Astricon 2009 – Glendale, AZ – Part II

Ok, it’s day 1 (or actually day 2) for AstriCon 2009 – and here’s my report for the day.

Yesterday was kind’a of a hectic day for me, as I was teaching a full day track of Asterisk and Cloud Computing, specifically, implementing Asterisk systems with Amazon EC2. I started the day with a class filled with 20+ people, and ended the day with a similar number – so in general I’m very happy. Not many people tend to attend the pre-conference days, so having that number of people and their positive reactions through out the day were very reassuring to me.

If there is one thing I’ve learned from this experience, it is the following: If you give a full day track, don’t arrive at the hotel 24 hours prior to it – you need at least 48 hours! People didn’t really notice (I hope), but through out the day I was suffering from a splitting headache – one that would usually send me right into bed with a couple of Advil’s. But hey, that didn’t stop me and I powered through it, I’m fairly proud of myself for doing so – as at the end of the day I regained back my strength and was livelier.

Today was the first official day of the conference – I gave the opening talk for the Cloud Computing track of the day. My talk was about how to build “IP Centrex” like services, without building an “IP Centrex”. I guess that I didn’t really introduce a brand new concept, but actually talked about something that many are thinking about, but are not inclined to try it on their own and burn some cash on. I guess my talk helped them out saying: “Hey, we’re not talking out of our asses here, this guy makes some sense and what we thought of isn’t that far fetched”.

Previous to that, Digium announced the 2009 Digium innovation award winners, where my company won an award in the pioneer category. This is the second year in a row my company had won the award, and I’m really happy with being acknowledged for this specific work. Having being a part of the community for over 7 years now, this award, at least to me personally, says a lot – it’s basically saying: “Look, you’ve done good, you’ve done some work that really helps out the project and the community in general – here’s a beer and a toast to you – hip hip” – well, that’s kind’a of a mouth full, but you get what I mean. I think that this is actually the place to mention that the award was for developing a high-powered Dialer/IVR platform, used in the Israeli elections and the work was contracted for a company called Shtrudel.

The all conference party is tonight – so I better rest up and be ready for it – should be fun. I guess beer and food are always a good mix when a bunch geeks are getting together :-)

GreenfieldTech announces the general availability of app_cashmaker for Asterisk

Udim, Israel. April 1, 2009 -GreenfieldTech Ltd., a leading provider of Asterisk solutions and Asterisk training services in Israel, today announced the availability of it’s patented app_cashmaker application for the Asterisk Open Source PBX system. The CashMaker application is intended to be used by various content suppliers, wishing to distribute Audio and Video based content, utilizing their Asterisk server.

The application is built to accept an inbound call into it, then, according to various information gathered in correlation to the callers caller ID and/or inbound DID number, will correlate a relevant content stream directly to the caller. The content distributor doesn’t even have to care about what content to distribute, as the application will connect directly, via the Internet, to a remotely available RTBSP streaming server at GreenfieldTech data center.

“The app_cashmaker application is the result of the cumulative work of over 3 years in the making, testing various content business models and applications. The main problems most content distributors have is how to gather the content and manage it, with app_cashmaker, this requirement is negated, thus allowing the distributor to concentrate on what they do best – flooding the newpapers with ads and marketing material to promote their content delivery service”, says Nir Simionovich, CEO and Founder of GreenfieldTech.

Simionovich indicated that the central content distribution facility is managed via a GTBS cluster environment, implemented partially utilizing Amazon’s EC2 and S3 structures, while utilizing GreenfieldTech’s proprietary streaming and clustering technologies. Currently, GreenfieldTech had submitted 10 different provisional patents, relating to the technologies comprising the app_cashmaker application and service. GreenfieldTech marketing team had indicated that initial beta trials had showed an increase in content availability, via the GreenfieldTech BSC Cloud facilityof over 40% with an increase of almost 80% in content delivery success.

Simionovich estimates that by the year 2010, over 20,000,000 will use the GreenfieldTech app_cashmaker facility, disrupting completely the way mobile, audio and video content is distributed around the world.

