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Ask Slashdot: Management Software For Small Independent ISP?

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the a-little-help-please dept.

The Internet 141

First time accepted submitter Vorknkx writes "I work in a small ISP. Most of our customers have cable modems but some of them are using Canopy or Ubiquity products. To manage all that, we're using a number of programs and solutions not necessarily made for such a task that are kept up to date simply using copy and paste. We have an Access database for all our internet customers, an Excel document for our wireless users, The Dude to monitor every user and a custom-made web application to monitor traffic. Needless to say, we're starting to hit the limit and juggling between all these programs is a complete pain. Is there some kind of all-in-one solution that would allow us to eliminate all the copy and paste while keeping the same functionality?"

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141 comments

have fun waiting (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088465)

Not really. To have true management you need SNMP. Ubiquiti doesn't have a full snmp MIB, which is a pain. Great products, poor management capability.

Custom Programmer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088477)

Sounds like a job for a custom software designer/programmer

LAMP (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088487)

Just build yourself a LAMP setup, with workers feeding a database, and web GUI to access/update.
Sync data from other sources into that, to provide a single converged view of whatever item (customer, router, location, network link...whatever). (Don't forget copious use of memcache btw)

Trust me....this works really well and scales to millions of customers :-)

Re:LAMP (4, Informative)

Morpf (2683099) | about a year ago | (#42088501)

Or go LAPP and use PostgreSQL instead of MySQL. ;)
But either way: Try to automate all recurring tasks, try to make all information necessary for one job visible from one spot.

Re:LAMP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089739)

Everything except the L can be replaced by something better these days. If you need relational, then replacing the M with a P is a good idea, but otherwise you can keep the M(ongoDB) or switch to an R(edis). The A should be an N(ginx). And, while the last P is debatable, for a small custom webapp, I'd probably change it to an N(odeJS, using Coffeescript).

Re:LAMP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42090345)

Pretty sure you can run PHP (or whatever other scripting language) and whatever database on lots of other operating systems.

And yes, many would contend some of these alternatives are better than linux.

See also:

http://openports.se/lang/php
http://www.freshports.org/lang/php
http://pkgsrc.se/lang/php54

etc.

Re:LAMP (1)

nastyphil (111738) | about a year ago | (#42089091)

Just build yourself a LAMP setup, with workers feeding a database, and web GUI to access/update. Sync data from other sources into that, to provide a single converged view of whatever item (customer, router, location, network link...whatever). (Don't forget copious use of memcache btw)

Trust me....this works really well and scales to millions of customers :-)

Yes, like an MS Access database.

Indeed (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089229)

Google is running hundreds of millions of customers on a MySQL Sharded Cluster. That means a hash function maps each email address onto one of 100 physical database servers. That means easy scaling.

Re:LAMP (1)

cerberusss (660701) | about a year ago | (#42090545)

That sounds really easy until you calculate the time that goes into this setup. Assuming you have about 30-40 screens, 3 to 4 days work on each, you're talking about a pretty big project.

Scripting and macros (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#42088497)

Doesn't anybody do that anymore?

Re:Scripting and macros (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#42088551)

Doesn't anybody do that anymore?

Rancid [shrubbery.net] is arguably the contemporary equivalent. At the user end, you get all the convenience of revision control and versioning for your configurations; but the actual 'make-it-so' layer that turns the configuration you define into a properly configured device is handled in the background by a scripted process that logs in, makes config changes, collects data, and so on.

It is mostly aimed at fancier switches, rather than cheapie endpoint devices; but adding device support through modules is doable and might be worth a look in this case(especially if the SNMP-foo of some of the devices is very weak, as a poster above claimed).

runmybusinessformedot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088511)

how do i turn my compooter on?

mysql,nagios,php,rancid etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088515)

You must be joking, running an isp from an access database!

Re:mysql,nagios,php,rancid etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088955)

Yup, queue anti-Microsoft blather. How old are you? 14?

Re:mysql,nagios,php,rancid etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42091457)

i've had my share of problems with people editing the same file, no versioning control and missing data thank you. I worked at a small isp for over 15 years and have written an administration system with a relational database for all our stuff, cable modems, dial in, finance, timetracking, colocation, patching, dsl. First with solid and perl later perl/php and a mysql cluster. Doing this kind of stuff in access is rather silly. You do want your business to grow don't you?

Re:mysql,nagios,php,rancid etc. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42092053)

Old enough to know the difference between queue and cue, porch monkey.

Re:mysql,nagios,php,rancid etc. (3, Insightful)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | about a year ago | (#42089045)

Small ISP, and you dont even imagine the number of small mid companies governed on an excel sheet with the balance on cell A11 with green or red.

