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Unified Communications
Featured Article
UC Mag
Erik Linask
Group Editorial Director

Asterisk, the Open Source UC

When you hear the term, more than likely, names like Avaya, Cisco, Nortel, Mitel, and NEC come to mind. And why not? They are the biggest names in the IP communications space, garnering more than half of the PBX market in 2008, according to The Eastern Management Group. But, consider this: Independently, none of them outdid the open source PBX market, driven by the work of Digium behind the Asterisk open source PBX products.


Unified communications, for all its hype, is little more than a set of robust applications on top of an IP PBX. So, why not consider Asterisk in a conversation about UC? After all, there isn't another platform with development surrounding it and as many applications written for it than the Asterisk PBX platform - including UC features from the user community as well as vendors that have chosen to develop add-ons specifically for Asterisk. Digium itself has its own Asterisk-based UC system in Switchvox.


The truth is, anything you can do with a proprietary unified communications solution, you can do with an Asterisk-based system - and more, thanks to the tremendous ecosystem surrounding Asterisk. In fact, there are several popular UC systems on the market that are founded in the Asterisk code.


"Asterisk's nature is kind of a chameleon - it can do almost any telecom task you give it," says Digium's Open Source Community Director John Todd. "People are using Asterisk as a jack of all trades for building applications, building bridges between legacy systems, and increasing ROI on their legacy equipment by keeping it in place longer."


What many of us industry insiders often overlook is that the features we have started to take for granted, like voice mail to email, or notification of incoming call via an IM client, find me/follow me capabilities, and other UC-type features and applications, are only a pipedream at a large number of businesses.


"Asterisk can do these things very trivially," says Todd. "So, many enterprises are taking Asterisk and bolting it onto their existing networks, either as an application server or as a full-blown UC server."


Asterisk has quickly come into its own as a competitive alternative to proprietary solutions, because, when properly implemented, it is, at worst, as reliable as legacy and proprietary UC solutions. When you factor in the nature of open source, the ability to customize applications and features to fit unique scenarios - and many of those changes are contributed to the community by some of Asterisk's largest users - the value proposition of using Asterisk to support a UC deployment becomes evident.


So, the next time you think about Unified Communications, why not add Asterisk to that list?


"It's free, it's extremely flexible, and the feature set is so rich that it's really difficult to say no to a proposition like Asterisk once you understand it," concludes Todd.


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