Zimbra + Asterisk = All-in-One Collaboration

Lora Bentley

Lora Bentley spoke with John Robb, VP of Product Management at Zimbra, and Mark Spencer, president of Digium and creator of Asterisk.


Bentley: Can you briefly explain how voice capabilities should work within a collaboration suite? What are the advantages?
Robb: Enterprise customers and administrators have asked for a more seamless user experience and a more cost-effective way to manage their overall collaboration systems. Zimbra believes that messaging providers should focus on providing improved end-user efficiency and reduced TCO. For example, users should be able to quickly launch conference calls, bridge their mobile number to a person they are calling, or access their voice mail when they are traveling. All of these capabilities give the user the ability to better manage the costs of communicating within an enterprise. For example, a user can request that a company phone system call their cell phone and bridge the call with an international number, thereby removing the need to place an international phone call or to punch in all of the numbers of a calling card. These types of capabilities allow the enterprise to leverage their investment in their collaboration system and in their telephony systems without having to invest in new infrastructure.


Bentley: It has been said that this partnership is the first step toward an open source unified messaging platform. Aside from the obvious lower costs, what are the benefits of an open source/open standards platform?
Robb: The other benefits are transparency, freedom of control, and increased functionality for the user and administrator. One of the cornerstones of open source is that end users and administrators have increased transparency to the products they use. Users are able to see the bugs that are outstanding, the engineers that are working to address their priorities, and they are able to see the complete detail of the product architecture. Additionally, companies that deploy open source products can use this knowledge of the products that they use to more easily integrate with existing systems and create new functionality that would positively impact their business. For example, an enterprise can use open standards to provide end users information about inventory levels of a product connecting a messaging system and an inventory system. Also, enterprises can use open standards to allow users to call into a voice gateway and use voice to search the contacts that they have stored in their collaboration system.

Spencer: Open source provides more flexibility in developing unified messaging applications. Generally, it's the ease of connecting the pieces and extending them that makes open source so interesting to work with. Zimbra's rapid integration with Asterisk is an excellent example of the benefits of open source.


Bentley: If this is the first step, what would the next steps be?
Robb: The next step is to provide additional capabilities for the user and the administrator. For example, users should be able to access fax messages or route voice mails using e-mails. Additionally, users should be able to call into the voice messaging system to look up a contact's phone number, to search their e-mail or to listen to their calendar. Administrators should be able to centrally manage the users' information and messaging in a more integrated solution. The future for open, unified messaging will be to continue to listen closely to the community, to provide transparency to the products, and to allow customers to control their own future.

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