Eric Witheridge of Module IT
Module IT based in Gloucestershire are Currently providing their own hosted ‘cloud’ technologies including www.babblevoice.com which is a free hosted telephone system. It helps businesses to reduce costs, improve efficiency and ends the dependence on long-term contracts.
Eric loves technology and how people relate to it.
Interviewer: 0:00 Hello, and welcome to I.T. Rockstars I’m the founder of I.T. Rockstars we help connect businesses and with technology. We help businesses choose the right technology and I.T. providers. And the goal of today’s show is basically an introduction to Open Source Voice Over IP what it is and how it can benefit your business and on today’s show we’ve got Eric Weather-bridge of Mogul IT. Mondale I.T is based in Gloucestershire and they currently provide their own hosted cloud technologies including one called Babble Voice it’s a free hosted telephone system and it helps businesses reduce cost improve efficiency and it depends on long-term contracts. I’m going to be asking a few questions about Open Source VOIP I don’t have a clue about it so everyone’s that listening to this will probably hopefully be on the same key as me. So Eric welcome to the show I think the first thing I’m gonna asks you in that intro I basically pulled that into from your LinkedIn. You’ve mentioned the word Free Host Home System how can it possibly be free?
Interviewee: Well, nothing in this world is free but fundamentally the premise of Open Source was free available software free software which can be used to build commercially acceptable applications. The actual switchboard itself is completely free of charge you can you can go there if you choose Babble Voice then you can go onto the Babble Voice Website you can open yourself up a control panel and actually start using it and playing with it. You can connect a couple of phones to it and use a system that will cost you absolutely nothing as long as the calls remain inside the system.
Interviewer: So how do you as a company then Mondale I.T. how do you generate profit then if the system’s free?
Interviewee: 2:00 Okay, the entry point is free but like anything, if you want to make commercial calls outside the system then you pay for your calls in the normal way. And so what we do as a company is make a tiny margin on each of the calls that are made. And then we sell some additional services that make the whole experience with the package a lot better and we also tend to make our money by installing the hardware and advising the customers on how best to put the technology in both of them.
Interviewer: So that how the project work with the playing of the phone system and how that all set up how the call handling that type of thing.
Interviewer: 2:45 Okay, Probably just take a step back there. That’s just an opening question to sort of put you on your toes basically. Open Source VOIP you mentioned to me earlier on that you’ve got twelve years experience with Open Source VOIP. To the best of your abilities if you could sum up Open Source VOIP to the laments to someone that’s not a technologist how would you describe it ? What is it?
Interviewee: It’s a disruptive technology which is something that I personally get very excited about it’s in 1998 in Palo Alto, in California there was a group of people that got together and formed the Open Source Alliance and it was basically to make use of freely available software that was around in Market Place to be able to develop educational and commercial products from it. So it sorts the sort of thing that’s being in the background and certainly, anybody involved in I.T. will have bumped into it even if they use the term Linux, The Linux Operating System which was largely built on Open Source Software. But interestingly people have read how to use the commercial and have been very successful.
Interviewer: So, how did you get involved in Open Source VOIP?
Interviewee: We were an I.T. support company we had a need in the business because we’ve got a couple of separate offices to be able to reduce our telephony costs. We also had an issue that in a managed suite that we were in the telephony costs were artificially higher because of the tendency agreement. And it was felt that because the bulk of the business is done using phones and connections that we had to try and do something and at that time there was a piece of software called Asterisk which was Open Source and kicking in the market and one of my colleagues at the time had the idea of playing with this and seeing if we could use some old out of date hardware that we got kicking in the office and build a telephone system.
Interviewer: 5:06 Is Asterisk is that a piece of software or is that an Operating System?
Interviewee: It’s a piece of software
Interviewer: Okay, What kind of Operating System does it sit on?
Interviewee: It’s sitting in those days largely in the Linux environment
Interviewer: Okay, can it be run in the Windows environment with the server?
Interviewee: These days I would imagine yes we’ve lost touch with it because the whole thing has moved on.
Interviewer: Oh, things have moved on from then, okay, alright.