A Company Called "Accenture" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089247)

..runs their Global Project List as an Excel Sheet. Any more questions ?

Why are they using MS Project? (1)

dutchwhizzman (817898) | about a year ago | (#42091579)

Why are they using MS Project in other projects then?

Seriously, just because you can manage a "ten item list" in an Excel sheet doesn't make it a proper tool for running a CRM with at least hundreds of users in it. If you want to use the CRM to manage modems, or at least IP traffic, you'll be looking at something special already. Managing services like e-mail, home pages and whatever else you choose to provide is is another thing.

I've spent ten in the last fifteen years or so working for ISPs and I haven't seen one that didn't have to do a lot of custom coding done on their CRM. The amount of money made or lost on a customer was usually related to the effectiveness of the CRM in automating tasks and the amount of money they wanted to spend on advertising. ISPs that had to spend time on manually administrating users due to lack of features or robustness of their CRM tended to bloat out of control regarding the number of people required to keep things going. Once you get above a certain number, the amount of middle management, HRM and whatnot to keep them functioning made it unprofitable for the ISPs to keep their operation running. The ones that focused on making their people work more effective lost the battle, the ones that off-shored their people are losing as we speak and the ones that focused on tech solutions are still in the black, despite their competition throwing lots of shareholder money at advertising and stealing their customer with unprofitable propositions.

Focusing on fixing this properly with tools that require as little as possible hands on is the thing to do here. Integration that means that you don't have to rewrite twenty applications if you add or change one proposition is crucial if you want to keep costs down and efficiency up. that saves you more money than having to fix something in a dozen places in a dozen languages and having no way to do a proper dev/test/accept/production environment will make changing propositions a nightmare. This will make you slow and expensive in a very competitive market.

If you do it right the first time, you get less complaining customers, which means less time and money spent on the phone helping them. It means you'll get a better reputation, which means you'll have to spend less on advertisement and can get away with asking a buck more per month than your competitor, with your customers stating they'll happily pay more because your service is so good.

Even though he'll most likely be trampled by some big ISP coming to his town some time in the future, the guy has a good point asking around for decent solutions. It's either that or go bankrupt from your own incompetence. All I can say is focus on your data model and make it extendable. Make sure that whatever proposition you're offering can keep on going next to new ones. Make sure that you can change taxes and fees with a starting date stamp and an ending date stamp somewhere in your database, so you can re-run billing runs and all that. Lots of ISPs I've seen didn't have this sort of functionality built in and were forced to change contracts with users, making them lose some of them, or had to run multiple instances of their CRM software because they couldn't adapt their software to a new law or proposition. To my knowledge, there is no ready made solution for this sort of thing, so pick best of breed tools for your management and ticketing systems and make sure you can glue them into your CRM in such a way that you can exchange them or add more tools without having to rewrite your core billing system. Once you have to rewrite your billing system or have to do manual stuff to keep everything in sync, you'll be looking at infinite monkeys on infinite typewriter style scenarios and those are lethal for lean-and-mean style ISPs.

Not cheap... (2)

aleph (14733) | about a year ago | (#42088559)

But you could look and see if Jet is within your budget.

http://www.obsidian.com.au/products/jet/jet-isp-telco [obsidian.com.au]

At the very least a base install will give you some billing software and hooks for other automation. It wouldn't hurt to drop them a line, at any rate.

disclaimer: I used to work for obsidian ~6 years ago. they're a small company, but full of bright people and they have a lot of experience in the area. if jet isn't for you i have no doubts they can at least give you some honest advice on what to look at instead that's within your budget, fits your needs.

An army of indians (0)

f3rret (1776822) | about a year ago | (#42088563)

Well they don't have to be Indian, just suggested that to play off the stereotypes, any nationality will do. Just hire a whole bunch of office drones.

wtf? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088575)

> We have an Access database...

HAHAHAH LMAO!

Re:wtf? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089063)

You do realize that Access is fully capable of maintaining the data set of at least 10,000 customers, right? In other words, good enough for a small ISP serving a small town.

And (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089741)

..it "forgets" less than three customers out of 10000 per month ?

If you use Access instead of Postgres you are simply retarded or forced into this by your handlers.

Re:wtf? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42090117)

MS SQL Express 2008/2010/2012 are much much better than Access.

Re:wtf? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42092421)

Anyone using access in a production environment and who relies on it in the core of their business, deserves to fail.

Access? (1)

NetNinja (469346) | about a year ago | (#42088587)

Why are you using access?

I suggest you get either MySQL or MSSQL to manage your contacts before you find yourself wishing you had put all that data on a real database. Oh wait you are starting to see that already.

