Tag Archive: VoIP


Tools to run an IT Company

Inspired by https://www.bluegg.co.uk/writing/tools-to-run-a-design-agency, I felt it would be interesting to collate a list of the tools (i.e. hardware, software, services, etc.) that we use to run our business. I hope this will provide a good opportunity to share our feedback, review some of the tools, and address any gaps.

I’m starting with a simple list, but hope to follow up with some notes around each of the tools.

Hardware

Network:

  • Ubiquiti (UBNT) – UniFi Series
    • UniFi Switch 48 (USW48)
    • UniFi Security Gateway Pro (USG)
    • UniFi AP AC (UAP)

I have been fairly impressed with all the UniFi equipment. We do run the beta controller so encounter occasional issues . We chose to deploy the EdgeRouter for clients as they’re easier to manage without the complications of the controller.

Servers:

  • 1U Custom Built SuperMicro Server (running ESX 6.5.0update1)
  • Synology Rackstation (Fileserver, SFTP and DVR)

I have built half a dozen SuperMicro ESX servers over the last X years and they’ve all fared really well, providing excellent value for money. We can afford to have 2 servers (hot/cold spare) for far cheaper than an Enterprise HP/DELL equivalent (providing us a quicker turnaround in the event of failure). The biggest problem is sourcing the parts in the UK.

Similarly, I have been using Synology NAS solutions for many years and have always been impressed. We use the unit to provide in-house storage/archiving, remote backup for clients, SFTP access and as a DVR for our Hikvision IP Cameras – the only drawback being that you do have to purchase additional Surveillance Station licenses.

Desktops/Workstations:

  • HP Elitebooks 8440p/8470p with Solid State Disks (SSD)
  • HP docking stations
  • Dual Acer v226hql 21.5″ monitors.

We normally pay around £100 for the laptops and £70ish for the monitors. We have a stash of 128gb SSDs which are plenty big enough. These laptops are far from “latest generation” but are built to last and perform surprisingly well (we do some fairly serious multi-tasking). So, for under £250/user, we have a pretty impressive setup.

Tablets / Android Devices:

  • Nexus 7 (for Android development/testing)
  • Clover Flex, Mobile, Mini and Station

Our Java/Android development is currently focused on the Clover till / ePOS, hence the Clover device. These are quite hard to get hold of (having to order from the US and use a special service to forward them to the UK). The Nexus tablets have the same screen size and resolution as the Clover Mobile / Mini so provide a great platform for testing/development at a fraction of the cost!

Digital Signage:

A great bit of free software I would highly recommend. We have upgraded to the Donor’s Edition and use it each and every day. Our office screens use Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) to display dashboard with key metrics and essential data to run our business.

Printer:

  • Xerox Phaser 6121MFP-S

We don’t print a lot, but when we need it, this colour laser works great. The scan to e-mail with the automatic document feeder is a life saver.

The printer has lasted for longer than I can remember, and I’ve only had to top up the toners once! I will be looking to replace it with the Xerox WorkCentre 6515N when it runs out of toner next.

Security:

  • HikVision (multiple domes and bullets)
  • Yale Wireless Smart Alarm

The HikVision cameras are very reasonably priced and provide a great resolution/quality. As mentioned above, our Synology fileserver doubles up as a DVR.

The Yale Smart Alarm is ideal; each member of staff has a unique PIN to allow audit and there is no subscription/monthly fee.

Phones:

  • Cisco 7906
  • Cisco / Linksys SPA942

We pick these up from eBay for between £5 – £15 per unit. The 7906 has proved rock solid for years, but we are starting to need the additional lines and conferencing facility provided by the Linksys SPA942. Read on for information about our VOIP provider.

Other:

  • Flukso (Energy Monitoring)

I’m still looking for something better (capable of recording more channels) but until then, this device is the best fit for our needs, where we are able to graph the usage of up to 3 channels). You can read a bit more about my home Flukso setup in an earlier blog entry; https://tickett.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/solar-kwh-meters-new-fuse-box-flukso/

Software/Services

Email/Sharepoint/Onedrive/Instant Messaging:

  • Office 365 – £45.60/user/year

We use Skype for instant messaging and Exchange for our individual and shared mailboxes, as well as Onedrive and Sharepoint for information and document storage.

