Digium Targets The Enterprise
(Spring 2006 VON, San Jose CA) Mark Spencer is all smiles as Spring 2006 VON opens in San Jose, CA. And why shouldn't he be? His company, Digium is celebrating yet another year of profit and growth. By his estimate, Asterisk is now running on over half a million servers worldwide. And more importantly, large enterprise deployments of Asterisk are now becoming an important part of Digium's business. "Hardware is still important," Mark said in an interview at the show, "but software and services are growing much faster."
The company is announcing two new hardware products this week, an echo canceling card with 1024 taps (TE420P and TE415P four-port T1/E1/J1/PRI) and a transcoder (TC400P VoIP transcoding card). Both products are aimed at the high-end of the market where Mark says that customers are "looking for a more deterministic solution." But hardware has become an extension of the Digium's software and services business. Last year the City of Manchester in Connecticut selected Asterisk for a 1500 handset deployment and more enterprise sized deployments are on the way. As these larger customers choose Asterisk, they are also increasingly fingering Digium for support and integration services.
"We have a special level of expertise since we drive the development of Asterisk - all of that code goes through our hands - and that is a value that enterprises are looking for," explains Mark. But he is quick to assure partners in the Asterisk "ecosystem" that Digium has no intention of competing with them. "We'd even be happy if we had partners that managed these enterprise opportunities."
Mark hinted that at least one large PBX manufacturer may be moving to do just that. While he wouldn't name the company, Mark suggested that a traditional proprietary PBX vendor was evaluating Asterisk as a possible product line extension. And if that happened, there might be a large enough partner for Digium that large enterprises wouldn't insist on Digium's participation in every installation.
I also followed up with Mark on IBM's initiative to build a "carrier-grade" Asterisk (which IBM demonstrated at fall VON). Unfortunately for IBM, Mark reports that their lead Asterisk advocate has left IBM - but this turns out to be good news for the Asterisk community as he has started his own company to bring Asterisk to businesses. Meanwhile IBM is getting back up to speed.
But asked about the importance of "carrier-grade" service, Mark spoke of his belief that this was not crucial to consumer adoption of VoIP. Mark pointed out how cell phone use has changed our expectations about call quality and reliability. "20 years ago if you were in the middle of the phone call and it dropped you would think that the person hung up on you or that the world is about to end. But today we just call back and say 'I don't know what happened, I'm back.'" In Mark's view dropping one in a million or one in 10 million calls isn't a problem. "If you want to go from 4 9s of reliability to 5 9s the cost is enormous -- and that one call that doesn't get dropped is a very expensive call. Do consumers really want to pay that expense?" Mark did, however, say that he was happy that organizations like IBM continue to work on these hard problems.