Monthly Archives: May 2008

WordPress Upgrades with SVN

Because of the recent OpenSSL / OpenSSH security story I figured I would upgrade all the servers I admin. I also upgraded them all to Debian Etch, Apache2, PHP5, WordPress 2.5.1 and added a better way to keep WordPress secure.. by making it easier for my monkey ass to upgrade it in future.

Have a look at this handy page on using SVN for WordPress version management.

The list of servers:
www.swimgeek.com
www.wapa.org.za
www.geekdinner.org.za
www.schoolwan.org.za
www.wordpress.org.za

Story Series Part 2 : Blio

From the Story series.

The brief history of Blio.

 

Abz and Joe, had this idea to develop a security hardened operating system somewhere in 1999. We also had an interest in embedded systems and gadgets in general.

Early in 2001 we founded a company called the Blio Corporation (Pty) Ltd. We ran this in parallel with Frogfoot, with the idea to use Blio as a platform to launch products based on the IP developed inside Frogfoot.

Joe came up with the name and logo, which was inspired by the moonjellies in the Two Oceans Aquarium (Cape Town),

 

 

Abz’s had a strong background in writing device drivers and working on electronics projects. Joe was interested in management systems for network appliances.

Blio developed an Outdoor Fixed Wireless CPE (customer premises equipment) operating system. Basically a custom Linux system to run on small routers. Abz build the backend. Joe built the font-end. The biggest advantage of this system was to make CPE units field-upgradeable.

This CPE OS later evolved into the software used on Amobia’s network today.

In partnership with Mark (from CLUG) we developed and sold a cost effective 2U rackmount server casing. Frogfoot and Amobia has many of these casings in production environments.

We also developed a Bandwidth Manager (QoS device), but never fully completed the project.

In the process of building the CPE and the QoS devices we started building a unified web based management system framework used across all our products. This user interface is also used for our PBX.

Around 2005, Blio changed it’s focus towards the emerging VoIP market and started building an IP PBX for the small and medium business market. The idea was to run Asterisk on a low power embedded device with no moving parts. At this point Blio took on more shareholders. We became 5 directors.

Nelius and Gerhard have a strong electronic engineering background and we knew them from Stellenbosch days. Thomas has a long history in building PBX systems and developing software for embedded systems. We knew Thomas through the Cape Linux User Group.

Hardware development happens en Stellenbosch. Software development, marketing and sales run from Cape Town.

Where are we now?

We completed the first IP PBX product and we are close to completing all the required tests for ICASA certification. We have some plans to build derivative models, with PRI interfaces and maybe an entry level model with less analog ports. We are actively seeking distribution channels and integration partners for the PBX.

The CPE OS is moving forward. Amobia, which in the past only provided “last mile” services, is now creating a wider distribution network using Wifi hotspots. Let’s call this a “last yard” service. The new hotspot integrated CPE will be deployed soon.

We closed the Blio business down in 2009. An interesting failure.

Story Series Part 1 : Frogfoot

From the Story series..

From the Frogfoot website: The Frogfoot Story

I re-published it here to make sure I keep a copy:

The Frogfoot Story

Our History and Legacy

 

The Setting

Frogfoot was founded in July 2000. Abz and Joe met at Stellenbosch
University in 1997, where they both spent lots of time tinkering with Linux
and mountain biking in the mountains around Stellenbosch.

Before Frogfoot was a Business

Abz and Joe were busy developing an e-commerce site which would sell wine at
the time. They had an analog leased line (32Kbps) to the student house where
they lived. Which was really cool, for that day and age.

With the e-commerce venture coming to an end they were about to lose the
sponsorship of their leased line. They were also not very happy with the
service they were getting from their ISP at the time, who treated them
like.. well, students.

You would expect them to start an ISP at this point, but the story takes a
bit of a twist…

Joe and Abz started talking to a few friends about getting a permanent
Internet connection as a group. The idea was to create a co-op. The co-op
would arrange a leased line from Cape Town and members could then connect
with analog leased lines or SDSL. Good plan, everybody was keen.

When the day came to order the leased line all the other people were
noncommittal.

Start Up

“Let’s start an ISP”. We needed a name, some business cards and clients.

Joe designed a logo (using Gimp), made some business cards, walked around
Stellenbosch and (pre-)sold services to a few businesses. He arranged a
location for the first Frogfoot POP. With a bit of bartering the POP lease
was exchanged for Internet access.

We ordered a 128Kbps leased line from SDN (later taken over by UUNet) and
started to figure out Cisco routers and multi-port serial card support in
Linux. Abz (the PPP and Linux guru) managed to get the our serial card
working in what would be our first access router. We registered the
frogfoot.net domain and our first server was called kermit.frogfoot.net.

