Dialogue with Danny


My conversation with Danny Windham, Digium’s CEO, ran this week on NoJitter: :A Dialogue with Digium’s Danny. It was a pleasure to speak with Danny, he sets folks at ease and responds in a very friendly yet direct way.

One question that came up in this exercise is how much of the VoIP and SIP disruption in telecom can be attributed to Digium’s Asterisk? I believe Digium is responsible for a heck of a lot. Not only was it pioneering, but so many businesses – service providers, equipment makers, and a development ecosystem were formed around it. On the other hand, Cisco gets frequently recognized as a VoIP disruptor as it went from zero marketshare to marketshare leader by convincing CIOs TDM was dead.

We can see Cisco’s sales and revenues, but that can’t directly compare them to Asterisk downloads and we don’t know what share of the countless makers of SIP devices go to Asterisk implementations. Asterisk market share is a difficult one to measure. Even Digium really only knows about customers/users that purchase support agreements.

Here are few of my conclusions from my conversation. To see what Danny actually said – see the post on NoJitter.

The folks at Digium always impress me with their clarity of purpose. Danny did in our conversation, and so have so many others at Digium before.

There were a couple of recurring themes in our conversation. There are obviously a few things in the hopper he wasn’t quite ready to discuss. In addition to the hardware strategy and the Asterisk UC strategy, which were included in the final piece, was a reference to a current study evaluating the hosted space.

He said several times that Asterisk was a “mature” offering, but that was compared to its earlier hair-on-fire days. No UC offering is mature and he agrees that Asterisk has a way to go in its PBX to UC maturation. What I heard was there are several significant projects underway at Asterisk to ensure Asterisk does indeed mature.

Endpoints: Danny admitted that standards based SIP phones fall short when compared to the user experience and capabilities of proprietary phones. This is a huge shift from the speak I’ve heard before from Digium on this topic. I’ve written about this before on this blog:SIP Phones and PBX: Disconnected! and Current SIP Phones Limit Asterisk

To solve the problem, there are three general approaches. The first is private SIP extensions to the phone. This is what SEN and Interactive Intelligence are doing (among many others). The second approach is via XML applications and phone based browsers. This is more feature rich, but introduces multiple login(s) and phone compatibility issues. This is how Switchvox delivers phonetop features to Polycom and Snom phones via their phone tokens (related on XML). The final approach is a proprietary phone as implemented by most vendors. Microsoft’s approach is interesting as it created a proprietary phone with custom firmware and specific hardware components it licenses to third parties for manufacture.

I don’t know what Digium has up its sleeve regarding improved control over endpoints, but I am betting on XML. Stay tuned.

Asterisk headed for UC. Danny is probably the only CEO in this space that admits his flagship product (Asterisk) isn’t really a UC solution. Most PBX companies are quick to brag it is, regardless. Two points of clarification: Switchvox is UC ready today. This is what Danny said, and I tend to agree. Out of the box it supports presence, IM, video, some mobile clients, conferencing, and a number of rich APIs. Asterisk often is implemented as part of a UC solution, but it requires lots of external pieces and custom integration.

Admitting it is step one, and clearly Danny has plans to rectify the UC situation. My impression there are multiple projects underway that are likely to be announced at Astricon. His words exactly were “how Asterisk will remain relevant in the future” will be a theme of Astricon.

It is clear Danny wants to call Asterisk a pure and native UC solution. Exactly how, when, what – who knows. Admitting it isn’t UC today, is a first and bold step, and one that suggests that a happier ending to the UC story is under development. He talked about video capabilities, HA, scalability, and better use of multi-core processors.

Astricon should be interesting this year.

Also, you might want to check out theVoIP Users Conference which has weekly open discussions on VoIP and often Asterisk topics (VUC is independent of Digium).

Danny makes three in my interview series. Check out the others:
Jeff Rodman – CTO of Polycom.
Chris Hummel – CMO of Siemens Enterprise

Dave Michels