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Ask Slashdot: Management Software For Small Independent ISP? 141

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-little-help-please dept.
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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Ask Slashdot: Management Software For Small Independent ISP?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • LAMP (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 25, 2012 @03:23PM (#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 (Score:4, Informative)

      by Morpf (2683099) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @03:26PM (#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.

    • by nastyphil (111738)

      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 (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        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.

    • 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.

      • by olau (314197)

        30-40 screens? 3-4 days? For run-of-the-mill web + db stuff? I think you need something more light-weight, like Django or Ruby on Rails.

    • I'm in exactly the same boat as OP. We're using a DB with a web-GUI as described above. All software is made in da'house.
  • Doesn't anybody do that anymore?

    • 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 migh

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      No. They are delicate, time consuming, and waste bandwidth.
  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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

    • 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.

  • Do any of the tools on the cable TV work with the HSI system?

    • by papasui (567265)
      Yes and no. Cable TV (excluding the communication back to the headend for VOD or SDV) is one way. This means the traffic flows to your home. HSI is two-way communications (your both recieving and sending). So tools that can look at the downstream certainly apply to Video & HSI however return is pretty much exclusive to the HSI side.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Stackexchange network is leaking...

  • 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 go

  • by Svartalf (2997) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @04:05PM (#42088693) Homepage

    OpenNMS [opennms.org]?

    • by kwerle (39371)

      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]?

  • by laffer1 (701823) <luke@foo l i s h g a m e s.com> on Sunday November 25, 2012 @04:09PM (#42088719) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by ruir (2709173)
      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.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      From my POV, Platypus was a never ending nightmare of various implementation and migration problems, a horrifying fat client, and a basically worthless web app. Hopefully it's better now, since they're still in business, but it's not something I would recommend except for avoidance.

  • relational database
  • ISP management (Score:4, Informative)

    by ruir (2709173) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @04:11PM (#42088735) Homepage
    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]
  • by papasui (567265) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @04:20PM (#42088793) Homepage
    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!
    • by papasui (567265)
      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.
    • by ruir (2709173)
      I write what you are describing for two ISPs with roughly 10,000 customers in the past. Of course you want to have a log of your modem signals to ascertain customers problems, and then, maybe a page where you input the MAC or name of customer, and you have got the current SNR whatever signals. You also want to collect netflow stats if you are billing bandwidth over usage. I wrote everything in C in the past, and someone wrote the PHP interface. In the last gig, I also wrote the web interface, the PHP interf
  • 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.

  • 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.

    • by Sir_Sri (199544)

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

  • 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 writ
  • by Thalagyrt (851883) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @05:04PM (#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.

    • 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.

  • Typical. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by westlake (615356) on Sunday November 25, 2012 @05:17PM (#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.

    • by monstza (1549007)

      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 some

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ISP management??

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

  • 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
    • 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 bill
      • by Wookie_CD (639534)

        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 :/

  • Look into Inomial's Smile ( http://www.inomial.com/ [inomial.com] We use it and it's better than Platypus somebody mentioned; might suit you.
  • 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)?

    • Try The Dude [mikrotik.com]
    • 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.

    • by ruir (2709173)
      do it right, and use NAGIOS...It is a pain in the ass in the beggining, however if you have minimum scripting ability and SNMP knowledge , you can virtually monitor everything.
      • by isorox (205688)

        do it right, and use NAGIOS...It is a pain in the ass in the beggining, however if you have minimum scripting ability and SNMP knowledge , you can virtually monitor everything.

        I do, I have about 10k services on about 900 hosts in 20 countries monitored

        Doesn't give me a real time network graph though. I have command line snmp scripts showing bits/second which I can run against key troublespots, but a real time map of inter-site connections and exit points is a useful tool, especially as I want to add another 100 sites strung together by VPNs and occasional leased lines in a mesh

        • by ruir (2709173)
          If you are using Cisco, try nedi. We also connect NAGIOS to cacti here, and use the comments of NAGIOS to place the URL of cacti.
  • 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 large
  • It may be more than you want... but check out Freeside.

  • 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'

  • 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...

  • 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.
    • I recently helped a small wireless ISP get started, and one of the first things we did was put together a management application. It's grown to be moderately large, but a lot of the functionality required can be constructed from various free sources. My client is chugging away nicely with a Java-based (server-side) system, although it could have been written in any one of a large number of languages - Java was convenient for the available skill-set in the company [never overlook the value of using an enviro

      • I missed "trouble tickets" - we ended up going with RT from Best Practical and linking into it. No need to reinvent the wheel.

  • We have an Access database

    Wait, I think I see your problem.

  • 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 plug

  • Without the time and resources to do it right the answer is simply no. You would have to write it on your own. I owned and operated a small ISP with dialup, DSL, and 4 different flavors of wireless. there exisits no central management tool. You're best bet is to find a decent customer front end product for billing, ticketing, etc probably a commericail product would be best. Then use open source products to monitor your network(s). Either way you will have to do some glueing together of things as sta
    • by ruir (2709173)
      I second this comment. Been there, done that. Dont try to write it in one go, try to devise a module/plug-in architecture, and write small modules as you need them (customer automation one module/modem stats another/DHCP bookkeeping another one...you get the gist). Divide it in projects, and write your modules over time as work load permits. Or hire someone.
  • I own a small provisioning company called RPM Provisioning Management (www.rpmcable.com) and offer DOCSIS and Wireless provisioning and monitoring software. I operate several very large wireless grids using StarOS and Mikrotik equipment. I don't have much experience with Canopy, but do have a lot of experience with Ubiquiti. We should be able to come up with an acceptable solution for you. Take a look at our site and shoot me an e-mail if you'd like some more information. Thanks and good luck!
  • I suggest looking into the Bilt application: http://buildadatabaseapp.com/ [buildadatabaseapp.com] It's a fairly easy to extend system built for creating adhoc shared database applications without having to write any code. You could use a bit of custom PHP on top of it to integrate into whatever public forms or whatever you need to pull data from. All your operators and employees would only need to interact with the UI provided by Bilt.
  • Products that come to mind: platypus visp.net azotel freeside powercode billmax
  • Take a look at Wispmon. It does Wireless Customer Qualification, CRM, Provisioning with any equipment, workorders, trouble tickets, billing (recurring and usage based), and has mobile apps that provide utilities to your field techs. It was designed by a couple of guys who ran a WISP for 8 years to solve just the problem you are having. www.wispmon.com
    • by cscrum (2782785)
      Also does high level network monitoring notifying you of outages via email and text message.
  • are you thinking of outsourcing the job?

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