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Cisco VoIP Ditched for Open-Source Asterisk 159

Posted by Zonk
from the more-power-to-ya dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Sam Houston State University (SHSU) is moving 6,000 users off a Cisco VoIP platform to an open-source VoIP network based on Asterisk. One big driver, of course, is cost. From the article: 'We thought that it will be more cost effective in the long run to go with an open source solution, because of the massive amounts of licensing fees required to keep the Cisco CallManager network up and running,' says Aaron Daniel, senior voice analyst at SHSU."
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Cisco VoIP Ditched for Open-Source Asterisk

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  • by Rob from RPI (4309) <xrobau@gmail.com> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:28AM (#16119648) Homepage

    I've just released FreePBX 2.1.2, which is a major security upgrade from 2.1.1. Not really relevant to this article, except that they both deal with Asterisk.

    (For those that don't know, FreePBX is the only open source GUI for configuration and management of Asterisk. www.freepbx.org [freepbx.org])

    --Rob
    • by caluml (551744)
      $ emerge --search freepbx
      Searching...
      [ Results for search key : freepbx ]
      [ Applications found : 0 ]

      $
      Hmm, shame it's not in portage.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rob from RPI (4309)
        It's not, but I was working with a couple of gentoo guys to get it in - they seem to have vanished. The way we do an install and check for versions apparently causes a bit of grief. There are, however, gentoo docs on the wiki [aussievoip.com] - However, just checking over them they seem to be a bit lax (well, ok. A lot lax). The CentOS instructions [aussievoip.com] are far more verbose.

        I'd love for someone with some gentoo clues to help out!

        --Rob
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gremln007 (993534)
      Hey Rob, I've seen you on a lot of the forums. Great work on FreePBX by the way! I have seen a number of folks posting about TCO and needing Asterisk experts, etc. I just wanted to mention TrixBox (formerly Asterisk@Home). It is a great, EASY way to play with Asterisk in a test or even real environment. You can start out using this and then move on to a plain vanilla Asterisk install if you feel the need for greater control. That being said a lot of people use TrixBox (or Asterisk@Home) as-is. TrixB
      • Trixbox is great, but the latest release (1.2) is giving lots of people grief as when they apply changes in FreePBX (click the red top bar) the whole lot needs to be restarted (amportal restart at the command line) as many trunks and extensions suddenly drop off the system - many over at the Trixbox forum are debating the problem which seems to be somewhere in between the latest release of Asterisk, FreePBX and the Trixbox assemblage.

        Rob, any knowledge of this - some seem to have a more stable system if the
  • SCCP support? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OffTheLip (636691) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:38AM (#16119665)
    Seems like the majority of Asterisk support has been for SIP phones. Some support for SCCP phones such as the 7910. Be nice if more low end phone support was available. Overall, Asterisk seems much nice than CCM and does not rely on a OS/Application installation.
    • Re:SCCP support? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rob from RPI (4309) <xrobau@gmail.com> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:04AM (#16119717) Homepage
      I was really trying hard not to reply to _every_ post here, but SCCP is an awful protocol. And the 'low end' VoIP phone are all SIP or IAX, so you're barking up the wrong tree a bit. For example - Google for PA1688. This is a VoIP phone _chipset_ that the manufacturers have open sourced the firmware for. You can usually buy PA1688 based phones for about US$50. Or if you want more of an office phone, the Grandstream GXP2000 has a reasonably professional look, and are around US$100 or so. Going up market from there, you're looking at the Snom 320 or 360. Plenty of buttons and lights, and it runs Linux.

      --Rob
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cduffy (652)

        the Grandstream GXP2000 has a reasonably professional look

        A professional look, sure -- but the bloody things crash constantly if they don't like the network they're plugged into, their autoprovisioning is cranky at best, and our order (of about 20) had a very substantial number of duds (we RMA'd at least 3). Also, their speakerphone support doesn't work well -- IIRC, the folks on the remote end hear massive amounts of echo (though it sounds fine locally). I'd call the Sipura SPA-841 a reasonable step up

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Rob from RPI (4309)
          Well yes. Their GXP firmware goes from featureless, to cranky, to bugfix, to feature+, to even more cranky than it was originally. I'm currently running some beta firmware on the GXP on my desk that has all sorts of display corruption issues.

          They did, however, get the speakerphone echo well sorted out a while ago. The snoms, on the other hand, do _not_ have echo cancellation in their speakerphone, which means it can't be all that loud. Which leads to user complaints 8-\ However, apart from that minor niggl
          • by cduffy (652)
            The snoms, on the other hand, do _not_ have echo cancellation in their speakerphone, which means it can't be all that loud.