The Frogfoot Name

At the time none of us had much interest in branding, but it seemed like a
fun project to find a name.

Today Joe would like to say the name was inspired by his amphibious
activities at the time, like Scuba diving, underwater hockey and spear
fishing.

When asked for the truth, the best answer he can come up with is that the
name was chosen like many people pick their passwords. They look around
their desk and start to make connections with some object in front of them
like “mobile phone” or “sunglasses”.

Joe had a Tshirt with frog feet on it, which was close to his PC at the
time. There you have it. Strange but true.

Fast Forward

  • 2001 – Frogfoot opened a POP in Cape Town
  • 2002 – We built a Datacentre (Frogtown)
  • 2003 – The Frogfoot Network became AS 22355 and we
    started using our own IP space
  • 2004 – We moved into office space in Newlands, Cape Town and
    started working on The Frogfoot Portal
  • 2005 – Started offering ADSL VPN services
  • 2006 – Started offering Xen Virtual Server services
  • 2007 – We built a Wifi billing engine

Full Circle

In August 2008 Frogfoot sold
its consumer client base
to focus on providing business services. This
is a return to the business model we had when we started Frogfoot.

I sold my shares in Frogfoot in early 2010.

Amobia Stories

It’s all about your story. I’ve been talking to journalists about Amobia again so I figured I’d share some stories about why we’re so uber groovy..

Future plans..
Amobia has three ways to expand its coverage:
1) Infrastructure in metro areas operated by Amobia: CPT, JHB, DBN, PE etc.
2) Infrastructure in the rest of SA, operated by Amobia franchises
3) Wifi Hotspot network

Amobia is unique in that it can deploy infrastructure with an organic business model, not needing large capital investment. Most other telecoms networks are very capital intensive. Unlike fibre networks, Amobia’s technology can be deployed rapidly.

Amobia’s technology is cost effective enough that a new franchise can break even and make a profit within a year with only 70 customers.

Amobia is different to most other WISPs (outdoor fixed wireless providers) because of its focus on the business market in metro areas. Amobia’s wireless last mile service is a viable alternative to Telkom’s Diginet service, but is more cost effective and faster to deploy. We find that our customers prefer dealing with a smaller and more dynamic infrastructure provider. Amobia has managed to secure contracts with many “blue chip” companies because of our remarkable service levels.

We had a customer which phoned us at 8:00 one day. A truck had just driven over Telkom infrastructure that connected their distribution depo. They would lose millions of Rands per day without connectivity to this site. Amobia installed two 1Mbps links for them that same day and everything was operational by 18:00 that evening. Try get that kind of service from anybody else.

With copper cable theft on the rise it’s happens more and more that Amobia is helping clients avoid major connectivity disasters.

If you are an Amobia customer and you have a story to tell, please let me know.

100 Facebook friends

I passed the 100 Facebook friends mark this weekend. Ok, I know it’s no real accomplishment and some people have 700+ friends. but since I don’t use it much..

My Facebook profile is more of a pretty way to display my ATOM feed than anything else, but it’s useful to find old acquaintances.

Joe on ITWeb

That ITWeb article I was talking about yesterday: Amobia builds Joburg network

Obviously I never said this: “He agrees that his company is essentially building infrastructure, although it only has a value-added network service licence and so strictly speaking it cannot self-provide.”

Yes, we can.

Boiler Plates

Boiler? Yeah, until recently I also did not know what a boiler plate was. It’s PR lingo.

A boiler plate is a paragraph that describes a company and its products and gets included at the bottom of press releases. The idea is to capture the key attributes of a company. It’s like a poem about a business.

I’m busy refining some boiler plates.. what would you say are the most relevant ideas to include?

Frogfoot:

Frogfoot Networks is an independent technology company providing innovative internet services and open source solutions. Frogfoot’s service offering includes: Wifi Hotpots, ADSL, Linux Virtual Servers, VPNs and Web Hosting. Frogfoot was founded in 2000 and is based in Newlands, Cape Town.

More info:
www.frogfoot.com
0860 KERMIT

Amobia:

Amobia Communications, founded in 2005, is an independent network infrastructure provider. Amobia builds outdoor fixed wireless access networks. Amobia’s focus is on corporate branch connectivity solutions and high speed point to point links. Consumer services include cost effective wireless broadband internet access and wifi hotspots.

More info:
www.amobia.com
0861 AMOBIA

Blio:

The Blio Corporation, founded in 2005, designs embedded systems and builds cost effective, scalable and dependable solutions for the next generation converged public network. Blio offers innovative IP PBX telephony solutions and platforms for internet service delivery.

