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Open Source Telephony Becoming More Compelling

By Greg Royal on Mon, 04/09/07 - 8:47am.

Cisco last week released the Smart Business Communications System, an amalgam of various technologies into a small business form factor. It is the next step in Cisco covering all bases in providing networking and communications toolsets for all levels of business. It competes with the myriad of alternatives that exist for small business including the large Keyphone market which in North America is dominated by Nortel.

However, one of the most interesting parts of the transformation of the telecommunications industry is not so much the hardware evolution which are largely predictable, but the transformation of business models, specifically in this case, the Asterisk PBX. The fascination is in applying the Linux Open Source Model, give away the product and sell the services, to your telephone system.

While it is true:

When it comes to open sourcing dial tone, the feeling among most enterprises is that there's just too much at stake. After all, network troubles translate to help desk calls and lost revenue, but if the phones go down, it could mean life or death. When it comes to melding the lockstep world of traditional five-nines PBXs (private branch exchanges) into the land of Patch Tuesday and the frequent reboot, calling on a commercial vendor can feel a lot more comforting than signing off on that level of responsibility yourself.

It is also true that:

Summer Bay Resorts, a time-share vacation property company, logs more than a million voice minutes per month on its 13-server Asterisk system. However, despite such proof that large-scale implementations of Asterisk are viable, Digium remains focused predominantly on the mid-market.

Source: TechNewsWorld

The attraction of Asterisk is the cost coupled with a very strong feature set, indeed at this price point it is difficult to match. However what Asterisk suffers from is a strong channel presence. It competes with a large number of vendors in the telecommunications channel, Mitel, Shoreline, 3Com etc etc without the benefit of a strong commercial presence. However this is also was true of Linux before Redhat, Suse and others came to build businesses around it, and the same is probably true of Asterisk.

Which of course begs the question, what large businesses can be built around the core of Asterisk to drive the market forward and allow it to become attractive to the channel to build on. That question remains.

Then again RedHat could buy Digium.....