This Enterprise VoIP Planet piece looks at the prospects for open source VoIP for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The verdict is that it is a terrific option. A close reading of the piece suggests, however, that potential customers, especially those that are not technically savvy, must be careful.
There is a lot for SMBs to like about open source-based VoIP. Products are inexpensive -- even free -- flexible and feature-intensive. On the other side of the coin, however, is that the open source movement is struggling with creating an adequate support infrastructure for its customers. The simple reality is that open source firms don't offer as much coddling as their cousins in the proprietary world.
Open source providers understand that they need to make things simple if they are going after the SMB market, and there are good signs that this is happening.
In late September, Digium, which bases its technology on Asterisk open source software, bought IP PBX company Switchvox. At the end of last month, Digium released Switchvox Free Edition. The new offering, which includes features used in Switchvox SOHO edition, can be downloaded and installed quickly and requires no new hardware. Features include an interactive voice response editor that allows the creation of auto attendants and menus, use report capabilities and a variety of functions, including voicemail-to-e-mail, find me/follow me and unlimited calling queues.
Fonality, a company that also features Asterisk, made news last week. It acquired Insightful Solutions, a Sydney, Australia-based company that works with SugarCRM. Insightful Solutions, this VoIP News story says, is an Asia Pacific-focused company that integrates IP PBXs with SugarCRM software packages. The first fruits of the acquisition will be a product called FonalityCRM.
Another way to avoid hassles is to retain a hosted service provider. These are perfect for companies that want the benefits of open source, but also want no part of installing, managing and troubleshooting technology that usually has nothing to do with their core business. This piece profiles Junction Networks, which charges small businesses a single monthly flat fee (in addition to the actual cost of the calls) that can be as low as $40 regardless of how many phones are added. The story says small medical offices -- with phones in every room -- and telecommuters' homes are good candidates for Junction Networks.
Proprietary companies have spent decades learning how to help people use their products with the minimum amount of heartburn. It is clear that user friendliness is one of the battlefields on which the proprietary versus open source battle is being fought. Taking this to an SMB level -- where IT staffs are understaffed or simply don't exist -- will put more pressure on the open source companies to wring out complexity.