please do not hesitate to comment.

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How 4PSA VoipNow was born (part 1)

We first thought about a VoIP control panel for providers about two years ago. Everything started when we were contracted by one of our clients to implement a VoIP integration. Our client, a medium sized hosting company, wanted to expand its product line. They had requests for VoIP services from some of their clients and offering business communication services sounded like a very good business decision. After a lot of discussions with many companies, they were not able to find a solution to match their needs. Our customer didn’t want to come up with something extraordinary. They already had a successful business and they were not tempted to start a new business just to have problems.

After around a month of analysis, it was pretty clear that we must build a solution from scratch. We gather the requirements and come up with a proposal. Unfortunately the costs were too high for our client budget, and we had to drop the project.

In January 2005, we ran a project contest in our company. Basically everyone was able to register a project idea and the best two projects would have been presented to our investors. This would have been a very good opportunity to get the necessary founding. I entered the contest with a VoIP control panel for ISP/HSP. I had a lot of ideas for such a project, and it would have been quite fun to develop the first product of this kind. Some may not agree with the first project declaration. The truth is that I investigated all solutions on the market (and I still do this). Most of them are fundamentally wrong from the software engineering perspective. If someone is really interested I can detail why, but I guess that you must be a developer to see behind the marketing bullshit. An experienced engineer can only install the product and take a look to its architecture. And I did this with many products. I lost a lot of precious hours, but I was able to understand the market.

In our internal contest entered fourteen projects, most of them very interesting and with a lot of potential. I was very excited when I heard that our project won the first place and we will get the founding to make it real. This happened in March 2005. I gathered our team and informed them that we are going to start and bring to live the VoIP project. The development was happy and eager to start working to something new, where they could express themselves and innovate. I was also anxious to use our experience in server software in the new product design.

We started to refine requirements. This was pretty scary, because there were quite a lot. Soon it was obvious that the translation of these requirements into reality will be a challenge. In about two months, we had the requirements list approved, and we started to write the project specifications that addressed all the requirements. We adopted an iterative development lifecycle for the first version of the product. The project High Level Design was extremely difficult to define. During the first three months we realized better the amount of innovation present in the project and how different our product will be of what have been already done by other companies. We did not find many ideas on the market that could have been used ‘as is’. I am a perfectionist and all my colleagues have high standards. Many times we had to modify projects with poor design. The client comes with the code and we can not say no. But in the end a lot of projects are redesigned as this more cost efficient. We knew best what would happen if the project was not designed correctly. We knew that we will develop on the VoipNow the foundation for many years of development, so we proceeded with extreme care during the architecture design steps. BTW, I am sick of companies that announce on every new version a “product redesign”. And they are quite proud of this! Why redesign something if it has been correctly designed the first time? 🙂

I would love to detail more on the first months in the 4PSA VoipNow life, but I am afraid that no one will read on :). A common mistake made by many programmers is that they go into coding very fast. Many companies lack software engineering techniques and make this mistake on first projects. When the project costs increase, when they realize that developers do no longer understand the code, and if the company survives, they start to invest in engineering. It’s sad, but this is the real life scenario.

Well, after about three months we completed the design, the prototype was ready and everything was much clearer. It was obvious that the project presents many risks, and strategies were developed to address these risks. When everything was clear for the team and the initial training was completed, the programming of the first iteration was ready to start.

Although we are experienced developers, programming was not trivial. The configuration items were identified and kept under control. The project is highly modularized, which allows interventions without affecting other components. The most important components are the PHP interface, the C control binaries, the Asterisk applications and the Asterisk patches. The project is based on the Rack-Soft framework, a framework designed to increase the development performance, to address cross platform compatibility issues and to increase reliability. We use two frameworks for PHP and C, and both are in continuous development. This common framework allows us to port changes to active projects quite easily, to control problems and to standardize most operations.

In my next blog post I will tell you more about the product architecture and programming issue. I really don’t know what you want to find more, so please do not forget to send me your suggestions for the next post. Oh, do not hesitate to check the forum at forum.4psa.com.

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