Asterisk is the world’s leading open source PBX telephony engine, and telephony applications solution. It offers unmatched flexibility in a world previously dominated by expensive proprietary communications systems. The Asterisk solution offers a rich and flexible voice infrastructure that integrates seamlessly with both traditional and advanced VoIP telephony systems. For more information on Asterisk visit http://www.asterisk.org 

For more information, please refer to the GreenfieldTech website at http://www.greenfieldtech.net.

Asterisk updates, rants and raves

Well, I guess it’s time for another Israeli Asterisk update post – one that was well due a long time now. This post was written after the recent hectic 3 weeks of Asterisk events and news here in Israel. So, I guess we’ll open with some news – beep, beep, beep.

Asterisk based Contact Centers

EasyRun, a world wide provider of Call Center and Contact Center solutions had announced the availability of its EpicAcce solution.

EasyRun Partners with Xorcom to Offer the Industry’s First Enterprise Grade PBX Agnostic Contact Center

EPICAcce Delivers the Industry’s First PBX Agnostic Enterprise Grade Contact Center Solution

For those in the know, the EpicAcce solution is based upon the Asterisk Open Source PBX system, bundled inside a Xorcom XR3000 appliance. I’m proud to say that I had some involvement in the development of this product, mainly, having trained the EasyRun lead developers in the workings of Asterisk – in the first Asterisk Bootcamp that was held in Israel last year. The EpicAcce appliance is defined as a PBX agnostic contact center solution, thus, it will work in any type of PBX or enterprise installation – making it the ideal solution for any company wishing to embed a contact center to their customer care, without the requirement of changing their entire company telephony infrastructure. In addition, the same unit can also be used as a the company PBX system – after all, it is based on Asterisk underneath and FreePBX as the management interface for Asterisk.

Asterisk gains recognition by the TheMarker.Com

About 3 weeks ago, I got interviewed by Amitai Ziv, a telecom reported from the TheMarker.Com IT news section. The interview (in hebrew) is available at the following URL:

http://it.themarker.com/tmit/article/6255

Now, while the article had mentioned about 25% of the actual interview and also summed up various statements from other people two, in general, it was very supportive of the Asterisk initiative and movement in Israel. I guess, well at least from my point of view, this article is a valid turning point – where the Israeli main stream industry acknowledges Asterisk as a valid business viable solution. In addition, as the founding father of the Israeli Asterisk users forum (www.asterisk.org.il) it is a great honor to be interviewed for this magazine. Sure, I make a living from promoting Asterisk and developing Asterisk based platforms, but having your face (although a horid picture) in the paper and having your name mentioned in a positive manner – is always a good thing.

Israeli Telecom Manager Club recognizes Asterisk

Yesterday I attended the “Israeli Telecom Manager’s Club” quarterly meeting, which was focused entirely on the viability of Asterisk and other Open Source based solutions. While most of the audience was made of large companies and captains of industry (Coca-Cola, TEVA, Israeli Electric Company, others) – I didn’t get the dreaded lazy eye I got almost 3 years ago.

When I started promoting Asterisk in Israel, almost 7 years ago, people looked at me as the crazy guy that has no idea what he was talking about. After all, I was an IP/Web technologies engineer, suddenly, starting to talk about telephony – in a world where 50 year old engineers were controlling and dominating entirely. Suddenly, a new kid on the block comes in and says: “Listen, Open Source can do it as good – if not better“. Yesterday was a turning point, suddenly, all these people came in to listen to me, preach and promote, both Asterisk and proper Open Source adoptation and GPL compliancy.

Israel is changing, companies start realizing that using GPL and modifying GPL products isn’t something to be taken lightly – it must be done with experts, and people that actually know what they are doing in the Open Source world. The old time Open Source geeks are starting to gain the industry recognition – Israel is finally starting to reach the state where the US and Europe are currently located at.