Solarwinds?
What are you copying and pasting? You must be looking for some sort of CRM.
http://www.insidecrm.com/articles/crm-blog/the-top-10-opensource-crm-solutions-53507/ [insidecrm.com]

You say you are wroking for this small ISP? That means they are also paying you small. If they haven't figured out how they are going to support a larger customer base then leave before the ship sinks. Don't stay loyal to stupid people. The promise of stocks went out during the dot bomb era.

Re:Access? (2)

FaxeTheCat (1394763) | about a year ago | (#42092029)

Why are you using access?

I suggest you get either MySQL or MSSQL to manage your contacts before you find yourself wishing you had put all that data on a real database.

The problem with your suggestion (and you are not alone in this discussion) is comparing Access, which does both application development as well as a database back end, to a pure database back end. With MySQL or MSSQL you woiuld need to add an application development platform as well.

As they already use access, it is pretty simple to move the back end to MSSQL if they need more scalability. The front end (application) can stay in Access.

Solving the right problem (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088603)

So, you have an access database to track your Internet customers, and an Excel sheet tracking wireless customers.

Why? How did this come into being? Who thought two different solutions to essentially the same issue were a good idea? Or did no one notice? Why haven't you consolidated these (preferably in the database? Did no one know how to make that work?

I'm not trying to cast aspersions on the technical chops of people I've never met. Maybe there are really good reasons you have the solution you have. Maybe it was really the result of a series of "right decision at the time." But as an outsider, it certainly doesn't sound that way.

I'm sure there are some suggestions that could be made to integrate your existing tools better. I'm sure there are off the shelf tools that you could use.

What I'm worried about, however, is that the big problem is that have a technical capability problem, and you're trying to solve it as a tool problem. If that's not accurate, great. But I've seen company after company try to solve a "we don't have the tech skills" problem by finding "the magic tool" that will compensate. And I've rarely seen it end well.

I realize this isn't directly a response to your question. Just a suggestion before that, before you start tinkering with zoomier tools, you take a hard look at who's going to install, configure, maintain, and administer the tool, and make sure you're confident they're up to the task. If not, solve that issue first. Tools won't fix it.

Re:Solving the right problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089727)

Technical capability could really become an issue if they try to support more than 1 office system at at time, or if one of their macros/scripts doesn't translate into the newer office version.

Powercode (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088617)

Check out www.Powercode.com which is a per user per month software platform that does it all. A good free alternative is www.freeside.biz which can do it all as well but will require more effort on your part and comes with no bells and whistles.

Pete

Stackexchange network (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088619)

Stackexchange network is leaking...

Custom software (0)

bradley13 (1118935) | about a year ago | (#42088659)

This is time for a small, custom-written bit of software. Put together a rough list of your requirements, ask around for recommendations, and contact a couple of programming houses. Heck, contact a local university and talk to them about student projects - sometimes that's not a bad way to go for a small application.

Your requirements are unusual, and aren't going to be covered well by off-the-shelf software. Professional quality custom programming will cost thousands of dollars. So what? How much is this going to boost your efficiency? Reduce stupid errors? Likely the long-term savings in salaries and customer goodwill will more than pay for the project.

More like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089659)

"hundreds of thousands of dollars". A proper developer costs 100k per year. But the result will be much better than the commercialware crapola out there.

Re:More like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42090519)

A proper developer could solve this guy's problem within a week.

Might I suggest... (2)

Svartalf (2997) | about a year ago | (#42088693)

OpenNMS [opennms.org] ?

Re:Might I suggest... (2)

kwerle (39371) | about a year ago | (#42088845)

I went to their site, and I'm still left wondering: what problem[s] are they trying to solve? Why would I install OpenNMS? What does it enable me to do [more easily]?

Re:Might I suggest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089169)

You went to their site, but you completely ignored all the text, didn't you?

From their site: "[The OpenNMS Project is] the world’s first enterprise grade network management application platform developed under the open source model."

It provides: "Automated and Directed Discovery and Provisioning, Event and Notification Management, Service Assurance, Performance Measurement"

If you don't know how those apply to network hardware, then you're probably not a potential customer.

Re:Might I suggest... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42090365)

Unsurprisingly, OP's own website is as follows:

http://www.circlew.org/

"
Circle W

Howdy!
This site used to be hosted on my little G4 mac mini, but it died. So I'm hosting on Google for the moment. I will probably move to something less googly soonish.
"

I thought to myself:

"
I went to their site, and I'm still left wondering: what problem[s] are they trying to solve? Why would I visit circlew.org? What is the point of this site?
"

Re:Might I suggest... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42092257)

Quite of topic as the original question was more about general buisness, to just the technical aspects of the ISP job.

