After years of providing support only for Asterisk Business Edition, Digium looked at the growing acceptance of open source voice solutions, at the shift away from vendor-locked proprietary systems, and decided the time was right to “do whatever needs to be done to make Asterisk work for our customers,” according to Steven Sokol, Digium’s Product Manager for Asterisk.
One month into the new venture, Sokol spoke about the new venture and what open source support means for the Asterisk project, and provided insight on the impact current economic challenges could have on the growth of open source communications in the future.
How many support subscriptions have you sold since the launch of support for Open Source Asterisk?
I don’t have the exact number but I can tell you that when we launched the support service we had our first subscriber within 30 minutes. The support program was announced [last September] at AstriCon 2008 and received a very strong round of applause from the community members present. So far all of the feedback I’ve received has been very positive.
Can you provide an estimate of the total number of Open Source installations in use today – in North America? Worldwide?
We conservatively estimate that there were 200,000 new production deployments of Asterisk in 2008 alone. Its impossible to give a precise figure, but the number of production systems is easily into the millons worldwide. A recent study of the North American PBX market indicates that open source business phone systems represented 18% of all systems deployed as of last year. That’s bigger than any one proprietary vendor.
What are the typical kinds of support cases users of Open Source Asterisk are likely to present?
We expect to see (and have trained our technicians to handle) a broad range of issues related to installation, configuration, dialplan scripting, voip and legacy connectivity.
Has offering support for Open Source Asterisk led to hiring in Digium’s support department or are new support cases being handled by current staff?
At this point we’ve been able to absorb the additional work with our existing staff. We have plans in place to expand as the subscriber base increases. We have optimized the support process significantly with a few internal changes and we’ve also replaced our venerable email-based support system with a web-to-case system that does a much better job of categorizing and prioritizing incoming cases.
What were the primary drivers behind Digium’s decision to begin offering support to the Open Source part of the Asterisk community?
Community / user demand was the key driver. Over the past few years open source solutions have been accepted by the “C-level” in the business world (CIO, CFO, CEO, etc). Their biggest concern has been a lack of a direct avenue for support. With the launch of the support subscriptions we’ve filled that gap.
Can you share your thoughts on the prospects for open source PBX in the enterprise market in the coming year, especially as they relate to continued uncertainty in the broader economy?
I think that the current economic situation has certainly helped to accelerate the acceptance of open source in the enterprise. I’m personally of the opinion that it was going to happen regardless, but at a slower pace. We’ve seen an uptick in inquiries from the enterprise sector since the meltdown started. In the coming year I expect to see strong growth for Digium and for the Asterisk ecosystem in general.
What are the biggest challenges, both from Digium’s perspective and as you perceive the challenges from the customer side, to continued adoption of Open Source PBX?
Digium’s challenges for the next year include managing growth and continuing to strike the careful balance between our commercial operations and our stewardship of Asterisk.
In terms of the customer and market challenges, there’s always a certain amount of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) that must be overcome, and that won’t disappear overnight.
We (both Digium and the Asterisk community) need to continue to make improvements to the core of Asterisk and to address some of the key technical challenges in enterprise deployments — scalability, high availability, multi-site management.
I think we’ve made a lot of progress in the past ten years, and we expect that to continue throughout 2009.