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Feature: Telecomm

Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

By Tina Gasperson on December 17, 2007 (9:00:00 PM)

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Thomas Howe is a telecommunications developer and consultant who is passionate about the role of open source software in the telephony industry. He calls open source the "next generation" of telecommunications, and works with large enterprise companies to help them design phone systems that fully integrate with their business flow. "Only open source can do that," Howe says.

Howe says open code is the key to highly customizable phone systems that truly meet the needs of individual companies. "The telecom world has typically been a very closed environment. In terms of technology and deployment, they control every aspect of the experience. The idea of being open and allowing customers to have control is a radical thought."

But that is just what Howe is doing. Howe bases his custom communications solutions on Asterisk, the popular full-featured open source telephony engine that many companies are adopting as they move away from legacy phone systems in an effort to save money and gain more control over their infrastructure.

Howe has been in telecom since the late '80s, where he first experienced open source through the GNU C compiler (GCC). Over the years, he realized that open code could have the power to revolutionize telephony. "It made it easy for developers to develop without the help of the vendor."

Today, Howe says his customers "don't care" whether his solutions are open source or not. "They need solutions to be provided. There's no real customer resistance. As a small shop and as a consultant, using open source gives me the ability to make solutions rapidly that are custom. No one else can provide them. And as time goes on, open source is more viable than vendor-supplied technology, and it's more reliable."

Open source telephony solutions are more flexible, Howe says. "We can put together solutions very quickly, and we don't rely on third parties to deliver important functionality. For example, I was putting together a call center for a large public company. They had 10 call centers around the world, and one issue that came up very quickly was that if one call center went down due to a power failure or whatever, they didn't have the technology available to route the calls to the other call centers. It was a very straightforward solution to put in a proxy and do call routing, so that if one center came down you could pick up the load in the others. That issue came up at the last minute, and we were able to implement it in a few days' time. With a commercial vendor, it would have taken a month."

Howe says one of the challenges of using open source is that you have to be "technically deep. For us there isn't any fear of taking an open source library and integrating it -- it's a problem we can fix ourselves. I would caution anyone in this position to have a strong technical source they can rely upon. Otherwise, they're going to be in a tough spot."

Tina Gasperson writes about business and technology from an open source perspective.

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on Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

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Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.175.216.126] on December 18, 2007 03:55 AM
Well doesn't needs to be open source (or at least as the new open source definition that talks about the three rights). You only need the modification right but as far as I know you don't need to do that the redistribution right. And there is where open source fails in industry. Give everything to consumers and nothing to producers in exchange is a bad idea because doesn't promotes developement and that is what we are really after. On the other side many comercial libraries come with source when you buy them and doesn't interfere with any posibilities to adjust them. Therefore I see no reason on having to step on top of open source and the usual lack of support you get. That depends on the case but is the usual. Another thing that open source is in contradiction with itself. Instead of providing readable well documented source you get poorly documented things in order to force you to request tech support. And ... well that's the part that costs and delays things. Ask me I know.

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Re: Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.3.12.45] on December 18, 2007 01:14 PM
"Instead of providing readable well documented source you get poorly documented things in order to force you to request tech support."
And this was supposed to be a open source problem?
At least with open source, you have the freedom to choose which consultant to use. This is a freedom you normally don't get with closed source systems.
That is what really cost and delays things.
Ask me, I know....

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Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.236.163.214] on January 25, 2008 04:38 PM
If you go with open source you can spend your resources on support when the documentation isn't there.

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Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.195.183.237] on December 18, 2007 01:28 PM
you both are right... All things being equal, I will go with the Open Source product, but BUY it from a commercial vendor for the support, just on the off chance, I'm asked to do something funky with it, I can.

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Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 91.73.252.66] on December 18, 2007 03:59 PM
I call propaganda. In this case the opensourceness of the component only benefit one person the consultant who just making a buck on free software (by providing expertise and support which is fair game.)

The client on the other hand couldn't care less to know that his system is open source, cost-wise proprietary or not its most likely the same for him, he has to pay for delivery, installation, support and customization right just like he would with his cisco/avaya system unless that consultant works for free it's all the same. Maybe he charges less than a Cisco GOLD partner, but then again so will a silver (or less) cisco distributor.

I'm glad he could setup a proxy server to distribute the call, it's been done and redone since we have ISDN, and I wonder why they didn't just get a service agreement with their provider to reroute the call when one system is down. ISDN alarms cause rerouting works fine (or SIP whatever suits you). And of course Avaya system or Cisco Call Manager could have done the same -out of the box-. If a vendor takes month to do it, it's a vendor issue, not a open Vs closed source issue.

Whatever he is talking about, and I wish he would give more specific example so I can prove my point even more, can be done with the CTI-API of ANY "proprietary" telecom equipment vendor. JTAPI, CSTA, plain SIP, whatever.

There is a huge fight out there between integrator of telephony equipment and I can tell you that building anything on those proprietary platform is not an issue of feasibility but of capacity to execute of the integrator.

And I am just saying that because I am a telecom consultant and in a company that distributes amongst other things a proprietary PBX, Avaya System, Asterisk and our very own Contact Center Solution which is in the top 5 worldwide.

This article is a shameless plug.










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Open source telephony gives customers control, consultant says

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.201.138.228] on December 20, 2007 01:43 PM
Telephony is mission-critical for most companies, so it boils down to this: if you have the right people running the show for you, in or out of house, you can be confident. If you want bargain basement installations, you'll be sorry.

We do a free live call in conference every Friday if you have any questions about VOIP: http://voipusersconference.org

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