More info:
www.blio.com

Teraco:

Teraco Data Environments, founded in 2007, is an independent datacentre infrastructure provider and the first company in South Africa to offer vendor-neutral colocation facilities. Teraco is focused on building high quality datacentres for corporate businesses, carriers and internet service providers. Teraco’s business model creates a network value effect by building open and competitive environments where the cost of interconnection tends to zero.

More info:
www.teraco.co.za
0860 TERACO

WAPA:

The Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA), established in 2006, is a non-profit industry representative body acting as a collective voice for outdoor fixed wireless operators in South Africa. WAPA’s primary objective is to ensure the sustainability of the wireless access services market. WAPA is positioned to be an interface between government, it’s membership and consumers and promotes self-regulation of the industry.

More info:
www.wapa.org.za

Amobia lights up its Johannesburg Network

Amobia completed the roll-out if its first network ring in Johannesburg this week. There has been a big demand from Amobia’s clients for wireless last mile services in JHB.

This first JHB ring covers the following areas:
Johannesburg: Soweto, North Cliff Area, Randburg, Sandton, Gallo Manor, Midrand, Edenvale, Bedfordview, Linksfield, JHB CBD, Kensington, Rivonia, Riveria, Norwood, Randburg Waterfront, Bryanston.

More coverage will be created based on demand from clients.

With network infrastructure in the Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and North West province, Amobia is the leading South African outdoor fixed wireless infrastructure provider, especially in the corporate and business market.

Amobia is gunning for an Individual ECNS license and believes it has a good chance of being one of the view VANS to receive a license, allowing it to build national network infrastructure.

Amobia is a founding member of the Wireless Access Provider Association. WAPA and Amobia recently initialed legal action asking for a high court declaratory order to clarify the rights of Value Added Network Service Provider (VANS) licensees.

Amobia is an Outdoor Fixed Wireless Infrastructure provider offering Last Mile access services including cost effective Consumer Broadband, Wifi Hotspots, innovative Connectivity Solutions for Businesses and high speed Point to Point links.

More info:
www.amobia.com
0861 AMOBIA

Hacker Marketing 101

In the gym today I thought to myself, lately I feel like I’m doing a crash course in journalism and marketing. The 3 years in 6 months version. I always had fun with branding and design, but writing and marketing seems to take much more time and effort.

I’ve been reading unhealthy amounts of Seth Godin (books and blog). I spend hours reading blogs and thinking about marketing ideas. I’ve become responsible for WAPA‘s internal and external communication and I seem to have taken on the same role in Frogfoot, Blio and Amobia.

I’ve really started to notice marketing around me. I can’t help but think up PR strategies. I keep looking at the word of mouth potential in new ideas. An example would be the concept of “box designs” I found in Agile project management.

I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is that.. marketing begins very early in the design of a new product or service. You can’t slap it on later. You need a story. “Pull” or self perpetuating (viral) marketing is way more (cost) effective than “Push” (broadcast) marketing. But you knew that.

I now collect contact details for journalists. I have a pretty long list. I was up till 2:00 writing and sending out a press release about the Frogfoot Hotspot business model.

I guess I enjoy this because.. let’s be honest, it’s just way more fun spreading ideas that are cool, innovative and worth talking about. Orders of magnitude more fun than trying to sell commodity services where you can’t really add value.. like the current state of the ADSL business in this country where most people are just forced to self what Telkom sells, the way Telkom sells it.

I’m not sure if I’m any good at this marketing thing (yet), but it seems to keep me amused. I guess it’s the hacker approach to marketing, just do it, figure it out along the way, pick up the lingo and “wing it”, over-focus a bit and then it becomes easy. It can’t be that hard right? (-:

The very brief intro to starting a WISP in South Africa

Question:
I am investigating the feasibility of opening and operating a WISP. What are the legal requirements from ICASA to operate in the open 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wifi spectrum?

Answer:
I don’t generally give advice to people thinking about starting new WISPs, so I’ll keep this short:

You need a VANS license. Don’t use 2.4Ghz.
The rest is undefined.

T. I. A.
..from Blood Diamond

Blio PBX Passes Certification Tests

An update on our Blio PBX..

As you may know there are a few weird and wonderful hoops you have to jump through in the telecoms business to get equipment certified. This involves a few (expensive) tests.

We’ve passed 2/2 with 2 to go..

We’ve just passed the CISPR-22 (radiated emissions) and SWS-001 (Telkom requirements) tests fully. We are waiting for the results from Germany for TBR3 and from Test Africa for the safety tests.

Shouldn’t take longer than 2 weeks for either of them. If all goes well, ICASA can get us our certificate about 2 weeks after that.

Expect to to see the Blio PBX with a shiny little ICASA sticker soon.