Microsoft support is pretty terrible but, for the price, it’s a great service.

Version Control:

  • VisualSVN (subversion) – FOC
  • RedGate SQL Source Control – £59/user/year

If we were to set this up today, I suspect we would use Git over SVN, but we have our history and a number of integrations with other systems in place so will need a few good reasons before we jump ship.

RedGate SQL Source Control is a great tool to add SVN integration directly into Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS).

Accounting:

  • Xero – £316.80/year

I honestly don’t know how we coped before Xero. At the end of the financial year two weeks were set aside for paperwork (and this was before we had any staff/payroll to take care of). Invoices would go unpaid for 6-months without being noticed and VAT returns were a nightmare.

We now have live bank feeds into Xero and can tell real-time who owes us what, as well as having a clear picture of where money is going to/coming from, and VAT returns are simply a click of a button. Worth every penny!

Support/Ticketing:

  • Solarwinds WebHelpDesk – £86/user/year

We have been using WebHelpDesk since before Solarwinds took over and whilst it remains a handy tool. It has it’s limitations and becomes increasingly costs over time. A bit part of the decision was based on the Microsoft SQL Server back-end, allowing us to easily pull data on our dashboard and reports.

Project Management:

  • Trialling Trello – FOC
  • Trialling Freedcamp – FOC

Holiday:

  • Timetastic – £6/user/year

Does what it says on the tin. We did trial Charlie HR, but the free service doesn’t include a holiday calendar (which in my eyes is essential).

Web hosting:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Roughly £600/year

We currently use S3 and EC2 with a single T2.Medium instance running Windows Server 2016 / SQL Server 2016. We use this to provide several in-house services as well as a number of client applications.

DNS:

  • Cloudflare – FOC

A great tool, never had any issues – and it’s free!

Phone/Broadband:

  • XLN – £620.88/year

We were previously using Claranet, but XLN offered a good introductory rate at our new premises- never really had any issues. We have a block of 5 static IPs included in the price.

Password Storage:

  • Password Safe – FOC

We are actively looking for a new web based tool which will provide a better audit trail but not break the bank.

VOIP:

  • Tel2 – £180/year

We subscribe to the Cloud 10 plan which includes 2 local numbers, 5 sip trunks for simultaneous calls, 1100 minutes (including a large number of overseas) and unlimited extensions (as well as the usual voicemail, diversion, conferencing, hunt groups, etc).

We normally use an additional £5 outside of our plan for mobile/premium rate calls.

A great service, easily configured on our Cisco/Linksys handsets.

Windows (Web) Application Development:

  • Visual Studio 2017 Community Edition – FOC
  • Android Development Studio – FOC

We have recently moved to VS2017 Community Edition and have only found a few smaller missing features from the Pro/Ultimate edition (i.e. intellitrace, code maps and references). Time will tell whether we move back to the paid for edition.

We are newer to Android/Java development. Android Studio seems to be a bit of a resource-hog/drain and getting virtual machines/emulators working seems incredibly temperamental – time will tell with this one.

Monitoring:

  • RedGate SQL Monitor – £185/server/year
  • NetXMS – FOC

We chose NetXMS as it allows Microsoft SQL Server to be used as the database back-end, which means we can easily pull data onto our dashboard and reports.

Remote Assistance:

  • ScreenConnect – £315/year (at current exchange rate… actual fee is $420/year)

After looking at GotoMeeting, Webex, JoinMe and several others, we chose ScreenConnect (I think it mainly came down to pricing when used with multiple users). The only feature it seems to lack is a telephone conferencing facility.


Cost Summary

I have only quoted ongoing costs/license fees, not purchase prices or one-off fees. To recap, for ten users – we’re roughly looking at;

£ 456.00 – Office 365 – £45.60/user/year
£ 590.00 – RedGate SQL Source Control – £59/user/year
£ 316.80 – Xero – £316.80/year
£ 860.00 – Solarwinds WebHelpDesk – £86/user/year
£ 60.00 – Timetastic – £6/user/year
£ 600.00 – Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Roughly £600/year
£ 620.88 – XLN – £620.88/year
£ 180.00 – Tel2 – £180/year
£ 185.00 – RedGate SQL Monitor – £185/server/year
£ 315.00 – ScreenConnect – £315/year (at current exchange rate… actual fee is $420/year)
£4,183.68 – Total

I suspect I have missed a few too, but I will aim to update with more comments around the products/services/costs, etc.