            I have trouble believing that -- our single Snom 360 sounds as good as the (POTS) polycom units when on speakerphone, and we certainly don't run it quiet. Looking through their release notes, it says they added echo cancellation as of firmware version 3.60b. I don't see any complaints about lack of echo cancellation at http://www.voip-info.org/wiki/view/snom+360 [voip-info.org].

            I haven't had a chance t
            • Wups, there you go. I'm quoting outdated information. Sorry. I've got a 360 sitting right next to me too! (Actually, as I was writing that, I was thinking that I hadn't had any bad handsfree echo issues recently, but I hadn't seen anything in the changelogs about it - obviously it went in back then, and they spent a couple of releases cleaning it up and I didn't notice it)

              --Rob
          • by tzanger (1575)

            Polycom phones are simply the best bang for the buck. They are professional, "feel" right (handset is weighted correctly), sound perfect (polycom's been in the speakerphone business from the start), they are *designed* to be provisioned properly, and they fit in any business or small office environment.

            My complaints with them are few:

            • NO NORMAL RINGTONES!!! UGH!!! GIVE US A BASIC SET OF BUSINESS-FRIENDLY RINGERS!!!
            • Can't set VLAN ID via DHCP
            • 430/501 can't use that beautiful screen, 601 can at least use XHT
            • I've had just the opposite experience with the polycom's. The sound quality in the handset is terrible, the desktop footprint is huge, and after working with the snom320s, the configuration is a pain in the ass.

              The snom320s ( and 300/360 i assume ); Those are gold. Great speaker phone, great sound quality, awsome configuration abilities, changes are applied immediately, no reboot required unless it's a firmware upgrade or an IP thing. Every special button is configurable and you've got presence lights t
          • Just try to get a price for buying a plain old VoIP speakerphone.

            You can't. You have to go via one of their vendors, who are required to sell you some crappy VoIP service. The excuse is that you get the full Polycomm experience this way. Yeah, I sure do!

            The "small room" phone I bought a few years ago, the only analog one I found for sale in a store, suffers from terrible echo problems. I'm just about certain that there is a "suck really bad" setting in the firmware that Polycomm sets if you don't pay at lea
        • by cca93014 (466820)
          I run 14 GXP2000 phones in my company office and, with the .19 firmware (the most recent stable firmware that Grandstream have released) the phones work flawlessly. I agree that the speakerphone is not great quality, but for 80 quid you cant really argue I'd say.

          Installing Asterisk at work, instead of a closed source PBX from someone like Lucent has saved us thousands and thousands of pounds, and means that we can expand without being killed on the cost of an expansion board from a closed system. I really d
      • by OffTheLip (636691)
        Sounds easy but if you already own a couple hundred SCCP only capable phones you lament SCCP support. Such is life...
      • by battery841 (34855)
        SIP is supported in CallManager 5.0. Then again, the licensing for CM5.0 is pretty horrable.
      • by Doc Ruby (173196)
        SCCP might be crappy, but it's already installed on many thousands of Cisco phones out in the field and in their sales pipeline. So it represents an installed base - a target audience/market for development that doesn't require them to change much. Better Asterisk support for SCCP can compensate for its problems, while giving us control over the innards of the system.
        • by XorNand (517466) *
          You can install SIP firmware in Cisco phones. I currently have a 7960 on my desk that I use with Asterisk. It's not a fun (or cheap, since it requires a seperate license from Cisco), but it can be done en masse with a TFTP server.
          • by Doc Ruby (173196)
            I'm confused by your saying that 7960/SIP/Asterisk requires an expensive Cisco license. I thought you can just buy a "spare" phone without a bundled license for relatively cheap, then use Asterisk as the server, without needing any $ Cisco licenses. That's what the story we're discussing about SHSU is about, isn't it?

            I'd like to use the builtin SCCP, because I'd like to offer services to people already running these phones with SCCP.

            But I also want SIP on my own 7970. I tried to follow the voip-info.org wik
            • by XorNand (517466) *
              Cisco phones obviously ship with SCCP firmware. However, Cisco has also created SIP firmware which you can choose to use instead. So you can use the original SCCP phone with Asterisk if you load the SCCP channel driver. Or, you can load the SIP firmware on the phone and use it with SIP on Asterisk. The later one is the preferable one because Asterisk's SCCP support is a bare minimum, while the Cisco SIP firmware is pretty good.

