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A few weeks ago you might have read the article in CIO.com about Open Source in the enterprise. I was lucky enough to be quoted numerous times throughout the article, but I wanted to share with all of you some more of the background information that shaped my remarks.

What follows are my notes and thoughts that were compiled for the article. Hopefully you will find them both insightful and helpful to your business pursuits. Again these are just notes, so please pardon any less than stellar verbose you might find.

Open source telephony and the enterprise

While concerns are still abound enterprises have been using open source telephony solutions for many years. Having personally worked with a dozen large banking institutions over the last five years, mainly using some form of Asterisk (www.asterisk.org) the pioneering open source telephony platform. In addition, if it weren’t for NDA’s, I could run down a “who’s, who” of publicly traded companies and big name private companies using open source telecommunications today.

However most enterprises have been “hush-hush” about open source telephony for two reasons:

  • Open source can be a competitive advantage. The lower upfront investment and extended TCO means budget can be diverted elsewhere within the organization. This gives an enterprise a leg-up on there competitors who are still paying to maintain legacy infrastructure or high priced IP solutions from folks like Cisco. Why would you promote and publicize a competitive advantage (especially since open source is so accessible)?
  • Managing public opinion. Enterprises are typically tied to financial backers (such as public stock holders). Legacy telecommunications providers have spent a lot of marketing dollars on driving home the “open source is bad” message. Enterprise’s know that some of the public (and the telecommunications community) carry this world view and that their use of open source telecommunications has the potential to cause “damage”. While this is absolutely not the case – what stock holder doesn’t want to increase profits through a substantial decrease in costs – they play it close to the vest.

2009: The year open source telephony gets a serious look

That being said, 2009 will see open source continue to penetrate the enterprise market. As enterprises are looking for ways to save money and when you can save hundreds of thousands (even millions) in a time where every dollar matters, I believe that more enterprises will embrace open source and others already using it will start to be a little more forthcoming since it now will be a “positive” to tell the world (or your share holders) how you are decreasing costs without sacrificing quality, performance or functionality.

Here are a few things that signal this:

  • Nortel buying an open source telephony platform. In 2008, legacy telecommunications giant (even though they are bankrupt) Nortel acquired open source telecommunications platform Pingtel. Nortel was a pioneer of the “closed model” of telecommunications. Their purchase of an open source platform is proof positive that feelings about open source are changing – for the better.
  • Open source is getting easier. A few years ago, open source was “accessible” to most IT managers. It required extensive knowledge of some rather complex programming languages, but today companies like Digium, the company behind Asterisk and Fonality have built innovative graphical user interfaces atop an open source platform that make deploying and maintaining an open source based telecommunications system something within the grasps of most IT professionals.
  • The ecosystem is there. Billion dollar companies like Polycom – and even Cisco – are embracing open source and standards based telecommunications which is enabling enterprises to have a great range of choice in the infrastructure and end-points used. This allows for solutions to be highly customized and tailored – for the same prices as the out-of-the-box solutions.
  • Convergence and integration. Thanks to IP communications and the flexibility that comes with open source communications, enterprises are finding that the cost savings with open source is extending beyond just per minute/maintenance, but is also coming as a result of increased productivity/efficiency thanks to voice-enabling other business systems, converging multiple telecommunications and business process systems together to eliminate extra steps, etc.

A perfect storm seems to be brewing for open source telephony to hit the enterprise in a big way this year. While these merely my notes, you can see how all of the pieces are in place. Do you think 2009 will be a big year for open source telephony in the enterprise? Or will we look back on 2009 as another year of lost promise?

Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith is an author, consultant, and marketer with almost 20 years of experience selling and marketing VoIP solutions. Garrett has helped thousands of businesses select the right VoIP system over his career, in addition to helping hundreds of vendors, and dozens of service providers with their go to market strategies. This experience gives him a unique position in industry that allows him to cut through all the noise. Garrett has been named one of the most influential people in the VoIP, and has written over 3,000 articles about VoIP since 2004.

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