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The Shaman of Open Source

By Richard �Zippy� Grigonis

October 2006, Volume 9/ Number 10


In southern Africa, a Sangoma (News - Alert) is a shaman, a diviner of mysteries and wielder of powerful rituals. It�s an apt name for Sangoma Technologies, a company that has guided users of open source telephony technology to a new feature-rich plane of existence. (Indeed, Sangoma provides various connectivity hardware and software products for VoIP, TDM voice, WANs, and the Internet infrastructure, including the A200/REMORA FXO/FXS Analog Telephony Support System that won a 2006 Innovation Award from TMC Labs.)

But whereas a real shaman relies on ancestors from the spirit world to give his clients instruction and advice, Sangoma Technologies� President and CEO David Mandelstam relies on the more reliable methods of market data, feedback from customers, ongoing R&D, and a general industry savvy gained from years of experience.

So what are Mandelstam�s pronouncements on the current state of open source?

�Open source telephony is reaching a sort of tipping point,� he says. �A year ago, people were using it to develop small, handcrafted installations built to meet certain criteria, and each installation was somewhat unique. Now, however, you�re starting to see a lot of production-type environments, where people are turning out basically the same thing again and again, hundreds of times a month. At the moment, Sangoma is somewhere between these two situations.�

�It�s reflected in the pricing,� continues Mandelstam. �For example, many vendors will offer a $995 entry level system that handles up to 30 to 50 callers, which generally doesn�t have a PSTN interface � it�s purely VoIP, so it�s really a VoIP switch. Then you�ll see vendors producing a �next level up� $3,000 system that�s quite sophisticated; it may have T1 interfaces and so on. The systems fall into natural production categories. I think it�s the future of the business.�

As such open source telephony systems find homes in the mainstream business world, enterprises will soon realize that �open� technology doesn�t imply that it lacks security.

�Algorithms in open source form means that the world can criticize them, fix them, and generally get things improved,� says Mandelstam. �On the other hand, closed source is just closed. Deficiencies aren�t revealed until some security breach actually occurs. But in an open source environment, anybody can take a look and say, �Hey, I see a security �hole� here.� It�s the old cathedral and bazaar story: the closed commercial �cathedral� model versus the open �bazaar� model of the Linux world.�

�That�s why all flaws in open source code that are important to people get fixed, including security flaws� says Mandelstam. �There�s a team of unpaid developers and quality analysis people worldwide who, for one reason or another, are prepared to do this work. But security is less of an issue when it comes to open source voice offerings. For us, security is a non-issue because the part of the network in which we are heavily involved is the traditional telephony part, which is considerably secure, since it�s a switched network that maintains a dedicated path between endpoints during a phone call.�

Recently, Sangoma teamed up with the Null Team Company ( to release a native Windows-based version of the GPL-licensed Yate telephony project ( Yate is a next-gen telephony engine encompassing both VoIP and the PSTN. However, Yate�s real strength involves its ability to be easily extended so that voice, video, data and instant messaging can all be unified under its flexible routing engine, thus maximizing communications efficiency and minimizing business infrastructure costs. IT

Richard �Zippy� Grigonis is the executive editor of Internet Telephony.

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