I just thought I would share some of the tools and services we use to run rackAID. As most of our readers and clients are involved in some aspect of the hosting industry, you may find some of these tools useful or even have better ones to recommend. We welcome your feedback on what you use for various business processes.
If you called rackAID lately, you now get an annoying telephone menu. Yes, I know it is annoying, but it allows us to appropriately route calls and more importantly screen out unwanted calls.
We looked at various services for setting up our phone system. I checked into Asterisk. This is an open source PBX system. Very extensible but I found it rather difficult to manage.
So I began looking for a hosted PBX service. I contacted several companies including, VirtualPBX, Packet8, and OneBox.
Based on price and features, we eventually settled on OneBox. They provide a very good service and even offer professional voice recording options. They are called OneBox because you can integrate email, fax and phone calls via their system. When you leave a message, we actually get it dispatched to us via an email attachment. They’ve conference and other calling packages as well with rates starting around $50.00/month.
UPDATE: Nov, 2009 We no longer use or recommend OneBox. Hidden fees, poor support and configuration have made them unbearable to deal with. We now use Grasshopper.com.
We currently use Verizon Wireless. I’ve used T-Mobile in the past but their coverage was not as good. In discussions with colleagues, I’ve found Verizon and ATT to have the best coverage, especially in smaller cities and more remote areas.
We use BlackBerry devices as they provide the best email communications we’ve found. We load up our crackberries with Rove’s Mobile SSH. This is one of the best SSH tools we’ve found for telephones.
We also load them up with Shape Service’s IM+. This is an all-in-one messenger that let’s us chat with clients or staff via AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ or GTalk.
Lastly, with Verizon, you can “tether” your blackberry or other EV-DO device to your computer. This allows you to use your cellphone as a modem. I like this as it is much less expensive than maintaining another data account for each staff member. The data plans are $45-50 each per month versus a $10 tether fee. Given I only use this when I cannot find Wi-Fi or an AT&T hot-spot, this is a good cost saver.
When we need some printing of business cards, promo fliers or other materials, we use VistaPrint. They have great rates and fast service. Their premium cards are printing on good quality stock. We found them to be 50-70% less than many local printing shops and provide even faster service.
We use QuickBooks for our invoicing and billing requirements. Many people are surprised to learn that Intuit provides many add-on services for bookkeeping, payment processing and customer management. We use their merchant services to process credit-cards as well as their online billing services. This allows us to easily reconcile online payments without double data entry. We also use their payroll services.
For the office, I prefer DSL over cable internet (provided you are close to the CO). We currently use AT&T, which has good pricing in Florida. They have a nice bundle that includes AT&T Hotspot access as well as our land-line services.
Selecting a business card really depends on your needs. We many use our card to make bill payment easier. We’ve have very good experiences with American Express. Their Platinum card program provides you with free access to several airport lounges as well as top club levels in rental car and hotel programs. Amex’s OPEN program gives us discounts on FedEx and Hertz. With Hertz, you get their Gold service which means you can bypass lines at the airport and head right to your car.
There are many more vendors and services we use but those are some of the key ones that let us run rackAID. I welcome your feedback on other services you’ve found valuable for your business.