Well, unless OpenNMS also does "Automated and Directed Discovery and Provisioning" of customers...

There are commercial apps for this (3, Informative)

laffer1 (701823) | about a year ago | (#42088719)

There are commercial apps for ISPs to manage customers. When I worked for a dial-up/isdn/t1 service provide about 12 years ago, we used Platypus.

We used it both for customer service / billing and technical support. It had a windows client and a web client and used Microsoft SQL server on the backend.

Even a help desk software package could help. The great thing about Platypus is that it could handle all the credit card and billing stuff too. You might also look at HEAT or Remedy for just keeping a customer database and doing tech support.

Re:There are commercial apps for this (2)

ruir (2709173) | about a year ago | (#42088889)

The problem is not the billing or ticketing, plenty of things for that. The problem is LINKING your customer database to monitoring and provisioning automagically.

Re:There are commercial apps for this (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089547)

perl is the way to do this (Also makes you indispensable to the company if you have written the whole billing / provisioning system).

Two words: (1)

pigiron (104729) | about a year ago | (#42088731)

relational database

Re:Two words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088757)

Access IS a relational database, though not a very good one.

Re:Two words: (2)

pigiron (104729) | about a year ago | (#42088811)

Nonsense. It doesn't even meet Ted Codd's original 12 rules. Postgres is the open source choice although I must admit MSSQL is really easy to set up and use (and this is is coming from an M$ hater.)

ISP management (4, Informative)

ruir (2709173) | about a year ago | (#42088735)

I was in your position some years ago. I also know that our main operator wasted millions in Incognito software just to throw it away, and ended up paying millions to Microsoft. Obvious not the average "small ISP", but I hope you get across my point. Small/medium ISPs end up writing their own custom software, because there is not a specialized/vertical package that works as it should. I ended up doing that too, and connecting my software to a in-house developed ERP package. Check my profile in linked.in. Regards, http://pt.linkedin.com/pub/rui-ribeiro/16/ab8/434/ [linkedin.com]

Re:ISP management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089887)

Though many people will think this is a stupid idea, PHP may be an option if they're going to make their own software. There are DHCP, TFTP, DNS, and other servers written in PHP, which could relatively simply be linked to a MySQL database with the customer info, and those services require little processing power and bandwidth. There are probably plenty of scripts out there that can provide some or most of the other functionality they need, and a single PHP programmer should be able to whip that all together and maintain it.

Depends on the scale (2)

papasui (567265) | about a year ago | (#42088793)

Depends on how big you guys really are, you say small but to me a small isp is less than 50k subscribers. If you're much smaller than this then you have more options. Anyway there aren't a lot of good drop in solutions for monitoring thousands of devices unless you're planning on spending a ton of money. Easiest way to roll a cable modem monitoring system (Note: I have personal experience doing this for ~5 million subscribers) is to build a database (MySQL/etc) and then create a collection script in perl/php/other scripting language that collects your cable modem ip addresses directly from the CMTS. Your script will log directly into the cmts execute 'show cable modem' or appropriate command for the platform your using and you will log all this information into your database. Your second script will use SNMP to collect statistics from those logged cable modem ip addresses. Things you'll want to collect would be the transmit, receive, downstream snr, upstream snr, interface statistics, etc. Once you have this information then you can put together a webpage that will present the data with nice graphs that give you a good idea of what's going on. This same script can act as a monitoring system to collect modem state changes or you can use a trap system like Nagios to just catch the alarms the CMTS can be configured to kick out. Good luck!

Re:Depends on the scale (1)

papasui (567265) | about a year ago | (#42088805)

Forgot to mention. the goal with the collection scripts is to tie them to a cron job that runs like every 5-30 mins. This makes it all automatic and and as you add new subscribers the script then auto updates your information for you.

Ideco (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088819)

http://www.ideco-software.ru/products/billing/index.html?l=104

Linux-based billing solution aimed to small/mid-level ISPs, quite feature-rich. We're using it at our school to rule out 50 mbit/s channel to all teachers and students, without any of those choking up said channel with torrents or something. Official site is in russian only, too bad, but i think it can be ruled out.

Re:Ideco (1)

skaag (206358) | about a year ago | (#42090113)

Like most software and cars (Lada) coming from Russia, it looks like it was made sometime in the early 90's...

Kind of depends what you're doing (1)

Ritchie70 (860516) | about a year ago | (#42088855)

I am not in the ISP business, but since you didn't tell us what you're using Access or Excel for, it's darn hard to tell you how to replace them.

