INTERVIEWIt is not every day you get to have a chat with someone who has been headhunted by Google, twice. And turned them down.

In the ACM International Collegiate Contest South Africa his team ended second two years in a row. During the International Olympiad in Informatics he was ranked 104 worldwide. Today at 27 years of age he is the Managing Director of Ultimate Linux Solutions, a successful Linux solutions provider.

Jaco Kroon graciously agreed to meet with me on short notice for an interview for SaGeek. Knowing him for more than two years I also knew he would not say no to an offer of lunch and being the sharp analytical mind that he is I knew he would make the ideal candidate for my first interview since I could count on constructive feedback from him to help me shape my technique.

So over a lunch of slaptjips, bread and Coca Cola we had an interesting discussion on VOIP, building your own solution and the sorry state of broadband in South Africa.

On to the interview!

Geek at a glance:

Busily hacking away...Personal Operating System: Gentoo Linux, amd64
Laptop: Lenovo Ideapad Y710
Cellphone: Nokia E52
Still Carry a Notepad and Pen? Yes, I find it quicker to scribble a note than to fiddle with my phone.
Did You Know Factoid: On SAIX ADSL all local traffic is unshaped. If you buy a “shaped” account from Telkom or ULS only the international traffic is shaped. Local traffic is unrestricted over all protocols.

Your company name is Ultimate Linux Solutions, what is your primary focus at the moment?

VOIP, or Voice Over IP technology where you can use a VOIP Phone to make and receive calls over the Internet. We also provide other Linux related services, but we are really pushing VOIP Telephony at the moment.

Why VOIP? What are the main benefits for the customer?

VOIP is more cost effective and scales better than traditional PABX solutions. In fact, you can scale VOIP Telephony indefinitely, provided you have the resources, like bandwidth. There is also a large and active on-line community that are happy to assist while you build your own custom Linux based solution, like we have.

Why did you opt to build your own solution as opposed to re-selling an existing solution?

When we started with VoIP slightly over two years back, the majority of the solutions out there were expensive proprietary solutions such as Broadsoft and CISCO, both of which require extensive expertise. SwitchVOX from Digium didn’t exist yet and FreePBX in the form of Trixbox just wasn’t cutting it, and last I’ve seen the issues that niggled me then is still there. Other than Trixbox which was inadequate for anything but a hobbyist home system all these solutions are far more expensive than entry level analog systems.  For SMEs cost is usually a big factor when making decisions and VoIP was thus essentially inaccessible to this market.

What is “Too Expensive” in your book?

We got quotes around R25k for an extremely basic analog system with 14 extensions.  For that same money I built a fully-featured VoIP solution for use in-house.  The rest is history.  If you go look at some of the other VoIP appliances in the market today you can easily pay more than double that for a licensed solution of around the same number of extensions.

VOIP is heavily dependent on Internet Connectivity. With that in mind, what is your opinion on the state of broadband in South Africa?

What Broadband?

That bad huh. How does the poor state of broadband in South Africa influence your VOIP solutions?

The main limitation is on the concurrency of calls. The better the quality of broadband, the more calls can be carried per ADSL line, and the better the quality of the call is in terms of latency. ?Right now you really do need dedicated internet links for VoIP due to the lack of quality of service from the service providers.  Preferably we should have sufficient bandwidth to not need QoS, however, we’re probably very, very far from that.  A solution where we can get 10 or preferably 20Mbps symmetrical pipes with QoS would put companies in a position where they only need a single link, additional links to
different providers over different carriers would serve their purpose as load balancers and fail-over – as it should be.

You mentioned “Other Solutions,” what other solutions do ULS provide?

Well besides our custom VOIP system we offer Broadband packages, provide Mail Gateways, offer management of hosted servers and also offer an in-house developed Small Business Gateway solution that offers Mail, Proxy and Firewall services to small business among other things.

What is in the immediate future for ULS?

Well besides forking Asterisk recently to provide a more focused VOIP solution we are working on implementing Calendar and Contact sharing in our small business server along with SAMBA integration for file sharing. We would like to be able to offer an “Office In a Box” to our clients that can replace all the servers that companies need today to manage their networking and business needs. Once that is done we will be looking at implementing an Authentication Server in our small business servers to allow Active Directory type services for Windows Clients on the network.

Well there you have it. Jaco KroUltimate Linux Solutions Home Pageon has already grabbed the South African VOIP market by the horns and is set to revolutionize Internet based services in the near future. You can get hold of Jaco via the ULS homepage, or you can read his blog if you need to satisfy your appetite for a real technical and meaty read.

You can also view his profile on LinkedIn and rumor has it that he is always up for a challenging game of squash.

You can read more about the ULS VOIP solution on their website.

Jaco’s Blog:
LinkedIN Profile:

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