              A lot of people pickup a Cisco handset off of Ebay and think they'll easily just
              • by Dare nMc (468959)
                >A support agreement for a single phone is pretty cheap (around $10 I think), but you also need to buy a license to use the SIP software
                where did you get the idea of a required SIP license?
                I paid the $10 service fee on one phone, they sent me the sip image, I looked for license issues, and saw nothing. so I paid the $10 once, now have the image on 20 phones. The Cisco updates take some messing each time you get a older version from ebay, I have had to look at the tftp logs, to see the exact file name r
      • by laptop006 (37721)
        No it's not. SCCP is actually a very good protocol, just the Asterisk implementation of it isn't great. (Full disclosure, maintained the out-of-tree chan_sccp protocol support module for ~ 1 year)
  • by QuantumFTL (197300) * <justin.wick@nOSPaM.gmail.com> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:39AM (#16119669)
    I consult for a small Asterisk host, Lylix.net, and our customers couldn't be happier. It's a bitch to configure (hence we can charge $$$ for the service) but I'll be damned if it isn't a solid piece of FOSS, much like Apache. My hats are off to the Asterisk guys, it's likely to become one of the most important FOSS projects in the next 5 years or so.
    • by Rob from RPI (4309) <xrobau@gmail.com> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:52AM (#16119694) Homepage
      Actually, Asterisk isn't _really_ FOSS, as you have to sign a disclaimer (before you submit code to them) giving them the right to repackage it in non a FOSS way. This is so they can sell the Asterisk Binary Edition, as well as (unclear, to me) licencing issues with Intel Dialogic cards.

      OpenPBX.org (nothing to do with my FreePBX project, mentioned above) is a pure GPL fork of asterisk from about a year ago, that they've done significant amounts of re-writing on, including working on a new dialplan language, as well as being able to import a lot of Steve Underwoods work (www.soft-switch.org) with software DSP (eg, soft-faxing, T.38 [fax-over-IP], better DTMF detection) that he will only licence under the pure GPL.

      --Rob
      • by zotz (3951)
        "Actually, Asterisk isn't _really_ FOSS, as you have to sign a disclaimer (before you submit code to them) giving them the right to repackage it in non a FOSS way."

        Not that I particularly like this practice. But wouldn't pretty much any project with a dual license strategy where one is non-free need to do this?

        Anyone know what mysql and trolltech do?

        all the best,

        drew
        http://www.nanowrimo.org/modules/newbb/viewtopic.p hp?topic_id=33654&forum=157 [nanowrimo.org]
        Coming to IRC this November - live novel writing...
        • by Rutulian (171771) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:05AM (#16120000)
          Not sure about mysql and trolltech (I think they are mostly developed in house, actually), but Apache uses the Apache license which allows for non-free distribution of the code. The contributors have to license their contributions properly to get them accepted into the main code base, but they don't have to give up their ownership rights.
          • by zotz (3951)
            Right, perhaps I erred and should have said any Free Software project with a copyleft license.

            Can you pull that off with a dual license stratgegy and no assignments?

            all the best,

            drew
            http://www.ourmedia.org/node/258456 [ourmedia.org]
            Writing a novel in 30 days in an IRC channel? Can it be done? Come in watch in November 06. The result will be under a CC BY-SA license to boot.
            • by Rutulian (171771)
              Well, there is the MPL, although the FSF considers it to be a "weak copyleft" license. I can't think of any legal reason a project would have to take ownership rights of contributed code in order to distribute under a dual-license. The FSF requests contributions to GNU projects be transferred to them for license enforcement reasons, but they don't require it.
              • by zotz (3951)
                So, if the contributors were not going to assign copyrights to the project, what rights or agreements would they have to have to allow the project to safely persue a dual license business model?

                all the best,

                drew
                http://www.ourmedia.org/node/111123 [ourmedia.org]
                Tings a nanowrimo novel with a CC BY-SA license.
                • by Rutulian (171771)
                  No, the contributors still maintain copyright, they just have to grant an unlimited, unrevokable, license to the project (or company) that is compatible with the planned distribution model. So if, say, a company wanted to distribute a GPL free version and a binary non-free version to paying customers, contributers would have to grant a license to the company to distribute the work in those ways. They don't have to transfer ownership rights, they just have to grant redistribution rights. It is no different r
                  • by zotz (3951)
                    "No, the contributors still maintain copyright, they just have to grant an unlimited, unrevokable, license to the project (or company) that is compatible with the planned distribution model."

                    Cool, so do you know of any dual license projects or companies that do it this way? Can you provide links to the agreements required of contributors?

                    all the best,

                    drew
                    http://www.nanowrimo.org/modules/newbb/viewtopic.p hp?topic_id=33654&forum=157 [nanowrimo.org]
      • by A.K.A_Magnet (860822) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:55AM (#16119818) Homepage
        You seem to have a good knowledge of Asterisk, yet I have to correct you on the fact that Asterisk *IS* F/OSS and *IS* released under the GPL. What you're talking about is giving your copyleft to Digium if you want *YOUR CODE* to become part of the official distribution. Nothing new here, it's a common practice, used even by the FSF which *MAY* change the license then, but you can be pretty sure that the FSF won't change it to a non-copyleft license (while Digium uses it to give non-free licenses), but how do you think they'll change all code from GPL 2 to GPL 3 [not counting GPL 2 or later, since some of the GPL'ed software owned by the FSF (ie you give them your copyleft) hadn't the "GPL 2 or Later" clause and they added it later, since the license can only be changed by an agreement of all the copyleft holders, so it's easier if it's a moral entity like the FSF, MySQL AB, Trolltech the Apache Software Foundation (even if they don't use GPL, they still may want to change their license)... or Digium. And they all ask for copyleft transfer.

