Astricon Predictions and Hopes

by Dave Michels

Astricon 2010 starts October 26. For those of you in the know that’s just a courteous reminder. For those of you that are not familiar with Astricon its time to find out. I attend about 7-10 conferences a year and none are quite like Astricon. First, its a fairly intimate event – everyone is approachable and happy to discuss any given VoIP related topic. Secondly, the topics that get discussed at Astricon are the topics that are heading to the mainstream. Astricon is consistently a reliable indicator of what’s ahead.

For the past two years, Astricon was a western show in AZ. This year, it moved to Washington DC’s Gaylord National Harbor. This means two things: The show will be bigger for the unfortunate and inexplicable reason that eastern shows are bigger. And it will be better because the Gaylord’s are great places for shows.

But the real question is what to expect at Astricon 2010 in terms of announcements and observations. Announcements are the things they actually say. This usually happens in the keynote session which will take place Wednesday morning at 9. This year’s keynote is titled The Future of Open Source Communications (that’s pretty broad). I expect a few doozies in the keynote. The presenter is Kevin Fleming, Digium’s Director of Software Technologies. If the keynote speaker was CEO Danny it would be business focused, if it was CTO Mark it would be vision focused – but it’s Kevin – that means its what’s under the [new] hood focused.

Digium’s an interesting company. My history with Digium began with Switchvox which was subsequently acquired by Digium. It’s been fascinating to watch Digium (and Switchvox) grow and mature over the years. The company and its portfolio is totally different than it was just a few years ago, and I suspect that will be true again in a few more years from now.

What’s in store at Astricon 2010? I don’t know. I just play a doctor on TV, but here’s my guesses.

Big Customers: When clients ask me about Asterisk, they often mistakenly assume its a solution for small businesses only. The fact is the financial savings associated with open source get bigger and more attractive with larger organizations.

Digium added Ruben Sousa to talk about the implementation at the university system in Portugal (100,000 users on a 184 servers). Asterisk implementations continue to grow in user size – increasingly with recognizable names. Also on the schedule is a discussion of the Orbitz implementation involving a call center, back-end server integration, and PCI security compliance. I expect the City of Amsterdam’s implementation will come up as well.
Digium usually uses Astricon to recognize new and impressive customers through an awards ceremony and I expect familiar names among both the nominations and the winners. This year, Astricon actually added a Case Studies track to the conference sessions.

Asterisk 1.8/2.0: Currently Asterisk 1.6 is released and 1.8 is in beta. I predict they will announce the release of 1.8 at Astricon and that there won’t be a 1.10; instead 2.0. My basis for this is a few things Danny Windham said to me during our interview a few months back. There were two big hints. The first was around scalability. “Scalability and expandability are areas where we are focusing development. You can build a highly reliable solution on Asterisk, but it needs to use external components. We want to add more native capabilities for large-scale Asterisk implementations.” the second hint was around media types. Danny said: “We need to do the same with video as we do with audio today. We will be announcing more on this.” This sounds like more than just a “dot release” upgrade to me; it sounds like Asterisk 2.0.

Client Software: Recently the Switchvox team released a mobile client for BlackBerry and iPhone mobile devices (Hello, Android here). So for one, I expect (want) an Android client to be announced. But I also expect Switchvox to announced increased client capabilities for the desktop. Switchvox users currently utilize Switchboard a GUI applet, call control and feature control. Switchvox has received numerous upgrades over the past few years; especially around UC, but there have been few changes to the Switchboard. I’m predicting Digium to announce a Switchboard upgrade with richer UC capabilities such as white-boarding, desktop sharing, and integrated messaging.

IPO/Acquisitions: I doubt it. Those are hard to time with conferences. However, I can think of a lot of companies that might be interested in acquiring Digium. Industry consolidation is inevitable; we have three waves that need to settle. The first was the VoIP wave – the new companies of telecom taking advantage of (or in Digium’s case – creating) disruption. The second wave is Unified Communications which introduced even more players as competitors. Lastly we have disruption around APIs and integration (and open source) – phone systems are not islands anymore. Digium is in the thick of all three of these. I can see numerous players with a strategic fit in acquiring Digium, or Digium could provide an external player a path into these markets. I think being acquired or even an acquisition is slightly more likely than an IPO, but I don’t expect either this month.

Extend: The Extend API capabilities of Switchvox are highly unique for an SMB phone system. Digium is working to “Extendify” every administrative capability in Switchvox. From a CEBP perspective, Switchvox is emerging as an incredibly feature rich packaged system. I don’t expect any formal announcements here, but I think you will see Digium position Switchvox as a voice enabled development platform instead of just as a phone and/or UC solution. The fact is Asterisk is often used to voice enable solutions that have nothing to do with “phone systems”. But becoming an Asterisk guru (dCAP) is more than some developers really want.

Windows Phone 7: It is too soon for Digium to make any announcements around Microsoft Phone 7 – however, I expect it to be a priority in 2011. Digium is rapidly gaining enterprise acceptance and integrating with Microsoft Phone 7, albeit with an initial culture clash, will bring with it some interesting opportunities and more enterprise legitimization.

Other Things to Watch for:
  • Mark Spencer will arrive late and will be wearing shorts.
  • Digium Community Director John Todd will sport a new Tie Dye shirt.
  • Suits. I expect to see more suits there this year. The core Astricon crowd typically wears T-shirts, but Digium is growing up rather quickly. Me thinks consolidation and/or IPO is in the not so distant future. Both involve suits. Though the suits may attempt to blend-in with golf shirts. Look for expensive shoes.
  • Allison, the voice of Digium, will have a spectacular dress (This is why Lady Gaga won’t show).
  • Lots of phones. SIP phones are becoming an increasingly crowded space – the core three (Polycom, Aastra, and Snom) will be there, but expect a contingency from the far-east. If this interests you, bring a Berlitz guide. It is interesting that YeaLink is a Platinum sponsor this year.
  • Can someone please tell me what that green screen thing is in the Astricon graphic above?

Look for follow-up post soon after Astricon concludes.