I would think that you would need billing, help desk, and network management products.

Emerald (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42088865)

Used in a past life for billing and configuration. Fast and reliable but still used separate NMS package to monitor our systems.

Call the big guys. (0)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year ago | (#42088961)

Call Cisco, ask for their just bought NDS subsidiary.

They have offices in the UK, Canada, and Israel that all do development and support teams scattered around.

They're who you want to talk to.

Expect to have to spend real money, but the alternative of doing your own in house development is likely to cost even more money.

Re:Call the big guys. (1)

Sir_Sri (199544) | about a year ago | (#42088965)

Edit: Specifically, NDS (before being bought by cisco) had bought a company that specializes in just this sort of thing.

Experience writing this exact thing (1)

tokencode (1952944) | about a year ago | (#42089001)

I wrote a customer billing, administrative, ticketing and sales system for a small ISP (that ended up growing into a larger hosting company). The system integrated with the email server, RADIUS server, vendor ticketing systems a web portal for clients, had it's own inventory tracking system, IP allocation tool and managed the sales process from lead to quote to billable account. It is definitely doable to write your own but keep in mind that this does require some commitment of resources to not only write the software but maintain it in the future. If you want an integrated system, writing your own is the way to go and developing those systems while you are smaller is much easier. In general commercial ISP management systems are either too expensive, too rigid, or too fragmented.

Ubersmith (2)

Thalagyrt (851883) | about a year ago | (#42089039)

Take a look at Ubersmith. It's designed for quite a few use cases and is pretty much a complete CRM for ISPs/Telcos/Colo facilities/etc with integration into just about everything.

Re:Ubersmith (1)

bastion_xx (233612) | about a year ago | (#42089931)

Agreed. The interface is sometimes confusing, but the ability to pull in customer details and tie it to custom services shows off it's flexibility.

Internap's cloud platform, from the Voxel purchase, uses it for current and upcoming services.

Notepad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089059)

It's included in every version of Windows and it will do what you need it to do.

If that doesn't work, just go to a nearby casino and play the slots. After a couple hours of that and a few drinks, you won't care about any of that IT nonsense anymore. The problem will still be there, but it won't be YOUR problem. At least not for the moment.

Feel free to borrow some money from the company when doing this. You'll be able to pay them back with your winnings. :)

Typical. (5, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | about a year ago | (#42089105)

"I work in a small ISP."

This sums up the problems with most "Ask Slashdot" stories.

This "small" ISP could have 50 clients or 15,000.

There is no way to know.

Budgets? Staffing? Your guess is as good as mine.

Re:Typical. (2)

monstza (1549007) | about a year ago | (#42089599)

Well, he said they are growing. So, who knows where they will be in 2 - 5 years. I am sure they don't and none of us have a crystal ball.

The question should be, whats their strategy? you know.. the usual... where do you want to be in 5 years? how will you want to get there? and whats the catch?

So, if the answer came back... " We want to be the largest ISP in the country. We are sitting on a pile of cash and plan to out spend everyone else. The problem is are as stupid as the stuff pigs play in". Then something expensive and well supported is probably the way to go.

I think you guys get the idea...

Re:Typical. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42091231)

If you don't know where your business will be in 2 years (or have at least a foggy idea of where it will be in 5) there is only one answer: It will be out of business.

Seriously, a 2 year projection for sales is only hard the night before opening day. After a month it becomes pretty obvious. After a year, very obvious. After 2 years? Plainly obvious.

Maybe ispconfig can fill the bill... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089109)

ISP management??

Maybe you should try ISPCONFIG. (www.ispconfig.com). It's free, but the authors offers commercial support.

Re:Maybe ispconfig can fill the bill... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089233)

This doesn't seem to have anything to do with cable modems, wireless solutions, etc. ISPConfig is more solution for webhosting and virtual servers, a.k.a Plesk.

Though it's not perfect ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089179)

... it's a start. Take a look at the web hosting management platforms of choice. WHMCS, HostBill, ClientExec, and a dozen others. At their core, they are all just customer management platforms (billing, support, provisioning) that happen to interface with popular web hosting applications. Although they're meant for web hosting, their open APIs should allow you to hook just about any action you want.

Customer invoice not paid? Send a reminder the next day. Send a second reminder three days later. Add a late fee five days later. Send a final reminder and pending suspension notice seven days later. Suspend service on the tenth day. Automatically reconnect server (with or without a reconnect fee) when the invoice is paid.

Customer opens a support ticket? Browse their entire history -- service history, provisioning responses, payment history, private notes, email history, ticket history, everything -- from the same interface you use to manage the ticket.

