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March 2007
Volume 10 / Number 3

IP Contact Centers and the Open
Source IP PBX

By Gary Barnett, Feature Articles


Open source solutions have been available to enterprises for years, but have recently begun to grow in popularity, including the new open source IP PBX options. Should your contact center forego a traditional private branch exchange (PBX) system and evaluate this new Internet protocol (IP) technology?

Companies that are adopting open source in the contact center are being drawn by the low cost, as well as the greater control and flexibility that open source telephony offers. However, as with any new technology, it is important to examine the functional requirements of the contact center to determine if open source makes sense for your company.


Why Open Source?

As VoIP (define - news - alert) adoption rates continue to grow, businesses are seeing open source as a more viable option in the contact center. Open source IP PBX solutions are feature rich, offering capabilities such as voicemail, conference bridging, call detail recording, call routing, and provides all of the features — and in fact more — than a closed source PBX offers.

The open source IP PBX community is very well supported with hundreds of contributors who have collectively added hundreds of thousands of lines of code. Open source also benefits from hundreds of individuals testing and documenting its development, adding to its stability and the ability of users to quickly get information on the solution. This allows for an elevated level of security, flexibility and control that enables companies to quickly enable new features and functionality with an open source solution, rather than relying on a closed source PBX vendor to make the changes. Open source IP PBXs are architected to be as reliable and scalable as any closed source IP PBX, offering these benefits:

• Customizable — While typical open source IP PBXs offer more than 100 standard features, including all the expected capabilities, the number and scope of possibilities are infinite. Since the source code is readily available, companies can control and add an unlimited range of features and functionality to meet their unique and evolving needs, instead of spending on and waiting for customized features to be developed by an outside vendor.

• Cost-effective — An open source IP PBX can be fully implemented for onethird to one-half the price of proprietary systems that are on the market today. There are no associated software costs as it can be downloaded for free and low cost SIP phones are readily available. There are minimal expenses relating to installation, depending on the expertise of your IT staff.

• Vendor neutral — Using SIP and other telephony standards, open source IP PBXs can be easily integrated with applications from multiple vendors, as well as existing TDM infrastructure to ensure seamless interoperability with the contact centers throughout your organization, whether they are open source or proprietary systems. These IP PBXs are specifically designed to help companies avoid being “locked-in” to specific vendors or products, resulting in better pricing and greater choice and flexibility.

• Stable and secure — While it is not possible for any software to be entirely secure, open source enables constant peer review, which results in rapid identification of security breaches. Because a large community of users has access to the code, multiple people can be simultaneously developing bug fixes at no cost. And because open source is open in terms of both code and philosophy, there is no motivation for hackers to try to ‘crack the code’.

• Rapidly developed — Open source telephony is powered by a large community of programmers. A multitude of users with collaborative development, real-world experience and vested interests means that new capabilities can be quickly added and brought to market, and upgrades are timely.


Addressing Open Source Concerns

Open source solutions, like Asterisk, have definitely been gaining traction in the contact center recently. It has been implemented in more than 250,000 sites and is downloaded 1,000 times each day. Using session initiation protocol (SIP) and standards-based technology for interoperability, open source has become an increasingly viable option for contact centers.

However, many organizations are hesitant to jump on the open source bandwagon and adopt the technology because of the lack of support and maintenance. These companies don’t necessarily have the internal experts and resources to maintain an open source solution. And in the contact center, the lack of support and maintenance is especially a concern, particularly when mission-critical contact center operations could be at risk.

To address these concerns, several vendors are offering open source solutions that include support and maintenance. This has enabled companies to rethink the possibility of using open source, and has paved the way for increased adoption. For example, when the Linux operating system was first introduced, people were skeptical about the value of an open source solution, but once IBM and other large software companies offered support and maintenance behind the solution, open source was viewed as a well-established, fullycapable solution. Red Hat is another company that distributes a packaged version of Linux, and in October 2006, Oracle announced they would provide full support for Red Hat customers. This is another proof-point that major technology vendors are using open source solutions to drive their businesses, further underscoring the viability of open source offerings.


Is It Right for Your Company?

Open source is particularly appealing to companies with dynamic business processes and practices that need to make adds, moves, changes quite frequently to meet strategic objectives. Outsourcers are a great example of a dynamic business. Open source offers an elevated level of flexibility and control that enables the business to quickly manage or add new features rather than relying on a proprietary vendor to make the changes. These contact centers can dictate their own PBX product roadmap instead of relying on a vendor to update the product.

But of course, it’s not limited to just companies with dynamic business processes — any company that wants to save money and increase the flexibility of its infrastructure can implement an open source solution. In addition to outsourcers, companies that could reap the benefits of an open source IP PBX would include collections contact centers, those with a dispersed workforce, global customer service, help desk, multi-campus environments, mobile workforce, companies requiring seasonal workforce increase/reduction and companies looking to introduce new products/ services in pilot markets.

Many companies that are interested in open source also require simple, seamless integrations with more reliable and proven contact center applications. These businesses are looking for a lowcost infrastructure that can be easily customized, but they also have the option of adding more reliable, proven products to the contact center. This can often be accomplished when an open source IP PBX is packaged with full support through a larger vendor.

Contact centers are constantly looking to meet consumer demands, while balancing those with the realities of the bottom line. An open source IP PBX gives them a quick and inexpensive way to achieve their business objectives while increasing choice, flexibility and control. As the industry learns more about this technology and recognizes the benefits that Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) brings to a dynamic contact center and the enterprise, adoption rates will continue to grow like wildfire. In an industry where needs are ever-changing and dynamic, the right open source solution could be the spark your business needs to lower costs, increase revenue and ultimately separate your company from the competition.

Gary Barnett is the Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President at Aspect Software. (news - alert) For more information, visit the company online at



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