Digium's Perilous Crossing of the Chasm

A bevy of recent developments at Digium all point to one conclusion: The company is gearing up for adulthood.

 By Carla Schroder
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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, 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.

Crossing the Chasm, by Geoffrey A. Moore
Lydia E. Pinkham

This article was originally published on Feb 5, 2007
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