Customer wants to add / upgrade / downgrade / cancel service? Hook the API into your existing provisioning systems, or write some low-level scripts to do the insertion / removal.

Customer wants an invoice reprinted from six months ago? Do it.

Most of these systems are built with a lot of self-service in mind, so things like adding or removing features or changing packages are a snap. The only hard part you'd have is integrating them with your provisioning system. Cost is typically around $12 - $20 / month, or around $300 - $500 one-time. If you have a huge volume of customers, you might also want to look into integrating with a more robust support system like Kayako. WHMCS has notoriously weak (read: simple) ticketing, but it always gets the job done for me and my 1500-ish customers.

Perl, Linux, BSD, Postgres AND A GOOD DEVELOPER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089209)

From all I have seen and heard - all the commercial-ware you can buy (at the costs of 50k to almost infinite) will be buggy and make you swear and curse every single day.

So, better hire a good developer (maybe you consider being that yourself) and let him develop custom solutions to the problems you face. He is probably going to do it in Perl and Postgres. Running on Linux or BSD, of course. Make sure the guy (few girls to find for that) codes in a readable way (yeah, it's possible), puts in proper comments and writes proper system docs. This will set you back 100k per year, but you will gain a first-rate solution which at some point will run like a breeze.

Of course, you need a person to manage the Developer, and that person must be willing and able to look into code and documentation. He (also very few she-s for that job) must ACTUALLY check code and docs and give proper feedback. Many contemporary managers have the ignorant stance that this is "techie stuff" and "a black box I am not interested in" and they will get many, many nasty days of surprises from that attitude.

Also, code must be properly tested and you need a realistic testbed. You need a manager who understands this need.

Maybe you don't have this and some MBA troll will foist some HP/Oracle/M$/Cisco/Checkpoint/Juniper Crapola onto you. These corpos can also hand out nice bribes to the MBA troll - which increases the likelihood of all that. But let me reassure you - from a strict technology/operations/reliability/economics point of view a "home-made" solution (based on solid open-source tech) will be one order of magnitude better !

Look at Google and you will discover that they avoid the "commercial" solutions like the plague. They even roll their networking gear, because they don't like the Cisco and Checkpoint antics (e.g. "we don't give you the grammar of the Checkpoint rule language, as this is a Security By Obscurity Measure !").

IBBS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089263)

I used these guys at the small ISP I worked for (small, as in about 100 thousand end-users). I no longer work with them but have kept up with the guys via LinkedIn. They have full management solutions that should work for you guys, and they specialize in DOCSIS which should be a plus for you.

http://www.ibbs.com

Try a Real - Next Generation FireWALL (0, Offtopic)

Oz the Wiz (2733583) | about a year ago | (#42089305)

the new Next Generation firewall do what the ISP is doing manually. It identifies and tracks and limits applications. SonicWALL can look at over 3800+ applications out of the box "WITHOUT GIVING UP PERFORMANCE"! (the rest of them give up security or performance)... plus with SonicWALL it appears you can add your own signatures for "home grown applications".

You Mean (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089683)

Wall Of Dells ?

Experience of a "small" ISP (2)

Wookie_CD (639534) | about a year ago | (#42089309)

I work at a small ISP. We're a decade past your point, but our wired-building model means we're still sitting on less than 5000 customers. We run Ispconfig and use the commercial support while upgrading, that hosting server paid for itself many times over and continues to be great value to us. For network monitoring we started with mrtg on a solaris box, manually configured *shudder*. Since moving to JFFNMS we've been very happy with the network-monitoring side of things. I think you'd do well to follow other suggestions here looking for a suitable billing-system solution. Try not to focus on getting all these things in one, just make a internal webpage with links to all the respective systems.

Re:Experience of a "small" ISP (1)

therealobsideus (1610557) | about a year ago | (#42089973)

This.you don't need a one solution to all your issues, find solutions that improve each area and create an easy way to access those systems / pull data and aggregate it for your use. I come from Comcast (definitely not small) and they use so many different systems for network monitoring. Allot the data is pulled into a custom built solution for the tech support (grand slam previously, now moving to Einstein), BMW remedy for ticketing (grand slam and Einstein feed into this), custom comtrac and csg for billing (depending on east/west coast), And we at ne&to developed scout / scout flux for end of line performance metrics and to detect signal impairments.

Re:Experience of a "small" ISP (1)

Wookie_CD (639534) | about a year ago | (#42090195)

Yep.

Our internal administrative links page has eight section divs in two columns holding 60 links to a diverse range of destinations such as telephony servers, KVM's, powerboards, dozens of custom-written internal tools, server admin, KB's etc.

