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David Sims - TMCnet CRM Alert Columnist[February 17, 2005]

Contender "Rocky" Tehrani Takes on Mark "Champ" Spencer in Open-Source Super-Fight

By David Sims, TMCnet CRM Alert Columnist

As part of the INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference and Expo Miami 2005, Rich Tehrani wanted to stage a debate on open source vs. PBX telephony. He lined up Mark Spencer, president of Digium and creator of Asterisk, for the open source side.

He couldn’t find anyone to take the side of PBX, so Rocky-like he’s stepping into the ring himself.

“Next week I go on stage with Mark Spencer the guru of open source, founder of Digium and Asterisk and have to debate him one-on-one,” Rich says on his blog. “He is taking the (no surprise here) pro-open source side of the argument and I am against it (or at least that’s the role I play onstage).”

As Tehrani recalls, “we called Mark and asked him if he would do an open source telephony shoot-out with another PBX vendor. He agreed. We called a few PBX vendors and no would debate him. I called Mark back and said, the hell with it, I will fill the role of the PBX vendor.”

Spencer, of course, well-known as the founder of Digium and Asterisk is a veritable open source telephony guru extraordinaire. The author of several open source packages including Gaim, Cheops, DJ Krazy, GnoPhone, and Asterisk, his current company Digium provides open source software and low-cost hardware centered around the Asterisk Open SourcePBX.

A formidable opponent, especially when he gets rolling on the cost and scale advantages of open source, the debate shouldn’t be a one-sided walkover, never mind the timidity of PBX vendors themselves.

Tehrani could bring up the disadvantages of open source software in general, such as forcing vendors to make developments public, or the lack of a technical roadmap for improvements, leading to FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, which every business owner hates.

Open source has been widely successful in network-related functions, doing great (and as Tehrani says, chewing up and spitting out Sun in the process) on software for DNS servers and Unix-based routers. Now it’s spreading to IP telephony, with Asterisk, SIPxchange, and Vovida already on the market, and people trying to place SIP-based proxy servers and IP PBX software into the public domain.

All of which is great, but open source is still very much a tech-geek thing, and techies don’t make the final purchase decision. The businessmen do. Techies love the cutting edge, the latest thingamajig, while businessmen like things like Microsoft and IBM. They like certainty, established results, which open source can’t guarantee.

Business owners want turnkey solutions, they want someone they can call when the thing breaks down. They know if they buy Cisco or Avaya that if they have a problem they’re going to pick up the phone and somebody on the other end’s going to make it right. Open source, for all its cost and programming advantages, can’t promise that. Yet.

While traditional PBX might be less sexy than open source right now, at least we know it can do the job. Maybe in the future open source will have the track record PBX does, but in the meantime, many business owners are happy to let other companies be the guinea pigs.

Plus if Rich really gets in a corner in the debate, he can just claim he got the flu and go to the hospital for a couple days.

David Sims is contributing editor and CRM Alert columnist for TMCnet.

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