Atlanta, GA – This week’s Astricon, the first telecommunications conference to focus primarily on the Asterisk open source PBX, far exceeded virtually anyone’s expectations – including its organizers’.
Conference organizers Olle E. Johansson and Steve Sokol had expected a turnout of some 120 participants just days before the conference began Sept. 22. Instead, they got more than four times that number.
“The turnout is fantastic, well beyond our wildest expectations,” said Sokol of the 490 that ended up participating in the three-day affair.
On the day the number of pre-registrations reached 100, “we broke out the champagne,” said Johansson. “We were so worried that we would have to pay for the balance of minimum rooms that the hotel put into the contract.”
Registrants from 32 countries and 6 continents were represented. While English was the de-facto language of communication, conversations in Spanish and Northern European languages would often be heard in the hallways.
Attire was typical tech-friendly: only one tie was to be spotted in the crowd, which was traded for a t-shirt after the presenter gave his talk in the afternoon.
The three-day conference consisted of a day of tutorials on Wednesday, Sep. 22, with three tracks ranging from beginner to expert discussions. Thursday was a full day of general session topics, and Friday was dedicated primarily to developers working on conceptual and tactical issues for future Asterisk code work. Most of the talks concentrated on very tactical and practical issues, with direct instructions and even live configurations being a part of the presentation.
With at least 11 corporate sponsors, the conference represented a blend of Open Source mentality with corporate sponsorship. Asterisk is widely used by service providers and applications delivery firms, and the wide-ranging list sponsors of the event reflected its appeal.
The major announcement of the event was the release of Asterisk 1.0.
Mark Spencer, Asterisk’s principal author, told the gathered crowd on Thursday of the first “release” version of Asterisk. Until the announcement, Asterisk had been available in several “stable” beta releases.
This had been perceived as an impediment to Asterisk’s adoption in enterprise environments, where Open Source is a difficult prospect to begin with. The release of a non-beta version of Asterisk is expected to increase Asterisk installation rates dramatically, and lead to a much larger user community.
“I think we will see this jump the Asterisk community by an order of magnitude,” said Sokol.
The conference was not just all talk: Spencer was seen in the lobby making changes to the beta software tree based on ideas and discussions of previous hours. This type of rapid development is well-known in the Asterisk community, and is what has been credited with keeping the project on track with quick implementation of new features and resolutions of interoperability bugs.
Even the hidden voice of Asterisk made an appearance: Allison Smith, otherwise known as “The IVR Voice,” was seen at the conference. Smith has performed all of the English language recordings that come as standard for the Asterisk project, and over the last few years many contributors to the project have had her record a wide variety of common as well as unusual phrases for the system. Putting a face to the voice was one of the side benefits for conference attendees.
The unexpectedly large crowd did cause a few problems. The hosting hotel was overbooked due to hurricane refugees and short on rooms due to water damage, so some participants had to be bussed several miles to an alternate hotel site. And some conference rooms ran out of chairs due to large turnout. But this did not seem to discourage the audience from continuing to pile in for standing-room-only discussions.
Johansson and Sokol are already making plans for an Astricon in Europe in the spring of 2005, and the stunning success of the first North America show has already started talk of other conferences in 2005 and beyond.