It has grown naturally as we add capabilities & systems over time.

btw if the above comment seems useful please upvote. seems like a downvote got me stuck in bad karma land for years :/

The Dude (1)

isorox (205688) | about a year ago | (#42089351)

The Dude is a great product, with 2 major shortcomings
1) Runs on windows
2) Has a terrible name when it comes to talking to senior managers about design decisions

Does anyone know a comparable product that runs on something a little more "servery" (i.e. linux)?

Re:The Dude (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | about a year ago | (#42092351)

Has a terrible name when it comes to talking to senior managers about design decisions

pronounce it "dooDAY" and tell them it's French for pineapple.

Several options ... (2)

theSatinKnight (2768897) | about a year ago | (#42089407)

Honestly, if you are already performing all these tasks manually and have a "working system", you would likely be better off completing your build with scripting to finish automating all the processes and completing central data storage in a database package.

1) Enlarge your Access system to encompass all functionality. I've written deeper managed systems in Access (and some are still in use, LOL) which is fully capable of handling all the necessary tasks with appropriate scripting. But when you get larger ... Access may slow you down.

2) Graduate to MSSQL and scripted applications moving your data. There are many different ways to approach this, of course, as virtually every application builder, language and script type speaks SQL in some fashion. But the concept of centralized data storage with scripts reaching in to accomplish tasks and interfaces allowing you to manually modify the data is hardly new. The advantage of MSSQL of course is that many users can access the data instead of a single workstation. Even if you "share" the DB file in Access you don't have a true multi-user system until you can all access it at one time and make concurrent changes (a good trick in Access, but normal in MSSQL).

3) Super-Graduate to MySQL and port the entire operation to a free licensing envinroment (otherwise the same description as MSSQL! LOL). In addition to the free licensing, the programmers available in the Linux world are fairly plentiful and do not (as a rule) expect to get $30k for each application. Just remember: Don't send money to a company you cannot sue until after you have your product. Especially to a location where $500 is two year's Salary and the programmer would do better economically to disappear with that money than actually build the application! I like "one piece at a time" small script building solutions. It builds a relationship between developer and client while providing useful results with smaller amounts. And keeps the developer busy with lots of little clients (so no single client can "shut down" the developer ...very important these days when clients go *poof* easily).

All the above are assuming that scripted systems can modify what needs to be modified when conditions change. Also all assume you have knowledge of at least one language or scripting language to make these changes. Generally this sort of thing is handled one item at a time, starting with the most "work-hours-intense" piece (to recoup those man-hours as quickly as possible). This is something most IT shops do for clients on a daily basis: Automation. The fact that you ARE an IT shop does not make you immune from the need to have automation! LOL

Now The REAL Free Software Options (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089731)

* Perl
* PostgreSQL
* xBSD
* iptables

The parent is just a new kind of M$ shill. He is not stupidly against Free Software, but he will certainly bring in the F.U.D. sooner or later.

IBBS (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089487)

I used to work for a company that developed software for this.. specifically cable modems, but it also has limited support for canopy and some DSLAMs. Check out www.ibbs.com and they have software only customers and also full service support, up to you. Not sure what the pricing looks like, but there were several customers with <100 subs when I worked there.

Billing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42089531)

The most important aspect to make sure you get right? Billing. We use Platypus. Tucows owns them now. Still a good solution. We spend part of two days a month on billing. Not bad for around 400 customers. We take so few tech calls any effort to centralize management would be way more work than the benefit we would get.

Another dude (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42090315)

Yes, it is called software integration. You will need yet another dude to make that happen.
I used to build ISP's for a living about 10 years ago. Large ones.

Settle on a database, develop your CRM and billing around that. Let your radius talk to the database. Pick your poison for monitoring and integrate that as well.
Step 3 would be profit...

While this is not exactly practical advice, it's the best advice I can give. For more practical advice, contact your local dude.

Servicenow.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42090745)

Get yourself a proper ticketing and CMDB system to track all the necessary user configuration.
Servicenow.com is a good SaaS option

Small ISP? Be small. Don't use one size fits all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42091193)

Just a quick sanity check. I worked for several ISP's up through 2000. I've worked at Fortune 500 companies.

Big companies are management driven. Any solution they put forth could "fail" or miss the mark for 2-5 percent of their transactions but the one size fits all solutions work for them because it gives them something they can sell, justify or install. Imagine if you took their marketing staff or accounting office and spent 2 years designing a set of 100 forms that handle 99% of what they did. That would be a waste of time. But they don't see that when it comes to handling IT.

So don't take a page out of their book. Don't make a one size fits all solution. Make process that allows for no gaps and allows for audits, automated or otherwise.