        My point being: yes, Asterisk is "100%" F/OSS. They just don't allow other copyleft holders in THEIR distribution. Nothing would prevent OpenPBX, to sync with each latest version of Asterisk, but as long as Digium wants to hold all copylefts, they can't include code made by OpenPBX folks. Digium wanting to hold all copylefts is a part of their business model (dual-licensing). Of course, it makes it harder for OpenPBX people to sync because of the two development trees (and I understand why they'd want to keep their copyleft). However, Asterisk remains Free Software. Maybe they're not using the "Open Source development model" at its maximum though, but who cares :). As long as it's Free (with a capital F), it's fine with me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Rob from RPI (4309)
          Well, yes and no. When OpenPBX was forked, there was a fair bit of hue and cry about suing them for Trademark violation, which they resolved reasonably quickly (sed s/asterisk/openpbx/i) and then there was threats about licence violations by linking to openssl.. I can't find the exact message in the digium archive, but here's a link [digium.com] to the same issue being discussed about the freebsd port.

          I tend to think that they're a bit over-protective of their code. They release it as GPL to garner community support, th
          • OK, but then again, trademarks have nothing to do with software Freedom (which is at the copyright level); Linux is trademarked too (and the trademark is actively enforced). And regarding the URL you posted, it has nothing to do, I think, with OpenSSL (which is licensed under the Apache License, which is compatible with the GPL), but with Open H323 which is under the MPL (Mozilla Public License, incompatible with the GPL). And Digium could link with OpenH323 by dual licensing the needed component linking wi
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by A.K.A_Magnet (860822)
              Woops. My bad, The Apache Software License isn't compatible with the GPL:

              This is a free software license but it is incompatible with the GPL. The Apache Software License is incompatible with the GPL because it has a specific requirement that is not in the GPL: it has certain patent termination cases that the GPL does not require. (We don't think those patent termination cases are inherently a bad idea, but nonetheless they are incompatible with the GNU GPL.)

              And OpenSSL isn't under the Apache Software Lic

      • by hpavc (129350)
        Your saying its more closed than CCM in some way?
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by KatTran (122906)
        It is common practice to have developers sign over their copyrights on their code contributiosn to the main developers or "owners" of the original code.

        If you want to contribute to GCC you have to give up your copyright on the code to the FSF. The only difference between the FSF and Digium is that the FSF publicly state they won't release code not under the GPL (though they still legally could), and Digium publicly states that they will release the code not under the GPL.

        This doesn't have any impact on the
    • Hah. I just clicked on your tagline, and you're reselling Trixbox, which is based on FreePBX. Read the top comment, upgrade your sites 8)

      --Rob
  • by Alistair Cunningham (20266) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:51AM (#16119691)

    From the article:

    "While Asterisk and the SIP protocol lack some of the more extensive features on the Cisco CallManager..."

    This may be true for vanilla Asterisk, but there is an extensive community adding a wide range of additional features and services to Asterisk. For example, <plug>our Enswitch product [integrics.com]</plug> provides a layer of billing and commercial services on top of Asterisk and SIP Express Router. Having work extensively with both Asterisk and CCM, I would claim that with Asterisk plus all the applications that work with it already surpasses the features of CCM, and Asterisk has the momentum behind it. Over the next few years, CCM will fall further behind, and before long Asterisk will be the dominant telephony platform in the same way Apache is the dominant web server platform now.

  • by HeadbangerSmurf (649736) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @07:59AM (#16119705)
    My company sells Asterisk solutions to business clients and we're very happy with it. Once you figure out what you're doing the sky is the limit when it comes to configuration. My only issue with Asterisk is the voicemail subsystem. If Digium would put some time into that I would be the happiest person alive. Tom
    • This should certainly be an indication boost for the sustainabilty of your employer Tom.
    • Once you figure out what you're doing the sky is the limit when it comes to configuration.
      In other words you mean it is not intuitive to use, and will take a while to learn to use. It doesn't seem like a good project for a company to start on its own if it isn't its core business.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        While I understand what you're saying it makes me wonder what projects you WOULD start if you only look at your current experience. How did you get where you are today? You obviously didn't know everything when you first started. :) Check out the Asterisk forums at http://forums.digium.com./ [forums.digium.com] Using those forums and the Asterisk: The Future of Telephony book from O'Reilly I've learned enough to build some nice systems. Tom
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by jellomizer (103300) *
          I am not saying Asterisk is a bad product and it is not worth learning. But a general commentary on the OSS community. As far as usability and design for people most (not all but most) OSS just stinks. While for all new products and method there is a learning curve. But there is one thing trying to figure out the learning curve with a text config file that doesn't give you all the options, in order for you to find all the options you need to sift threw pages and pages of documents, go threw the code and
  • by jellomizer (103300) * on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:11AM (#16119727)
    This is not an attempt to troll or anything. But this doesn't seem like to me as a major blow to Cisco. Universities and Corporate and Government user are a much larger sectors at large compared to universities. And dont tell the College recruiters this the rest of the world doesn't follow what universities do. for the following reasons.