Interviewee: And we no longer use it. It was in its earliest form it was a great tool. And it certainly helped us to learn but we swiftly ran into some major limitations with it.
Interviewer: Did you was that through your own experiences with running an I.T. support business?
Interviewee: Yes, absolutely yeah we founded the that having telephony equipment located on our premises made us very, very bandwidth dependent so it became pretty unattainable when the volume of calls reached a high level.
Interviewer: How many years ago was this were you talking about?
Interviewee: Oh, this is probably about 10 years ago now.
Interviewer: Okay, so you looking at maybe a 2mb connection or something like that throughout all this like?
Interviewee: Absolutely ,yeah, yeah.
Interviewer: Okay, so things have obviously moved on from that piece of software. Now your currently deploying a hosted solution called Babble Voice do you wanna give us an overview of what exactly of what that is?
Interviewee: Yeah, I mean interestingly it’s not just Babble Voice we use a lot of technologies and basically try and choose the one that most appropriate to a particular customer we’re dealing with. So Babble Voice was the first one that was a decision to take pretty much what had been built on the earlier Asterisk platform and move that into a cloud environment so that we could use a data center to store the switchboard rather than locating it locally. And that then involved us using a new piece of technology exhaust called Free Switch and free switch then allows us to be able to locate the sales were. So we started to playing with a moving VAT Technology into that environment and deployed it successfully for ourselves and then started to look for customers who might be interested in that technology as well at the time.
Interviewer: So you were kind of like the guinea pig in all of this. When you were going to market with us for solutions for business. How did you position yourself in regards to comparing to all the other telecommunications providers that are out there how did you position yourself as an open source piece of the solution?
Interviewee: 9:11 I guess we were lucky and that we had a number of existing clients I.T. support customers we were engaged with on a regular basis and this meant we were able to talk to them about the solution we were using. Our first entrance market was actually to trial it with one or two customers that proved very successful it also highlighted a couple of things to think about which was having applications which would link the telephone system to other systems. So, for instance, a taxi appointment monitoring software could link the Babble Voice software to it and get the two things talking so you could pop someone’s details on screen and use Babble Voice as the telephone technology.
Interviewer: You mentioned there it has been successful. In the initial stages of this, what were the main challenges?
Interviewee: I think the main challenges to starting with were reaching the limitations of the particular package we were using at that time. The move to Free Switch and the data centers opened that up so that we could deal with many, many more connections. The problems we then started to encounter were within honesty some of them were simple logistical problems in when it suddenly got a multitude of small companies using the product all using the same certain facilities then again eventually we simply ran out of space. So on the server, so it’s necessary then to build a new server and that was quite numerous and lengthy task which meant that you would run into potentially into call drop outs and call quality problems and that would be an indicator that you needed to move to another server.
Interviewer: How do you monitor that now that you know in a hosted environment? How do you know your capacities got a number?
Interviewee: Amazon helped a great deal in that you can switch on instances instantly (inaudible)(11:42) that means the learning process of developing a system meant that ways were found to build a new server very quickly. and then the Amazon environment meant that we could, in fact, make a little template on flick a switch and suddenly have more capacity available.
Interviewer: So you’re using Amazon I’m assuming their EC2 platform
Interviewer: on AWS?
Interviewee: Oh yes, absolutely.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s quite interesting cause I guess you’re offering a free hosted platform but at the same time I know how much Amazon charge for EC2 instances. So interesting
Interviewee: We use it for other services
Interviewer: I see, okay.
Interviewee: 12:31 From Disaster Recovery and backup services for the business and we have a particular solution that we offer into environment values, we have financial services customers that require a tremendous amount of processing capacity on a Wednesday. So we’re buying Amazon services for them anyway.
Interviewer: Yeah I know about the higher level businesses that are on Amazon first.
Interviewee: So eventually it becomes a cost-effective platform providing you’re able to utilize it 100% of the time.
Interviewer: 13:05 Okay, now open source VOIP, I could go to market just now for a phone system. I’m actually kind of looking at something by Microsoft, they offer a 365 package, now it’s Cloud PDX. So you can go to Office 365, you can get a hosted solution through Microsoft. Why would someone want to go down to the Open Source route?