Digium announces availability of Support Services

This is not the first time Digium had tried doing this – first time was about 2.5 years ago. The current support services are based upon a signed service agreement, allowing the customer to receive phone based support services. According to the Digium website, the pricing model is as following:

                               <strong>SMB L1   SMB L2   Enterprise L3   Enterprise L4</strong>
Included Systems (Servers)        1         1          Up to 5         Up to 10
Included Cases (Incidents)        2         5             10           Unlimited
Additional Server Price           —         —          $495.00         $395.00
Named Contacts                    1         1             1                3
Price - 1 Year Subscriptions   $595.00  $1,995.00     $3,995.00        $7,995.00

Ok, not that I have a problem with that – I guess in the world people are willing to pay upto 300$ for a support incident – however, in Israel, that makes no sense. Judging from my experience supporting Asterisk, over 90% of the support calls can be resolved in less than 30 minutes. Charging an amazing price of 300$ for remote hands support, for an incident of 30 minutes – that is outragous. It’s true, I’m a Digium fan and I promote their products where ever I go, however, in Israel – this model will not cut it.

My company, started rendering Asterisk support services in Israel back in December 2008. Our support model is completely different – making it ideal for the Israeli market. Our support model is based upon a base line service agreement, indicating that you pay a total of 2,300 Israeli Shekels (around $500) for up to 10 hours of phone based and remote hands support services. These are rendered for a single server only – additional servers will cost you a couple hundrad more shekels, but the overall agreement in terms of time remains in tact. People in Israel know that support cases happen once every few months, so paying an identical price for getting 2 incidents handled simply doesn’t make any sense in the Israeli Market.

TDM400 Compatible GSM Module

ASTERISK GSM MODULE

ASTERISK GSM MODULE

A new product on the market introduces a GSM module to the ever popular Digium TDM400P card. The new module, available at http://www.asteriskgsmmodule.com/index.html is a plug-in for the TDM400P card, allowing it to accept a GSM SIM card – instead of the standard FXO module.

Finally, a plug-in for Asterisk that negates the need to work with a GSM converter. The bad thing is that it requires a patch to the wctdm.c Zaptel driver, and aparently, isn’t yet available for DAHDI at all – but I guess this will be fixed in the short future. I surely hope that these guys will contact Digium and maybe introduce the driver into the main stream driver distro, after all, Digium doesn’t make GSM modules – so it’s no competing with any Digium product.

Why will proprietary software will eventually die?

Last night I met with a friend of mine, Mr. Doron Ofek. For those of you not familiar with the Open Source market in Israel, Doron is the one person most affiliated with RedHat in Israel, as Doron championed the adaptation of RedHat Linux servers in various enterprises and government offices in Israel. Doron is currently heavily involved in the OpenMoko project and its adaptation and promotion in Israel.

We spent a great deal of time last night, talking about the various aspects of Open Source training in Israel – as both us provide various training services to this market sector. While I’m mostly focused on Asterisk Training, Doron is focused on Linux and XEN training. Both of us have some our training routes knee deep in Israel’s computer/IT training companies, namely Matrix, Hi-Tech College and John Bryce. We both talked about our discontent with their inability to promote and market Open Source training courses, simply because they have no idea what these are.

For example, while Hi-Tech college were incapable of signing up a single person for an Asterisk Bootcamp course, I had signed up 10 people to a my first bootcamp – without any marketing or sales budget, simply by putting out the word in the right places. Now, Hi-Tech college has a list of over 5000 people who studied Linux and other Open Source and networking subjects in their college – should have they been able to gather up at least 10 people as well (less then 0.5% of their entire customer base)? the answer is a definite yes, why were they unable to do so? simply because they have no idea what Asterisk is, how it can be marketed, how it can sold and how the customer should be approached.

Doron had indicated a similar issue with both John Bryce and Matrix – however, due to other reasons. However, Doron had managed to sell quite a few training courses for Linux on his own – without any help from the big boys – how did that happen? how is it possible that Doron and I succeeded where the other colleges had failed? how can that be? – then we both realized why eventually, proprietary software will die and the Open Source movement, over the course of time, will simply negate the presence of proprietary software – simply because Open Source people provide for better marketing strategies and methodologies.

