VoIPowering Your Office: Digium’s Perilous Crossing of the Chasm

Today we’re going to talk about recent happenings at Digium, because in the
past couple of months the busy folks there have released a torrent of new and
updated products:

  • Asterisk 1.4
  • AsteriskNOW
  • Asterisk Appliance Developer’s Kit
  • TDM800P
  • High Performance Echo Canceller (HPEC)

In addition to working overtime to produce new and improved products, Digium’s
upper management has undergone significant changes. Mark Spencer, Digium’s resident
brainiac and founder, is taking on the newly created job of CTO and Chairman.
Danny J. Windham is joining Digium as its CEO, and Steve Harvey is the shiny new
Vice President of Worldwide Sales. Mr. Windham and Mr. Harvey both come from Adtran,
which has long had a friendly relationship with Digium—to the point of investing
actual money in Digium. Nothing says faith in the future like an equity stake.

What does this mean for us hardworking administrators and developers of iPBX
systems? Let’s take a step back and look at the whole VoIP picture. We’re really
in the infant stages of VoIP. In the next couple of decades we’re going to see
videophones, video conferencing, live video capture, and transmission from wireless
phones and other tiny devices, iPBX-in-a-box for users who are not gnarly geekbeards,
and the whole world getting a little smaller. (The real killer app with be reliable
speech recognition, which will turn tiny devices into productivity powerhouses,
but I’m not holding my breath.) Growth in the VoIP space is going to be phenomenal.
Shortsighted service providers who run closed networks and crippled, “branded”
telephones and other devices are going to have to open up. It’s absurd for any
commercial telephony service provider to try to put up fences. What is it with
these people, anyway?

Crossing the chasm
But I digress. Today, Digium is at that crossroads where they must make the
leap from one-man band to big company that can meet the future. Or, as Mr. Windham
says, “crossing the chasm.” In a telephone conference on January 30, Mr. Spencer
outlined the steps he has had to take as Digium has grown:

  •  Delegate the things he’s bad at and doesn’t enjoy
  •  Delegate the things he’s good at and doesn’t enjoy
  •  Delegate the things he’s bad at but likes to do
  •  Finally, the hardest part of all, delegate some of the things he’s good at and enjoys doing

So those of us who have grown up with Asterisk and have deployed it in production
systems, or created businesses as resellers just might have a viable path to the
future. According to VP of Product Management and Marketing Bill Miller (who graciously never hears a dumb question), Digium is investing significant energy
into building and supporting the reseller channel. Two big pieces of this are
the Asterisk Appliance Developer’s Kit, and the Asterisk GUI framework. Digium
is targeting the 50-users-or-smaller space with these. Their new watchwords are
“Asterisk with speed and ease,” and the goal is to supply the tools for resellers
to quickly and easily build customized, turn-key PBXs for their customers. The
AADK comes in three different bundles, which include varying levels of training.

In my nearly-humble opinion, one of the most important factors in positioning
Digium for longevity and growth is Asterisk’s open-source development model.
All kinds of ills are cured with a genuine open-source development methodology:
scale, time-to-market, quality, innovation, security and bug fixes, future-proofing,
and customer trust. When an open source project succeeds in attracting a sufficient
mass of developers and users, it far surpasses any resources that a single company
can provide. When the code is open, customers can see for themselves how good
(or poor) it is, and they can see that nothing tricksy is hid therein. Digium
offers both open source and commercial licenses for Asterisk, so customers can
make their own fixes and modifications, sell their own customized versions,
and even contribute to the main Asterisk source tree.

Mark Spencer summed it up nicely: Open Source means you have to be better.

TDM800P and HPEC
The TDM800P is an 8-port analog telephony interface card, so it fills the gap between Digium’s 4-port and 24-port cards. Analog phones and POTS lines are going to be with us for some time, and demand for support for them remains high. The TDM800P is a bus-mastered PCI card, which means it installs in legacy hardware and provides better performance than CPU-controlled cards.

The High Performance Echo Canceller (HPEC) is a software upgrade to legacy
Digium cards, and is included with the new TDM800P. The HPEC is supposed to
be the greatest thing since Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound,
and surefire cure for echo problems. It is host-based, so it’s not dependent
on the interface card. It’s free to Digium customers, and available at $10 per
channel for non-Digium cards.

AsteriskNOW builds in provisioning
In keeping with the “speed and ease” theme, AsteriskNOW now includes an Upgrade Now! button to upgrade to the Asterisk Business edition. Digium is also adding automatic purchasing and provisioning capabilities for Polycom phones, and instant account setup with VoicePulse and other VoIP service providers. Since one of the biggest problems for admins is evaluating, choosing, and provisioning IP phones, and trying to figure out which service provider is going to deliver actual service, this could be a real time- and headache-saver. Another nice new goody is a programmable Direct Inward Dial (DID) feature, which lets you program your DID numbers in your dialplan just like any other Asterisk extensions.

Resources
Digium
Crossing
the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore

Lydia
E. Pinkham

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