Interviewee: Interesting, I think to some extent, the Open Source platform has already proven itself.
Interviewee: Okay? We have now passed the early adoptive stage of the product, and we are into the stage where it’s actually quite a stable and good technology. As long as you know how to put it into place. If I look at the Microsoft experience and the Skype experience, which we are now using of course, then, that has somewhat of a check and past. I think that’s probably the safest way to say it.
Interviewer: 14:13 I had no experience with it whatsoever, I’m just initially checking it out now. I’m bit of a guinea pig at the moment with it.
Interviewee: Yeah, the early indications with Office 365 were that they were going to be this tough14:26 [inaudible] where work is extremely simpler and you would what they called conversions.
Interviewee: But I think the reality was probably not as easy as was being implied. The open source environment, I think offers a lot of more freedom of flexibility for a lot more businesses and people to get involved in it. And therefore the development has been faster, and the agreement on standards has been a lot better and a lot quicker. So you can go out and buy a polycomer or a yale…14:59 [inaudible], almost anything; and it will work with most of the major open source …15:10 providers.
Interviewer: 15:10 So there is a lot more choice there and flexibility.
Interviewee: Yes, and bluntly it tends to always be a little bit more cost effective.
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Now you’ve been doing this for twelve years and you mentioned that you had capacity issues when you were putting this in place initially. Is there anything; for me to go to an open source solution just now, from a decision makers point of view. What types of things they should be asking their IT provider or their communication’s provider. What type of things should be on their mind that maybe you’ve come across yourself?
Interviewee: 17:23 Okay, I think the first and most fundamental this is, is my broadband capable of supporting a VOIP solution. The rule of thumb is about a megabytes bond with enough for about 12 concurrent conversations. But you have to bear in mind that, that band with ANDEM. So a standard ADSL connection. If you get beyond 12 connections at one time, then you are pretty much meeting the limits of ADSL. Having said, most businesses certainly up to 40 or 50 employees will probably not be handling 12 concurrent conversations. So as a rule of thumb a good and solid ADSL connection will give reasonable service.
Interviewer: 18:29 The ADSL service, would you be running that purely for the voice service?
Interviewee: Yes, rule number one is, separate voice from data as you possibly can.
Interviewer: Okay, separate lines for both.
Interviewee: Yeah IV has got a band width in which case you can you can do it electronically using a thing called quality of service or clause. But whenever we’ve done these installations, inevitably if there are co-quality issues, they are most certainly related to the fact that computing and …19:06 are sharing the same network. So a default situation is to have a separate broadband connection for the phones.
Interviewer: Okay, is there; if you are choosing like an ADSL connection or we’ve got …19:26 . Is there any particular service provider you would recommend or any particular product within ADSL or five to cabinet that would work better for an open source solution? Or it’s just a run of the mill.
Interviewee: Now I think the important thing is that we could be dreadfully unfair to one or two broadband operators and say they regularly get problems with their service, and therefore it might be worth considering something of this issue. But I wouldn’t want to pick on any particular service. It certainly gain better and much more stable. Bluntly, my view is, keep it simple. Go for a broadband provider you know provides a good service in your area, and as I said, try and keep the computing and the phone separate.
Interviewer: 20:30 What if it’s maybe it’s a larger business or a company that cannot get a decent corporate wire connection, they have to go a leased lane. In regard to deploying the source for babble voice, would you still require that there are two separate leased lines in there?
Interviewee: No, lease lines are different. With a leased line we have the ability in most cases to apply quality service and segregate it a portion of the bandwidth so that its absolutely available in effect as though it were a separate connection. So to be honest…21:19 with the cabinet, once we are getting up into those types of broadband speeds, it really is possible to take a couple of megabytes of bandwidth and dedicate it to the telephony. And that pretty much has the same effect.
Interviewer: Okay, that’s good to know. I’m trying to maybe come from a decision makers point of and the type of questions that they would have in their head. I guess one thing would be the experience of the provider, and they were looking for open source. Because any one can really pull open source from off the shelf and start using it right away.