    Universities have cheap skilled labor. A slew of talented kids/young adults who are willing towork for free or near minimum wage, but when they leave to the real world they will be demanding $35,000 and up a year for the same job. This is the reason why many Open Source projects work and save money in Universities but when a Corporation gets it, it becomes a money pot. Because for a company it is cheaper to call Cisco and pay them $1000 for a fix to their problems then having a team of 10 people at your company taking a day to fix the problem because they do not have the answer sitting right in front of them or able to contact the engineer who created it. vs. a University where this 10 people 8 bucks an hour are much cheaper then calling Cisco for help.

    Universities are allowed to experiment almost by charter. If something goes wrong this screw all the people who are not getting phone service. You will have wait until we fix the problem, it is not like we are loosing money with the phones down for a couple of hours. Private companies loose money when their communication are done so they want Cisco to come and fix it right away and they better know what they are doing. Being an Education facility it is allowed to experiment in different products while Companies find better value in using what they know works.

    Liberal University vs. Conservative Corporations, basically means if it not exactly what we want we keep on trying and trying until we get it right (perhaps making it worse in the process) or If it does what we need we hold on to it until we find the perfect solution (which guarantees that they are going to use a product they don't like for a long time)

    This is why Open Source is popular in Universities but in Corporate and government use they need to work a little harder to get acceptance.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by daigu (111684)

      I disagree with almost with everything in your post. Corporate environments tend to follow university practices because the so-called skilled labor gets a job and wonders why the corporation they work at is paying so much for X, doesn't use X and what have you. I know I personally was involved in changing some of the infrastructure of the company I worked at after college because they were practically stone age in their thinking - and still are. I didn't even work in the IT department.

      Open source is not

    • by timeOday (582209)
      If it is successful, supporting 6000 users is certainly significant, whether at a university or anywhere else. I think that is the point. Most companies, as you say, are risk averse and won't know if something is better until somebody (yes, often a university) takes the plunge and shows them it is possible. In the long run, I think that makes universities more (not less) influential. Google, Oracle, FedEx... the number of companies that started as school projects or that used a university as an incubato
  • I work for a SIP hardware provider. We have a whole department dedicated to interoperability testing with other vendors of SIP infrastructure and user agents. Asterisk is approximately the least SIP compliant bit of software out there. It's great if all you want to do is basic calls but the reason why it's perceived as working so well is because vendors (like us) have to hack our software to work with it because our customers demand it, even if it makes us non-RFC compliant. Why has Asterisk never shown
    • by Rob from RPI (4309) <xrobau@gmail.com> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:24AM (#16119759) Homepage
      That's totally incorrect. OEJ (a leading developer) has taken Asterisk several times to SIP Interoperability Testing meetings, and has acted very proactively to fix perceived or real incompatibilities.

      I just did a quick search of the Digium bugtracker, and I didn't see any 'SIP Incompatibilty' bugs there apart from an issue with sipgate.de.

      I honestly think you're trolling, or you have no concept of how FOSS works. If there's a bug, you fix it, and if you can't fix it, you report it and someone who can fix it, will.

      --Rob
    • And this is [asterisk.org] exactly the link I was thinking about. Please, don't feed the troll.
    • If it is really all that bad, then you could quite supporting it. But better yet, since it is open source, you can fix it yourself.
  • I mean, before bashing on other people, they might just have looked at their own site.. The page contains 160 images (is that really neccesary?)), When I hit back I got a "malformed URL" message, and frankly, it's just an ugly and awkward site IMO.
  • OK I give up why is SCCP called "Skinny" instead of "Skippy"?
    • by saridder (103936)
      Good question. I'm going to call it Skippy from now on.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by saridder (103936)
        But if I remember - and I'm too lazy to look it up - SCCP stands for SKINNY Client Control Protocol, and is a modified, scaled-down (skinny) version of H.323. The original Selsius (company Cisco bought in 1998 which gave us Call Manager) designers didn't have a SIP or other protocol to use back then and H.323 was too much, hence why SCCP was first created.
  • My friend at my last job wrote his own VOIP software and he told me it wasn't very hard. If I had my own voip system, all I'd be doing would be making calls to my friends from the White House, Pentagon, or other famous places for fun.
  • by Cicero382 (913621) <clancyj.tiscali@co@uk> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @08:33AM (#16119773)
    Or, more puzzlingly (that a word?), how do some companies get away with competing against FOSS products with highly expensive proprietary offerings? I'm assuming that the proprietary solution has the same functionality as the other; maybe some bells and whistles on the fringes, but essentially the same.

