The management team at Iris, comprising of Stuart Birch, Managing Director, Alan Kemp, Operations Director, James Burke, Consulting Director and Jacques Du Toit, Software and Design Director, says the company was borne out of the frustration of working with other monitoring systems. Iris’ founders grew up with the Internet and bore witness to networks evolving into massively complex structures.
The team believes that, oftentimes, monitoring performance and reliability of these networks is an afterthought and many tools are expensive and enterprise-focussed, making it frustrating for network engineers to find problems on the network. As such, network engineers quickly turn to open-source alternatives.
After many years of working with both expensive, monolithic systems and open-source tools, they felt it was time to deliver something new and exciting to the market.
Understanding the challenges that big companies face, they set out to design and write an application that would be fast, easy, scalable and that would look good.
“We coded around the clock for eight months in Jacques’ dining room. When we felt we needed a break, we would head out to a coffee shop for a cappuccino and talk about design aspects of what we wanted to achieve,” says Alan.
The team says their position has always been consistent—if they can deliver a good product and provide great service consistently, they will have loyal customers. Combined with a passion for network monitoring and solving difficult challenges with and for their customers, they strive to represent data in new and meaningful ways. The company is made up of individuals who share this vision.
“Our first customers went with us because they shared our belief in what was possible and, today, those customers are still with us and share our journey and we follow our dream,” says Jacques.
The team explains that Iris’ core product collects data from the network and provides performance and capacity management and event management on large scale networks.
However, as they offer their service as dedicated Saas, they are able to alleviate much of the stress of managing a Network Management System (NMS) solution away from their customers, allowing the customer to focus on the task of running their network.
They believe that network visibility is key to an Internet service provider (ISP), as their customers depend on a network that is fast and reliable. Iris provides a comprehensive view of the network, alerting to any potential issue. Engineers and managers alike enjoy the benefits of having network data at their fingertips in near real-time.
“Open-source tools may be tempting but, often the cost of the staff to maintain them make it a poor choice for Network Management Systems.
“Inherent in the Iris design are automation aspects, which reduce the need for a large team to manage the day-to-day configuration aspects. This cost saving is passed on to the customer and we provide the customer with a single and consolidated view into their network,” says Alan.
ISPs still face a number of challenges today, but Iris rises to meet these challenges through adaptation and innovation.
The team elaborates, saying that Software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV) are changing the landscape of network provisioning. In the past, it could take days or weeks to upgrade a service but, today, it takes seconds.
NMS products need to keep up with new technologies. Traditional Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) based monitoring is also positioned for a decline and providing data using telemetry will become the preferred method.
“Because Iris was designed with change in mind, we have easily adapted to these new tech nologies. There is too much data for humans to process now and our team is constantly looking for innovative ways to make sense of it all in a meaningful way,” says Jacques.
Their overwhelming success and industry advantage is attributed to their team, as well as their attitude.
“We love solving problems for our clients and rising to the technical challenges that come with that. One client asked us if it was possible to process 30 billion records in under 10 seconds—we did it in 6.53 seconds. Another client asked us to write something to monitor SIP calls between servers in 3 weeks, a very tight deadline—we did it in 2,” explains Alan.
While having a great architecture and solid platform to build from technically is beneficial, the team feels that delighting their clients and being able to offer a high level of service is at the very heart of their business.
After studying at WITS and after a few years of working as a developer, Stuart Birch joined Internet Solutions—which was started by a friend and fellow classmate, Ronnie Apteker—in a client management and sales role.
“I was like a fish out of water at the beginning of this journey. As a result of being so stretched, I learned a bit about people, a bit about the industry and much more about myself. When I left this exciting business for Iris, I had been heading up the Western Cape region for a number of years. “At Iris, I am ultimately responsible for our client satisfaction. No matter what our product can do, without our clients, we would still be just an idea. Therefore, we are extremely grateful to our wonderful group of clients who have supported us and our products over the years,” says Birch.
Birch is quick to praise his staff when it comes to their effective challenge-solving abilities, saying that, “Last year, we had one of our biggest supporters from a blue chip telco cancel his services with us. The issues were complex and were not all related to our company or product. Sometimes, when your product or service is the final touch point in a long value-chain, you can’t avoid taking a hit, even when there are mitigating circumstances.
“To overcome this, I have to give credit to our management team and staff who pulled together to rectify the problem. As a team, we pulled this one back from the brink—our business relationship happily continues.”
Alan Kemp’s first job was at Internet Africa—a time when the Internet was still an emerging entity. With time and growth of the Internet, he was drawn to the analytics and visualisation, the network, capacity and how traffic flows.
“Tools were lacking, so we wrote our own. In that 10-year period, I gained experience on how to collect, correlate and handle large amounts of real-time data,” he says.
“At Iris, I am looking at future technologies and industry trends to guide our product development and business to meet new challenges and keep up with shifts in the landscape,” he explains.
Kemp expresses his delight at having gathered a team of highly skilled professionals who have the same level of passion about network management as he does.
“As a result, we have built a tool that I am proud,” he says.
James Burke began his career as a Marine Engineer, serving on various merchant vessels. He moved into the ISP industry in 1998, as this was the new and exciting space.
He describes his current role as “consulting with clients on a variety of network designs and implementations. I assist with a monitoring and alerting strategy, which can then be implemented into the Iris toolset. Most recently, I have been involved in development related to some of the newer technologies that are reshaping the network landscape, such as MEF and Telemetry.
In terms of NMS implementation, he explains that they “deliver Iris as a dedicated SaaS model where we look after the platform. This frees up our customers’ time to focus on their primary functions. This collaboration between ourselves and our customers enables them to utilise our team’s experience and skills in order to gain a greater insight to Iris and to their network assets.”
Jacques du Toit’s first job was in the networking field in the late 90s. Since then, he has seen many changes in the Internet, from the X.25 and Frame-relay networks to today’s modern MPLS networks.
He expresses his excitement about new technologies and his passion for data analytics and solving difficult problems.
“I learned to programme at a very young age and have had the pleasure of working with some great teams over the years and learned a lot from them.
“Today, I am responsible for all aspects of the development of our product suite and have the privilege of working with some top-notch guys in the development space.
As a Director in the business, he is involved in other areas as well and there are many balls to juggle. He does, however, remain very involved in the overall architecture and design of the product set.
Du Toit says that, while networks are complex, they believe that simple and elegant solutions are at the heart of Iris. As such, the entire architecture of the products they develop reflects this idea.
“With the ever-changing landscape in both the development and networking fields, it’s a challenge to evolve with the new technologies while also relying on the stability of the tried and tested.
“The judgment calls we need to make here are always with the vision of a simple and elegant solution in mind and sound architectural principles of modern software design patterns,” he concludes.