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Hopefully this is the first of a number of trixbox how-tos. I have started with this one as i followed hundreds of guides, spent hours googling and tried hundreds of configurations until I eventually got it working. In the end it was relatively simple, i was actually trying to enter too much information!

  • Before we get started, if you haven’t already, forward port 5060 (TCP & UDP) on your router to your trixbox

    Configuring the SIP Trunk

  • Login to the maintenance area of your trixbox server
  • Under the basic heading on the left hand side, select trunks
  • Click add sip trunk
  • Enter your PSTN phone number assigned by sipgate in the “Outbound Caller ID” field
  • “Dial rules” can be configured how you like but a simple example would be 9|. (this will catch everything dialed starting with a 9 and send all the following digits to sipgate
  • Within “Outgoing Settings” enter “Trunk Name” something like sipgate
  • Then in “Peer Details”
  • allow=gsm&alaw&ulaw&g729&slinear
    authuser=SIP-ID
    canreinvite=yes
    context=ext-did
    disable=all
    dtmfmode=rfc2833
    fromdomain=sipgate.co.uk
    fromuser=SIP-ID
    host=sipgate.co.uk
    insecure=very
    nat=no
    qualify=yes
    secret=SIP-PASSWORD
    srvlookup=yes
    type=friend
    username=SIP-ID
  • Now in the “Incoming Detials” enter your SIP-ID in the “User Context” field
  • Now, this is the important bit i kept getting wrong and all other instructions seemed to point in the wrong direction. Leave the “User Details” section completely blank!
  • And finally, in the “Register String” enter SIP-ID:SIP-PASSWORD@sipgate.co.uk/SIP-ID
  • Submit the changes and apply them

    Configuring the Outbound Route

  • Under the basic heading on the left hand side, select outbound routes
  • Click add route
  • Enter “Route Name” something like 9_sipgate
  • Now in “Dial Patterns” as before 9|.
  • And in “Trunk Sequence” select SIP/sipgate
  • Submit the changes and apply them

    Configuring the Inbound Route

  • Under the basic heading on the left hand side, select inbound routes
  • Click add route
  • In “DID Number” enter your SIP-ID
  • Then finally “Set Destination”. I’d suggest choosing extension and picking an extension of one of your SIP devices or a softphone
  • Submit the changes and apply them

    To check everything is working

  • Access the PBX status screen
  • Under Sip registry you should see sipgate.co.uk with state “Registered”
  • Under Sip peers you should see sipgate/SIP-ID with status “OK”
  • Dial your PSTN phone number assigned by sipgate from a PSTN phone- the extension you configured earlier should ring?
  • Dial 910000 from one of your SIP devices or a softphone- you should hear the “welcome to sipgate…” message?
  • Good luck! Comment if you have any questions or come across problems.

Hopefully in the how-tos to come:

  • Configuring voipbuster for free outbound calls with trixbox (process should be the same for voipcheap, voipstunt, voipdiscount, internetcalls, netappel, poivy, sparvoip, freecall, sipdiscount, webcalldirect, lowratevoip & probably others)
  • Configuring trixbox as a DHCP server
  • Flashing CISCO IP Phones with SIP firmware
  • Configuring/troubleshooting trixbox IVR setup

L

Deliveries & New Fileserver

Deliveries

Got the fiber HBAs, SFPs and cables. Still waiting for the fiber router, wireless IP phone & the new fileserver bits detailed below :)

New Fileserver

Ended up going with a 3U Supermicro server w/ 2x Dual Core Opterons, 8Gb ram, 2x 8-Port LSI raid cards and 15x hot swap SATA bays. I’ve initially ordered 8x 1.5TB Samsung Ecogreen SATA disks to go in it.

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