Is Asterisk Channel Finally Ready For Its Close-Up?

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Digium certainly isn't the only game in town when it comes to open-source PBX and VoIP. Neither is Asterisk itself, for that matter. Emerging vendors such as Fonality market their own IP PBX architecture and are looking to nibble at Asterisk's relative heavyweight status.

But as the dominant channel presence among open-source IP vendors, Digium has taken the lead. Digium's channel reach goes back to 2007, when it unveiled its first formal reseller partner program behind Asterisk VoIP products and later that year acquired SMB-focused Switchvox.

After that came faster channel growth. In October 2009, Digium signed its 500th reseller, and then a month later, unveiled a new Affiliate level to its Authorized Reseller Partner Program to attract entry-level Digium resellers without a minimum annual revenue commitment.

Those moves had Digium partners telling at the end of 2009 that the company finally had earned its channel stripes.

All the while, Digium has continued to add to its channel team and made moves to pump up the visibility of both Digium and Asterisk, including last week's announcement of Asterisk Exchange, a Digium-owned marketplace that isn't an e-tail shop but a catalog of Asterisk-related products for which users can list commercially available Asterisk products for a fee paid to Digium, or list them free of charge if the products themselves are free to download.

Prominent Digium solution providers said during meetings at Digium Asterisk World that Digium's channel strength is no joke. Same goes for Asterisk's potential in both the SMB and enterprise spaces.

"Companies that are moving into new office spaces or that had annual expensive support contracts are able to achieve a big ROI going with a Switchvox type of system," said Rana Dutt, CEO of Softel Solutions, an Aberdeen, N.J.-based solution provider. "Opportunities definitely exist."

Switchvox is based on the freely distributed Asterisk but is positioned as a value-added, preconfigured package for SMBs strapped for both PBX features and cash. Digium's most recent upgrade, 4.5, was released by Digium last week, and 10-user systems start at $3,390.

"In the SMB space, it's not so much open source that's important," Dutt suggested. "Switchvox is a compelling set of features for the price. A lot of people buy Cisco simply for the name, and they're [Cisco] very aggressive. It was only when we came in and offered it at 30 percent of [Cisco's] price and maintenance that we won."

Corey McFadden, managing partner at Infradapt, an Easton, Pa.-based solution provider, said both Digium and the Asterisk community as a whole would benefit from a perfect storm: the emergence and acceptance of open-source PBXes coupled with an economic squeeze that's forced many businesses to consider alternatives.

"Everyone who never got fired for buying Cisco or Avaya -- they can't just rubber-stamp that renewal anymore," McFadden said. "Digium and Asterisk present the most compelling argument, especially with the turnkey, self-managed solution for Switchvox. The early adopters of Asterisk beat a path for everyone else and now you see the channel really starting to embrace it."

Recent industry developments like the bankruptcy of Nortel Networks and the acquisition and channel integration of its enterprise business unit by Avaya, are a golden opportunity to preach Asterisk religion to new converts, McFadden said, calling the Avaya/Nortel turmoil "prime fodder for alternatives."

That might translate to enterprise gains for Digium, too, and Switchvox.

"It's going to push higher into the enterprise," insisted Tim Halleran, president of Secure Datacom, a Sunrise, Fla.-based solution provider. "It's playing well in the 'S' of the SMB market, and some of the 'M.' But we've seen the product improve tenfold since we started selling it, and Digium takes the channel seriously. They take things to heart."


Next: Asterisk's Strategic Vendors

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