    They must make their money from licencing fees (and maintenance, but FOSS can do that, too). So why don't customers choose the cheaper option. Don't get me wrong; while I approve of FOSS and use it whenever I can, I won't hestitate to buy a proprietary product if it does what I need and there isn't a viable FOSS alternative.

    I'm no expert in this - which is why I'm puzzled. Can anyone tell me (us) why? Is it any combination of the following?

    1. "Noone was ever fired for buying IBM" (MS/Cisco/etc).
    2. The bells and whistles are what the buyer craves.
    3. Proprietary products have better support.
    4. It's free, so it can't be worth anything.
    5. What's FOSS?
    6. We only run Windows (Solaris, whatever).
    7. Proprietary products are better "rounded" or "easier to use".

    I know that all these have flaws and, sometimes the reason is valid. But overall, I think my question still stands.

    BTW. If anyone can think of anything to add to the list - I'd love to hear it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by growse (928427)

      It's the support. Company A spends a large amount of money buying (say, Microsoft/Cisco/whatever) and at the same time takes out an expensive support contract. Company B uses FOSS.

      Something goes wrong. Company A gets on the phone, and they have an engineer on-site within the hour, and the problem is fixed within 3 hours. Total cost? Loss of 3 hours business + SLA payouts.

      Company B runs around for a bit trying to figure out what the hell it might have been, before flash-hiring a bunch of software consult

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by ishepherd (709545)
        I don't see these issues slowing uptake of RedHat Linux (for example). It's quite possible for a company to 'package' FOSS and add their testing, planning, implementation, and support. Asterisk appears to be a good example of these services, see this post [slashdot.org].

        Also re the 'Universities are fine' point. These days they depend on commercial services for lots of their revenue, example [warwick.ac.uk].
    • Customers like 24/7/365 support - and they're willing to pay for it. Cisco doesn't always handle the support for every Cisco installation. There are 3rd parties who support other company's infrastructure. If their network is already Cisco, and you're looking to go VoIP - CCM is the logical step. Especially if your infrastructure support teams already have Cisco support.

      There is also the fact that Cisco is an established product with established performance and support record. Granted you have to pay for it.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mukund (163654)
      There are several reasons, many of which you have stated.

      One more reason I have observed is that people get used to a particular platform. More often than not, a commercial vendor enters a market first, or even creates the market. So people start using that vendor's products and then it becomes difficult for them to switch and learn something new. Many are satisfied if something just simply works, and they don't want change. In this SIP case, they probably purchase the hardware and software as a bundle.

      This
      • by Cicero382 (913621)
        ++One more reason I have observed is that people get used to a particular platform. More often than not, a commercial vendor enters a market first, or even creates the market. So people start using that vendor's products and then it becomes difficult for them to switch and learn something new. Many are satisfied if something just simply works, and they don't want change. In this SIP case, they probably purchase the hardware and software as a bundle.

        Yup! I can see that. But why can't OSS businesses offer t
    • Management is usually ill-informed and tends to approve money spent on name-brand products that are purchased through familiar sales cycles from established VARs. They're getting "something" for their money. Projects involving FOSS tend to have money spent and labor expended, but in a way that feels unfamiliar to management and on products they're likely very unfamiliar with.

      Labor flexibility is two-pronged. Proprietary products can be faster to implement than FOSS solutions since the vendors usually sel
    • by smash (1351)
      1. Management meetings at the pub/golf course/junket day, etc...
      2. Management knows a guy who is high in the food chain at the vendor
  • I've used asterisk quite a bit and it works quite well. Also Sipx PBX is another good performer, although slightly harder to set up, easeier to configure. Sipx PBX is another open source solution that can be found over at the Sip Foundry [sipfoundry.org]. They have some good testing code that comes in handy when troubleshooting sip to sip issues. cluge
  • Asterisk? (Score:3, Informative)

    by TCM (130219) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:02AM (#16119991)
    I know everyone hypes Asterisk and Open Source and all that.

    But has anyone looked at Asterisk close enough? It's the most horrid piece of software I have seen in a long time. Its configuration is awkward at best and downright inconsistent and nonsensical at worst.

