Digium Asterisk, Switchvox, IP Phones: All Talk, Lots Of Action

Digium has been the VoIP market's little engine that could for a while now, but the open-source telephony company is hard-charging into its next major growth phase. It's a phase in which its channel is both large and visible, its appeal goes further upmarket, and its app dev-centric software solutions are more robust.

A few years after the Asterisk channel finally cemented a national presence, Digium passed 2,000 solution provider partners and is enjoying additional lift from the continued popularity of Asterisk, which sees north of 2 million downloads a year and for which Digium is the primary steward.

But the Huntsville, Ala., company has combined that momentum with some of its best-ever industry notices, including its second consecutive inclusion in Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications and the successful launch of Digium high-definition IP phones this past February.

[Related: Calling Card: Digium Delivers Own Built and Branded IP Phones ]

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Jim Butler, director of global channel sales, said Digium's priority remains the targeted recruitment of new solution providers. But it also will continue to add channel resources in much the same way it made a significant marketing and channel push behind the IP phone launch and will provide sweeter channel incentives for top-performing partners, who now have more MDF available to them and have grown their Digium revenue 40 percent year-over-year in the first half of 2012, he said.

The IP phones, of which there are currently three models with list prices between $129 and $279, were a watershed for Digium, which traditionally had relied on handset partnerships with IP phone makers such as Polycom. The advantage for Digium in having its own created-and-branded phones is that it can tightly integrate them with Switchvox, its Asterisk-based VoIP system, while bringing down full-system costs and positioning Digium as being able to offer more of the communications solution.

Digium phones have been attached to nearly 80 percent of Switchvox sales since their April availability date, Butler said.

"One thing we're seeing is a trend toward larger systems with more users," Butler said. "There's all kinds of reasons that could be happening, but having a Digium-branded phone helps because it's a total solution -- a full system -- that has an appeal to a larger user."

Digium also has been saluted for the continued build-out of its channel program, which organizes partners into Select, Registered and Affiliate partners. Higher-tier partners now see more access to MDF, for example, and deal registration is also now standard.

Finally, Digium has become a more aggressive competitor and throughout the past year has offered discounts aplenty to customers looking to switch out their aging Nortel infrastructure or make a change from 3Com VCX, which 3Com owner Hewlett-Packard recently confirmed will see end-of-sale this year. Digium is offering 10 percent to 15 percent off MSRP right off the bat to solution providers that can reel in those deals, Butler said.

NEXT: Digium's Big-Picture Strategy Appeals To VARs In addition to the broader market purview, Digium is doing channel recruitment in its figurative backyard: the Asterisk community, which while dominated by Digium certainly isn't owned by it. Butler said the demand for Asterisk integration among channel partners and developers also has expanded due to the overall popularity of Asterisk-based solutions. Digium earlier this year hired a well-known Asterisk engineer, David Duffett, to take over as its Asterisk Community director and brought previous director Bryan Johns into its product management team.

"We're really getting after Asterisk integrators," Butler said. "A lot of them have always known who Digium is and just for whatever reason haven't been part of our program. Maybe they wanted to be anonymous, who knows? But we're opening our program to them and welcoming them with targeted efforts."

Angie Reed, Digium's product marketing manager for Switchvox, said Digium will continue to focus both on bigger-picture strategic priorities, such as the phones, while keeping steady the software updates to Switchvox that its tech-centric converts seek. The newer Switchvox software version 5.5.4, for example, includes registration-host failover to alternate servers, the ability of the user to specifically select which Switchvox phone network to use, and an expanded list of Plantronics headsets for which the system's Electronic Hook Switch feature is compatible.

But one of the channel priorities, she said, will be encouraging more partners to leverage Digium's Switchvox Extend API, which enables the integration of Switchvox with other business applications through the use of common programming languages such as PHP and PERL.

"We do see quite a few people starting to use it," Reed said. "We see it as a way to do more custom applications."

One partner taking advantage of the app development aspect of Switchvox is Dynamic Solutions Group, a Palm Harbor, Fla.-based solution provider that on several occasions has used Digium's developer tools to tie Switchvox systems to customers' other business applications, such as call reporting.

"The nice thing with Switchvox is that flexibility," Jim Watt, Dynamics president and CEO, told CRN. "You can sell the Switchvox on its own features, but then go to the business and add the integration, and once you do that the value and ROI for them is even better and the value from you is even better."

Dynamics became a Digium convert in 2010 following many years as a Nortel shop.

"We really liked the Nortel Business Communications Manager [VoIP system]," he said. "When Nortel went bankrupt, we weren't big fans of Avaya, so we started researching different systems out there, from, you name it, ShoreTel to Barracuda and everything else. We tried Microsoft ResponsePoint, and then they pulled the plug on that [in 2010]. So we came upon Switchvox, became a partner and have just been cruising along as fast as we can. It's a great set of features -- like a Swiss Army Knife."

NEXT: Switchvox Competitive With Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel

Switchvox doesn't win the day in every customer situation, but its flexibility and affordability allow it to compete with Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel and other systems.

Dynamics' Watt said one thing that really appeals to customers is that the price of the Switchvox system doesn't skyrocket when new features are needed or the VoIP system needs to be integrated with a database, as in, say, a Cisco system. It also offers good flexibility for both Windows and Mac-based systems as well as a range of mobile devices, he said.

"Cisco's got a great name, but the complexity, with all the licensing and options, is enough to make your brain hurt," he said. "Our largest customer is probably 400 to 450 endpoints. Every phone system out there has its strengths and weaknesses but Switchvox has so many good things, and there are more good things always coming."

Digium is still held back by brand recognition and the occasional customer resistance to open-source technology, Watt said, but the company has done a better job in the past year especially at marketing itself and capitalizing on its good notices.

"Their support has been good," he said. "The engagement has been good and I know I can get the person I need at Digium when I need them. The Digium ecosystem is healthy and alive."