Interviewer: Absolutely, I think a track record in the field, length and service in the field can swim off a lot. Bluntly, the basic underlying technology, I almost want to say doesn’t matter. As long as it does the job. I think the experience of the person using that and their ability in some cases to find the alternatives is vitally important. But secondly with open source, if we look at Google, Google is quite happy to move products almost instantly with very little plans to replace that. o anybody that has built a business based on some of those technologies is in a very nasty position. So it’s just being sensible, it’s trans…22:51 as much as possible.
Interviewer: Don’t hang your eggs in one basket.
Interviewer: 22:59 Okay, now the open source vibes, is it particular sectors or industries that work pretty well with a particular solution provided, or is it just across all sectors or is there…
Interviewee: We’ve got a variety of customers from a one man band financial advisor using the service because he wants to have phone numbers in bristol glosal and county. A company next door to us with 70 handset, and one quite close to us that is on about 30 handsets now. The business sector doesn’t seem to matter.
Interviewer: 23:45 What about the size of business? I know I previously hosted voice solutions and, I’ve always found that when I get up to a particular number of handsets, commercially, it actually makes more sense to go down a …24:03 find a piece of hardware on site. Is there a particular fit in regards to the size of the business.
Interviewee: Well traditionally, we work with businesses that are between 10 and about 50 to 150 employees. The 10 to 50 bit would be office based. So largely we are looking at that sort of number of telephone connections. Let’s just say we have one that starts at 70. We have one customer that potentially could be sort of 150, but in their case I agree with you. They were better off commercially buying a PBX system, that is a better deal.
Interviewer: Yeah there are other companies with about 200 handsets but they are across multiple locations. So you have 50 location, would it be more of a …24:58 then?
Interviewee: Oh that’s the occasion where it becomes very effective indeed. As soon as you have any business with multiple locations, VOIP become very attractive, simply because it’s easy to handle 40 to 50 employees at one location; 20 to 30 at another. We just installed for big account…25:16 practicing lots of…25:21 . That’s the 35 seats installation. Something like 28 of the at one site and the rest of them are at another site. In that case the opposite argument works.
Interviewer: 25:38 For me it gives me a good overview of open source VOIP and some of the benefits. Do you think there is anything missed. I got a list of questions here that I missed that you could tell the audience about.
Interviewee: I think that the big thing with kind of technology is they are always going to be more and more questions and answers. So there would be a huge list. We are open to answer questions if anybody wants to ask us specific technology questions, then I would be happy to answer them.
Interviewer: Another question on my mind, I’m trying out cloud PBX by Microsoft. Where do you see the industry going in regards to open source VOIP? Do you see a path more towards mobile, or is there a progression.
Interviewee: I think there is a definite move towards proper conversions. We’ve already seen recently the acquisition of…26:50 , we are also now starting to see one of the VOIP operators very much working within BT environment. BT themselves are now selling a VOIP solution. hey, interestingly, we’ve been called in to put a couple of those installations right which is great.
Interviewer: Is that right, that’s where experience comes in.
Interviewee: Yea, exactly. In that case we didn’t try and take them off the BT solution, we actually made the BT solution work for them. And they are now very happy customer, so I think the market will converge. I think mobile definitely will have a major effect. And I think that we will want to do more video calling, and have more flexibility. So I think that all of the solutions will move towards that. I think it would be a few years before they perhaps become a problem.
Interviewer: Does babble voice, does it have an IOS or and android application?
Interviewee: 28:10 There is a multiplicity of applications that they can download free of charge or for a small charge. Apps which will allow you to use it on a mobile phone. To be honest with you, certainly I use one myself. To be honest, that’s more of a demonstrating capability. To use it commercially, it means having another app running in the background as well as your mobile phone. I think once you get through conversions, then will open the marketplace up.
Interviewer: I think I’ll leave it there Eric, thanks for coming on the show. I forget to mention our sponsors, I’ll probably will just sort them in a pre-recorded messages. I do appreciate you coming on the show. I don’t know you from anywhere, and so module IT based in…29:06 . How can people get in touch with you?
Okay, I’ll see you on the next master class.
Wonderful, thanks a lot Scott.29:14