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29 June 2011, 09:42

Open source based company wins industry award

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Voice over IP services provider Gradwell has won the Federation of Communications Services (FCS) "Communication Provider of the Year" award. Managing Director Peter Gradwell accepted the award, presented at FCS's 30th birthday celebrations, saying it was a "great reflection of all our hard work... being recognised by the FCS is especially important as they represent the whole industry."

As well as hard work, Gradwell's secret weapon for competitiveness is open source; at the core of the operation is Asterisk VoIP software running on Debian GNU/Linux based systems and nearly all the company's communications stack is based on open source software. Thanks to this combination, Gradwell says it can sell a complete telephony solution at a price that is closer to a single licence of its competition. It isn't all about pricing though.

For example, the company migrated to Debian away from its previously installed CentOS systems because, Gradwell says, it found the Debian community did a better job delivering security updates and patches. Gradwell has used VMware to provide its virtualisation needs, but because it costs them nothing to test, it is currently in the process of exercising a KVM based virtualisation test bed – "Nothing goes into production without being thoroughly tested", says Gradwell – and open source allows the flexibility to adapt, after making decisions, rather than being locked into a supplier choice.

In all, the company runs 16 Asterisk servers and connects through what is one of the few proprietary elements of the company's stack, the interconnect to the public switched telephone network. He doesn't know of an open alternative but notes that this is more because all the certifications required by phone companies to use such a device mitigate against an open variant being available.

Gradwell is proud to say that the company's first port of call for support is its own in-house team of developers and engineers who, thanks to open source, have more and better access to the software and more complete control of the hardware. This allows many problems to be fixed in-house and patches are passed upstream where the fixes are generally useful. This capability also means Gradwell can shop around for consultants for specific open source related tasks and be confident that his team can take over the work when it is completed.

There are things that Gradwell would like to see come from the open source community, specifically in the network monitoring area, where he has found that the tools to monitor quality of service on VOIP are quite weak. The company uses Nagios and OpenNMS to monitor and they both, he says, have a limited view of VOIP end points – "You can tell if they are up or down, running or not" – but what is needed is a deeper, more insightful view of those devices.

What Gradwell shows is that open source not only allows companies to compete in traditionally proprietary markets, but also to be recognised as one of the best competitors in those markets.


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