In my experience if you can find the failure 80% of the time before the customer does you are doing AWESOME! Beyond that you are looking for fast problem resolution rates. Everything else falls into the 80/20 rule in that you are spending 80% of your remaining time for the additional 20% of effectiveness. Your management may want you to be completely replace-able and they will mask that with talk of documentation and process, but in the end your replacement will have to be 80% as good as you, and 120% as good as you to learn the additional products you may have had to learn based on management buying decisions. I've worn that hat. Start with inittabs (I'm a UNIX guy) and work your way through the network diagrams and hope nothing breaks before you can re-engineer and transition.

One of the comments I read laid it out pretty bare bones. A central database that has all of their relevant information coded in, with web page front ends for update and review. If you like MS Access I guess that works but I'm a UNIX/Linux admin. Give me an SQL or LDAP Database coded to their username or account number. I'd recommend an audit trail on the changes so if someone makes a mess you can hang it around their neck and/or revoke access. Even if the company makes a centralized database, use their unique key for account and key your own data on your own server with an audit trail. If you have no logs or audit trail you have no memory. That would be bad. How would you know they want isn't working today was removed per request and was there a mere hours or days prior?

You not only want the "1 ring to rule them all" (let's be honest, this is an ego thing) but you also want a central repository of configuration information so you can perform regular audits. If customer XYZ is supposed to have X bandwidth, and the following services, say email hosting, 5 email accounts, and 5 dedicated IP addresses once you have consolidated that data (not just notes in a big blurb of text but coded in with rules strict typing in the data base) then dust off your scripting handbook and perform some audits. The audit scripts I wrote saved my arse when I had to bring back everything starting with a "S" due to a recursive delete from someone that I hand removed from the passwd file. The audit script could then feed the create routines I had written and bring back the missing configurations. May you get to be that guy or better!

Only a centralized configuration database with audit/create scripts will let you fix things fast without doing it by hand.

In my book you will get cool points if you can audit 80-90% of what you are delivering to your customers to see if it's getting misconfigured or failing so you can fix it before they notice it, or at least ask the appropriate questions.

Enjoy being in the hot seat! I keep hoping I'd get the chance to engineer for an ISP again but that has never come to pass... *SIGH*

It was fun...

Well wishes to you!

SugarCRM or X2Engine (1)

skaag (206358) | about a year ago | (#42091253)

You could use any of those two CRM's, with SugarCRM being more mature than X2Engine, as well as having a pretty good development studio built into the CRM. This allows you to create custom modules, with custom fields & forms. That's what you might use to manage equipment inventories for example.

You can also use hooks in the code, to call various API's to provision services. For example if a customer is assigned a new product, you can hook that event to make something happen in the real world.

If you don't have anyone skilled enough to do this, you can hire a developer to implement that for you. The advantage with this approach is that for very little money you will get a custom tailored solution. It will be so cheap that even if you throw the system away after 2 years, it's still worth it.

And as an aside, I can hook you up with such a team if you can't find one of your own :-)

Been there, done that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42091453)

LAMP (yes, you want to mirror and backup that) and a dedicated dev or a couple will save their own salaries very soon. Been there, done that on a 10M+ turnover ISP.

FreeSide (1)

quist (72831) | about a year ago | (#42091473)

Before our small ISP smalled-out, we were converting to FreeSide [freeside.biz] , a FOSSy sol'n, from WinNT-based Platypus. Had all the goods for user self-provisioning (RADIUS and such), billing, reporting; Nice perly hooks for places you needed a more custom fit.

Might be worth a look-see...

Bespoke (1)

biodata (1981610) | about a year ago | (#42091595)

My opinion is that your requirements are unique, and any software package in existence will only do 80% of what you need. You have two choices - put together a couple of these 80% packages with some scripting glue, or write something bespoke from the bottom up. I would favour the former probably, since then when your programmer leaves you will have a better chance to get someone else who can easily find out how the whole thing works.

use RadiusManager (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42091913)

We have several thousands of customers , most of them are using WiFi...we use RadiusManager + Mikrotik

open-source solutions based on snmp:info (1)

funkboy (71672) | about a year ago | (#42092443)

It's not terribly clear what exactly you're trying to accomplish, but have a good look at NetDisco (designed for college campuses, mostly for tracking MAC addresses & the devices that know about them) and NetDot (designed more generically for wide-area networks but not so much for tracking end stations). They're both excellent pieces of software that keep track of everything on your network for you in a clean multivendor way. I particularly like NetDot as it has the much-sought-after feature of a plugin framework that generates config files for the other tools you already use. Think of it as sort of a control panel/dashboard for your network management apps & you start to get the idea.

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