    Its documentation is practially non-existent. Nowhere do you find a good documentation written by the programmers. All you have are Wikis and web sites where people try and guess how Asterisk works. Howtos consist of config snippets without explaining what the options mean, let alone explaining the grand scheme behind everything.

    Maybe it works after you configured it based on some other guy's experience, but if you want clean and well-documented software, go look elsewhere.

    Asterisk seems to be the PHP or MySQL of the PBX world.

    </rant>
    • by alienw (585907)
      Not to mention, have you looked at the code? It's some of the most hideous code you could think of. In fact, it's hard to think of a worse way to structure a program. It spawns a thread for everything, has random undocumented mutexes, absolutely bizarre ways of passing data (necessary because the switching core is primitive and does not have all the necessary capabilities). The architecture itself is some kind of pseudo-OOP thing implemented in C, with hacks on top to add random features. "Big ball of
      • by TheLink (130905)
        quote: "Big ball of mud" doesn't even begin to describe it.

        Well how about *?

      • Asterisk doesn't even come close to the most hideous code I've seen. **cough**lilypond**cough**

        And my experience hacking on the periphary tools for our IVRs has been very pleasant. The code is easy to follow, modifications do what they are expected to, and the modular architecture makes adding new things very simple.

        It's not perfect of course, but I've been happy with the quality of code I've seen.
  • by cullenfluffyjennings (138377) <c.jennings@ieee.org> on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:31AM (#16120083) Homepage
    There is some irony to this story - the expensive part of any phone system is (hold your breath) the phones. I will point out that the SHSU could pick an open standard protocol and move the phones from one system to another. Try that with Microsoft Office Communicator some time - you can't. I noticed that this story is under the Linux category and - I will point out that Cisco Call Manager 5.0 runs on linux and can run SIP to phones (as well as many other protocols).

    Now, I know Asterix fairly well, Cisco fairly well, open source VoIP fairly well (as the joke goes I wrote the O'Reilly book), and SIP really really well. As was pointed out in Mark Spencer's Keynote at VON last week, the SIP stack in Asterix certainly has some room for improvement. And given SHSU does not seem to have any intention to support the development of Asterix by buying a support contract from Digium, I sure hope they are doing something to make sure that Asterix get the support that they will need it to have to stay relevant.
    • "the expensive part of any phone system is (hold your breath) the phones" - cullenfluffyjennings

      "We thought that it will be more cost effective in the long run to go with an open source solution, because of the massive amounts of licensing fees required"

      "And given SHSU does not seem to have any intention to support the development of Asterix by buying a support contract from Digium, I sure hope they are doing something to make sure that Asterix get the support that they will need it to have to stay r
    • by Doc Ruby (173196)
      "Asterisk", the GPL PBX, is spelled with an "sk", not an "x". "Asterix" is a comic strip.
  • by mytrip (940886) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @10:32AM (#16120086) Homepage Journal
    I work for a Fonality PBXtra reseller and the pbx absolutely rules. Asterisk on linux is the future of PBXs. The menu system, reporting, call queues and gui absolutely kill traditional phone systems. BTW, Vonage runs on Asterisk and so does broadvoice and other VOIP companies.
  • by ipstacks (629748) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @11:56AM (#16120378)
    I just deployed an Asterisk phone system powering ~140 wired Polycom phones and ~70 wireless phones covering 31 acres. Here are some tips from what I learned in this process:

    1. Pick a capable vendor for each job you outsource. I looked at Asterisk and decided it is too technical for a Asterisk newbie to build a production system, so I called Digium and they referred me to a dCAP certified Asterisk consultant in my area. Knowing Asterisk is one thing, but knowing how to pull off a great install is more than that. Our vendor developed a workbook that covers many parts of a successful deployment, such as reviewing the network (gear, configs, wiring plant), getting the users (names, current extentions, locations . .), getting the users to think about the dial plan and having them understand their satisfaction with the results is directly related to trying to get it right. When we distributed the phones to each desk, the boxes were labeled and sorted on the pallet this helped save a huge amount of time and allowed us to have the furniture installers help setup phones if we wanted too. Staging the phones: pre-configuring them, having the boxes labeled and sorted on the pallet was well worth doing. The wireless phones we signed out to the employees with some other stuff like work shirts. Having the right vendor to walk us through the process was critical.

    2. Pilot your install before you deploy it. The environment I was choosing Asterisk for is an automall. Phones are a big part of the business (as with many) and setting expectations is important. We formed a phone users group to have them decide how we wanted to route calls (dial plan), the idea was to get them involved because it is really theirs to use. Some departments were easy and some were not. Sales was essentially create a call groups for the differnt brands we sell and have the operators transfer them to the appropriate group. Service was much more complicated, but having live operators helps a ton. Parts was easy as well, but all of that needs some serious consideration. Knowing you will get it wrong and tweaking it on the fly will happen, do it and move on.

