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 Post subject: It does not always go well.
PostPosted: Thu Feb 11, 2010 1:55 pm 

Joined: Fri Jun 23, 2006 3:56 pm
Posts: 4065
Dear all

I thought I would write up this saga which has been going on since about the beginning of September, to illustrate some common issues and mistakes.

Star2Billing provides commercial support and consultancy for A2Billing, and we like to think we have a large number of satisfied customers, some of which are active on these forums.

We were contacted by a company, whom we will call Company X, who had employed a consultant to install A2Billing. The installation had not gone well, and as a result Company X had fallen out with the consultant, the consultant trashed the platform he had installed, and disconnected the DIDs and trunks he had supplied.

Lesson 1
Do your research. Anyone who is installing A2Billing, and providing A2Billing consultancy will be active on these forums, and you can make a judgement as to his level of knowledge from his responses on the forum. Additionally, get references, and speak to other customers. Also if the platform is A2Billing, but it has been re-branded with the AGPL licensing information and Star2Billing Copyright removed, be very wary, as the supplying company is not following the rules of the AGPL, and you will be locked into them for support, as other companies will not know where to start in debugging.

That is when Company X contacted us, and explained that they felt they have been ripped off by a previous consultant, and that a lot of money had been wasted. As a result, the company X was nervous of using us. So feeling sympathetic, we charged about half our usual price, and had the A2Billing installed within one working day, and after some time to get connected - mistype of the gateway IP address - we were in business, and a couple of training one to one training sessions were commenced, and everyone appeared to be happy.

In the new year, four months later, I received an email from Company X saying that they had not managed to get the platform working, and could they have their money back. I responded that I preferred to solve any issues I could, and would go in and check the platform over.

I logged in, and found that FreePBX which we often install for customers as well as A2Billing to help with the learning curve of asterisk (point and click is generally easier than Asterisk dial plan programming) had been upgraded to 2.6, which broke some of our customisations which we add on commercial installs to provide a higher level of security. So that was fixed.

Lesson 2
Don't upgrade your system just for the sake of having the latest and greatest. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve. If you do upgrade, practice the process first, maybe on a virtual machine, and make sure you have a method of reversing your changes.

Additionally, we had recently produced an hour long point and click training video, along with some samples. The training video is only applicable to the installs we do. Many of the customers like the video, because it means that they can proceed at their own pace, and I like it because I do not have to get up horribly early, or stay up late to do training when the customer is in an awkward timezone.

We gave the video to the customer, along with some other links to documentation, and left them to it.

They could still not get the platform to work, and still wanted their money back. I asked for details of the problems they were having, but got no reply.

Lesson 3
We need clear and concise fault reporting, with logs, preferably on an attachment. This goes for the forum as well, in order that we can debug the issues The issue we provide support on are almost always related to:-

1. Carrier issues. - Have alternatives
2. Training - how to do something. Ask, and read.
3. Fat fingers - don't do something without thinking it through, see lesson 2.

Sometime passed, and I am contacted by Company X's new technical guy. He has not got the documentation sent earlier, and is really struggling. So after exchanging a few emails, and resending all the documentation, and training video, it turns out, that their previous Techie, who was no longer with company X, had reformatted the A2Billing server.

He asked me if I would help him to re-install, because he was struggling, and was concerned he would lose his job if he could not get things working.

So free of charge, I re-installed the latest version of A2Billing and FreePBX, and sent him the usernames and passwords.

Lesson 4
A little courtesy and a genuine need for help goes a long way

A day or two later, I got an email to say that he had locked himself out of the platform, and could I help. We always put a second username and password on our commercial installs for just such an eventuality, so I sent him this.

he then wrote back and said that none of the contexts referred to in the video were in place, and would I have a look for him.

I did, and found I was looking at a Trixbox, not the installation I had done a couple of days before. Not only this, but there was an active trunk configured, there was one extension, and the extension secret was the same as the extension number, and the whole system was exposed to the internet, the user name and password for the Trixbox was still the standard maint / password, and the root password was similar to 1234567

Lesson 5
if you are going to expose a box to the internet with a live trunk on it, it is advisable to use difficult to guess passwords. Personally I do not think that Trixbox is a suitable base for A2Billing, because it is designed as a PBX to be put behind a firewall, and not be exposed to the internet. E.G. the Flash Operator panel is not password protected, so anyone can see your extensions, names, and trunk suppliers. This is not a reflection on Trixbox, it is just how it is designed for its particular role.

So I made some recommendations as to how to lock down the Trixbox as far as possible, and asked for access to the box I installed a couple of days before.

It was explained to me that as they had locked themselves out of A2Billing, they had reformatted the server, and replaced it with the Trixbox, and would I re-install A2Billing again for them, and teach them how to configure it, and if I did not do this for them, they would tell everyone on the forums that if you changed the passwords on A2Billing it broke.

By this point my patience is beginning to wear thin, so offered to re-install, and provide 3 hours of one to one training, at only the cost of the training time, and would not charge for a third re-installation.

This elicited the response that given that A2Billing was given away free of charge, we should also provide support and installation Free of charge.

Well curiously we do provide support free of charge on these forums, but if you want personal one to one support, I think it is fair that our time be paid for.

lesson 6
Support on these forums is free of charge, and we will do what we can to help. However, if you write personally to any of the long standing members of these forums for help, or to Star2Billing , then please do not be offended when we quote a price for one to one support outside of these forums.

So all in all, a rather unhappy tale, but does illustrate some of the common issues that are encountered. Security on A2Billing is a must, as you are an immediate target on the internet. Secure passwords are an absolute necessity, including Extension passwords. I've seen newly installed servers with weak passwords hacked in under 20 minutes from first connection to the internet.

Finally, please please do your research on your chosen consultant. You do not have to use Star2Billing, although if you do, revenue is guaranteed to go back to A2Billing to support its continued development.


Joe Roper
Commercial Director - A2Billing & Star2Billing

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