Digium Hits Midsize Market With Switchvox IP PBX


The Digium Switchvox AA300 is targeted at midsize businesses with roughly 150 users. The 3U-high appliance can sit in a rack, be mounted on a wall or placed on a table, said Tristan Degenhardt, product line director for Digium's Switchvox roster.

The AA300 breaks new ground for Huntsville, Ala.-based Digium, hitting a segment that previous Switchvox appliances neglected—the midsize company. The AA300 joins the ranks of the "nice and tiny" AA60, which targets SOHOs and small businesses with 30 users or fewer, and the AA350, a redundant 19-inch 3U-high rack-mount server with redundant power supplies and data backup designed for 400 users or fewer.

The AA appliances run Asterisk as their core VoIP platform and offer two versions of software: SOHO software, which is scaled down, and SMB software, which is full-blown Asterisk.

"Solution providers have had a ton of success already with the AA60 and AA350," Degenhardt said. "The channel enjoys having a branded appliance that actually looks like a phone system, as opposed to running the software on a PC."

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Since Digium acquired Switchvox in September, the companies' channel programs have been merged. Adding the AA300 to the lineup will help those VARs offer gear that's the best fit for their customers. It can handle roughly 45 simultaneous calls, 10 record calls and up to 15 simultaneous conference calls for a price tag of $4,240.

"In the SMB space there's a large concern about price," Degenhardt said. "Because it's Asterisk we can offer functionality other PBX vendors can't. When you're an SMB, the stuff you can afford doesn't do very much."

Degenhardt said the open-source format makes it easy to deploy and resellers can show off a host of features such as a Web-based switchboard into the system that gives details into users' presence and other information. Other features include call center functions, call recording and more.

"There's plenty of opportunity for VARs to make money competing against Cisco and Avaya," she said. "They can offer high-end features and earn high margins."

Degenhardt said VARs can offer appliance packages to their customers and then add on services such as support and auto provisioning or bundle in other hardware such as phones. VARs can also partner with voice service providers to offer customers an end-to-end phone system and get a percentage of the service fees as well.

In addition, Degenhardt said, Switchvox has released a new software version, the free edition 3.5, that lets VARs demo the equipment and get their customer base on board with using open-source VoIP software.

Mark Essayian, president of KME Systems, a Lake Forest, Calif.-based solution provider, said the AA300 is a step up and hits an underserved SMB segment. More importantly, however, is that it's easy to use and deploy if a reseller already has experience with the AA60.

"We got our feet wet with the AA60, and that helped us get up to speed," he said, adding the AA300 offers a familiar interface, just on a bigger scale.

"That's a major thing for training," he said. "For a reseller looking to work with this particular product, once you get familiar with the AA60 it just comes down to scale."

According to Essayian, most VoIP vendors offer different "flavors" of phone systems for companies of different sizes. Digium's Switchvox appliances, however, are all the same except for the size of customer they serve.

"I frankly don't want to take on a product line that forces me to learn three different products for one phone system," he said.

And while everyone has their own definition of SMB, Essayian said having three different AA appliances available helps him target different customers and adapt if those customers' needs change.

"We can go after multiple customer segments with the same technology," he said. "We can go after the SMB and not worry when the customer comes back wanting to add more features. You don't have to shift gear."

Essayian said Digium's model also opens itself up to a number of services opportunities. He said that while Asterisk-based VoIP products don't open themselves up to licensing fees, resellers can wrap in support contracts and professional services. They can also offer features that may not come with the initial installment and pricing structure.

"Customers want support and maintenance," he said. "If your phone system goes down, you want it back up. You can live without e-mail for a few hours, but not the phone."

For VARs considering taking the Asterisk approach, Essayian said they need to be aware of what a system like the AA300 can offer.

"It's not a me-too to the Panasonics and others out there," he said. "If you learn how the box actually works and position it correctly, there are a lot of professional services you can do and not just be a box-pusher."