Did we learn how to do marketing on school? are we marketing people by nature? the answer is NO – we learned how to market our belief in the Open Source initiative over the course of time. We championed Open Source in various enterprises, events, public speakings and other places. We were the “soap box” speaker at Hide Park’s Speakers Corner, we were that crazy man on the street screaming: “The world is coming to an end, repent!” (well, you know what I mean) – but all in all, as time progressed we learned how to market the Open Source initiative and our belief – the large enterprises are stuck in their own belief and stagnant marketing strategies and plans. As time progressed, the various “champions” left the large enterprises, simply because they got fed up with the wrongful methodology of these and followed their own path – and doing so with moderate success.

In my belief, as time will progress, the large enterprises will surely migrate to the Open Source, and I won’t be surprised if within a period of 5-6 years Microsoft will be shipping out a version of Windows that is based on the Linux Kernel – or another Open Source distibution methodology. Call me crazy, call me chaotic, call me a dreamer – but mark my words – this will happen.

Being a successful Asterisk Consultant (Part 2)

Last time, I’ve contemplated upon the various aspects of being an Asterisk consultant, mainly judging these from the Asterisk/Open Source point-of-view. Today, I’d like to contemplate upon a different approach of being a consultant, mainly, the various aspects that are usually not associated with Asterisk consultancy, however, can increase your overall perception by your prospective customer.

Be Targeted, Don’t be Limited

Most Asterisk consultant tend to restrict themselves to the Asterisk arena, at best, they will expand their knowledge into the realms of SIP and networks – but never beyond that point. It is true that telephony makes for over 80% of the Asterisk consultancy world, however, Asterisk isn’t limited to telephony only. More than 40% of the people using Asterisk are utilizing it for something completely different. Ranging from simple IVR to complex Micro Payment systems, Asterisk is there. Surely you can consult about Asterisk, but imagine the benefit your customer will gain if you are able to advise about other issues as well?

You are most probably saying: “I’m an Asterisk expert, I can’t be a **** expert as well!’ – you’re not being asked be one. You are being asked to expand your horizons beyond the Asterisk realm, being asked to be able to answer preliminary questions about various subjects. Over the course of my work I’ve been asked about subjects as: Google Adwords, Business Models, possible business partners, applicability of solutions and many more. Surely, there are people more qualified than myself to answer each of these, however, being able to answer my customer in a short time yielded something interesting, my customer became more at ease consulting with me about other matters as well – sometimes surpassing the realms of VoIP and Networking. When I was unable to answer I always replied with: “I’m not an expert about this, but I can check it out”. If I had an answer I would reply: “Per the information that I have, the answer is ………., however, I do suggest talking to someone more skillful than I on these matters”. This approach yielded an interesting response from my customers, mainly, their appreciation at me being able to supply a form of preliminary answer for a question – while on the other hand admitting at the same time that I’m not the best at this field.

Subjects that are fairly close to Asterisk include: GPL compliance, programmatic approach, platform design, billing considerations, scalability and redundancy and more. Again, always target your knowledge to Asterisk and VoIP, but don’t be limited to these.

Advocate for GPL compliance

As a consultant, you’ll be asked to perform various projects – some of these will most probably clash with the GPL spirit. If you encounter such a request, turn down this project immediately. There is no use or advancement by doing a project that violates the GPL code of conduct. No matter if you’re violating GPL v1, v2, v3 or any other of the Open Source license variants, at the end of the day, it will creep up behind you and bite you in the behind.

An Asterisk consultant who doesn’t advocate for GPL compliance is an outbound liar and a con-man. Consulting for the Asterisk market is prmoting the usage of GPL and Open Source software. Performing projects that violate both put you into the position of being perceived as a consultant without any code of conduct and no personal believes. You will be perceived as only being interested in money, thus, you will attract the type of customers you don’t want to attract.

Business Partners

The business partners you choose tell much about yourself. Sometimes, the big partners, which you really want to put their logo on your website as a partner is the wrong partner for you. Since the Q4 2008, my company had been approach by multiple companies wishing to become partners with my company – many have been declined. They were declined due to a simple reason – they were the wrong partners, even if they were companies generating over 25M$ of income per year. Does it make me sound stuck up and elitist, maybe, but there is no use partnering with a company that may clash with your own business model. Just like customers, partners tend to attract one another. Team up with the wrong partners, you’ll start attracting the wrong partners all over.