Techworld

Mark Spencer talks 10 years of Asterisk

Mark Spencer, founder of Asterix, looks back on 10 years of the open source PBX and discusses its future and that of the VoIP industry in general.
Asterisk founder Mark Spencer

Asterisk founder Mark Spencer

Asterisk has been “let loose” as an open source product for many years, but only recently your company Digium began offering support for the freely available open source version. Is this something that should have been done from the beginning? Is it a good business model to offer support for a product where the barrier to entry for customers is very low?

We started out offering support on an hourly basis for the open source version, but that was difficult for us, and for customers, and was not a good model. It was also difficult to offer technical support on a product that was modifiable.

A lot of people wanted to be able to use the open source version, get support for it and be able to change the software. A better model was what we were trying achieve, but it has taken a few iterations. The new subscription model has worked out better for everyone.

Each industry has a suitable model. I wouldn’t say there is one best model for all open source software. Early on, our hardware model essentially funded Asterisk. It was very specific to us because of the way customers needed hardware. Now it’s not such a good model because people use VoIP without needing traditional telephony equipment.

Of course, Asterisk is not the only open source IP-PBX around today. Do you tend to keep an eye on competing products or just focus on Asterisk?

My focus is generally on Asterisk, but people at Digium follow competing products. The great thing with open source is you can have a lot of products going on at a given time. I like to persevere as much as possible with the Asterisk community. I see a lot of open source products, but I try to work hard to protect the Asterisk community as much as possible and keep people wanting to contribute to our project.

What ideas have you seen shared around the open source telephony projects over the years?

There is a lot of competition and we take ideas from each other when we see something that kind of works. You take the ones that you like and leave the ones you don’t like. We have influenced each other in a number of ways, but I’m not sure there is a lot of collaboration.

A popular configuration (for larger sites, anyway) is to have Kamailio (OpenSER/OpenSIPS) or Yate work in conjunction with Asterisk. Any concerns this may result in people moving away from Asterisk as the other products mature?

I certainly think OpenSIPS and Asterisk are natural things to bring together, as Asterisk is explicitly not a SIP proxy. Those pairings seem more logical than others. When you look at Yate there is a lot of overlap between those.

I’m more concerned about the places Asterisk isn’t rather than where it is with other software. Ideally you should be able to do everything with Asterisk, but every now and then there are architectures where you would need a specific SIP proxy, then OpenSIPS would be a logical thing to look at.

More about: Apache, Asterisk, Cisco, Digium, Google, IPS, Linux, Nortel, Salesforce.com
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Tags: open source, IP PBX, voip, anniversaries, ip-pabx, asterisk, ip telephony, Mark Spencer
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