Open Source: Telephony’s New ROI-alty

By Charlene O'Hanlon Comments
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IP telephony is a technology that has proven its worth in reliability, flexibility and cost savings. The shifting of voice communications onto the data network has fostered a sea change in the way companies view their infrastructure.

However, the next-generation PBX technology offered by most vendors is proprietary at heart, and while it’s good at managing the IP network, it’s not so good at playing well with other PBXs. Consequently, a number of companies looking to upgrade their communications networks oftentimes are priced out of the IP marketplace.

Enter open source telephony. Once regarded as the domain of hobbyists and basement IT fanatics and brandishing a less-than-stellar reputation, open source telephony has cleaned up its image and entered the mainstream as a cost-effective alternative to proprietary technology, delivering all of the features at a fraction of the price.

“Open source delivers the three most important features needed in a communications system – reliability, scalability and long-term flexibility – at a more attractive cost," said Birch Shambaugh, vice president of business development at Special Applied Intelligence, an IT and communications-focused VAR and systems integrator based in New York. “The ROI is staggering in comparison with proprietary systems."

Open source, in fact, may be the worst-kept – or the best-kept, depending on how you look at it – secret among the IT community. While open source hardly ever comes up in conversation when discussing IP PBX systems, a staggering number of companies are using the technology — from small businesses that can’t afford the expense of a brand-name system to large enterprises that want to add on to their existing feature set without spending another truckload of cash.

“I consider open source to be the Swiss Army knife of communications," Shambaugh said. “While a lot of people associate phone systems with open source, that’s really only a portion of what it’s relevant for. It’s also an integration tool for tying together disparate systems or adding more features to an installed system. Open source telephony is a component in a shocking number of infrastructures."

“I think a lot of people in IT know about open source telephony, but you’re just not hearing about it," said Shannon Clemons, global channels marketing manager at Digium Inc., creator of the Asterisk open source telephony platform. “There are hundreds of thousands of Asterisk users. I think VARs might consider open source their secret competitive advantage, and that’s why you don’t hear too much about it."

Indeed, open source telephony is enjoying a fair amount of success in the marketplace. According to research firm Eastern Management Group, open source telephony garnered $1.2 billion in 2008 (the latest numbers available), accounting for 18 percent of the total telephony market. Of that, Asterisk accounted for about 85 percent of the open source telephony space. In the first half of 2009, the space grew an additional 30 percent, EMG noted.

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