    3. We picked Polycom phones and that turned out to be a great choice, the 601's have six "programmable" buttons and great sound quality (handset and speakerphone). The Polycoms have a two port switch built-in and will trunk with the network switch which means the second port on the phone can be a differnt vlan than the phone. So we have them plugged in/wired like this: [network-switch]---[phone]---[computer]. The phones run Cisco CDP, when the switch detects the phone (via CDP) it assigns the phone as a trunk device and allows you to choose what vlan the phone will be on and what vlan the computer port on the phone will be on. Also you can have a differnet vlan if you were to plug the PC directly into the switch. The setup works well and I could go on and on about QoS, edge marking of traffic and PoE issues but I will stop.

    4. The FOP (Flash Operator Panel) is a cool thing, but we had to do some customizing for our needs. We looked at Fonalitys HUD, but FOP works great. You can see which phones are ringing, have voice mail (whether it is new or old), transfer calls by drag and drop, monitor the inbound queues and really not have to touch the phone to work the system as an operator. Nicholas, the guy that wrote FOP is an invaluable resource. He was willing to help and has done a great job. I am asking our vendor and am going to make sure he gets paid in some way.

    5. Wireless WiFi phones (OUCH): We chose the Hitachi IPC-5000 and Meru Networks for the AP's. Okay I was getting a little cutting edge here, but hey why not?! Lessons:

    Meru Networks ROCKS!! They figured out the roaming WiFi thing for sure!

    Hitachi IPC-5000's to be determined: it look like either the phones have a high failure rate or we have a bad batch or something. Also it looks like they aren't nearly as durable as say a cell phone/mobile phone (which is VER
  • I am amused at stories like this because this is an example of corporate maneuvers coming back to bite them on the ass. Lots of small companies have been put out of business because software companies have given away products and services in an effort to get market share. Now, the open-source/freeware movement is doing the same thing to the corporations.
  • Getting off Cisco CM is just the first step into freedom.

    The Cisco 7970G uses XML for its configs and customizable GUI (and HUI) connected to selectable features. Its startup screen has the Java logo. What OS is it running? How do I get it to download and run Java applets? How can I code, install and run native apps?

    These little touchscreen phones should offer complete portable offices that even a PHB can use anywhere, without having to search for the "any key". Now that the server is open, how do we open t
  • Although initial licensing fees, cost of call manager software may be significant (CapEx or Capital Expenses), any large project boils down the OpEx (operational expenses) as these are the costs that can truly make or break a project. What does it cost to support a project over a long term?

    Although many of these arguments have been stated against OSS for a long time they still apply here. Technically Asterisk may be just as good as Cisco, but there's an old addage for support "Having one neck to choke."
    • by dch24 (904899)
      That's FUD.

      Cisco will talk sweet to you all day long. But my experience with CCM has been pretty negative. It breaks as often as Asterisk, or more often. It has echo problems. It is incompatible with some SIP phones. So it has the same warts as Asterisk.

      The only difference is the one the PHB's can see. That is, as you say, "Having one neck to choke." (And Cisco will come to them and market to them, and their golf buddies and beer buddies will nod and smile when they say something like, "I just closed th
  • by erroneus (253617) on Saturday September 16, 2006 @02:04PM (#16120901) Homepage
    Back in the day, well before software was as complex and complicated as it is today, software was just stuff that came with the computers that were sold. Software itself wasn't the "product." But since Microsoft decided to expand their market beyond hardware makers to consumers and wrote that letter about software piracy, the world changed.

    How is this relevant? Again, software is the product. In this case, Cisco and its licensing fees. Most people think of Cisco as a hardware product. While I know it's just a computer with software code that routes information around, it's still, in the minds of many, a hardware product that serves its purposes. But when you are talking about "license fees" you start to think of it differently... more like software. Cisco screwed itself, I think, by moving away from its perception as a reliable hardware product maker. Now you buy their hardware and license the software. It makes people want to shop around more and since the Asterisk product is OSS, well the choice starts to become one of how much money to spend.

    It's unfortunate, but seems to be a potentially strong indication of what OSS is doing and why there is such resistance to it, where it comes from and what forms it takes. Looking at it from this perspective shows a nice angle to why software patents are such an important weapon in the software product world.
  • Asterisk is a realy nice package, but not very stable, although it gets better with each release. As in, it "works", until suddenly... you get dropped calls. Or the incoming caller gets a high-pitched squeal into the phone instead of your PBX menu.

    Of course, a lot of these issues have more to do with the zaptel drivers, rather than Asterisk itself. But trust me - you WANT to stay up to date with the Asterisk releases. Do not run anything below 1.2.X.

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