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Interview with Digium CEO Danny Windham

I'm out in Phoenix at the Astricon event for Asterisk developers, partners, resellers, etc., and I had a chance to sit down with Danny Windham, CEO of Digium, the main force behind the open-source PBX Asterisk. Here are some of the issues we covered:On Open Source's Market Share: Research analyst John Malone of Eastern Management Group famously argued, here at No Jitter earlier this year, that open source makes up 18% of the total business market. I asked Danny Windham what he thinks of this figure, in light of the fact that open source by its nature is difficult to track--ascertaining how many downloads turn into actual deployments, especially in the SMB market, is not easy.

Danny said he doesn't have any research that would either confirm or disprove Malone's conclusion, but that there are "hundreds of thousands" of Asterisk servers deployed in enterprises, and he has every reason to believe that "the level [of deployment] is a very impressive level."

Just as important as how much open source is deployed now, is where the trend is going, Windham said. On that score, he said, "In our view, Asterisk is probably gaining momentum in the market." Windham ascribes this momentum to three main factors:

1. Asterisk's maturity (the program will be 10 years old on December 5).

2. The low cost of deploying open source solutions versus proprietary, especially in difficult economic times.

3. The more positive view of open source in general that has evolved in IT shops over the past few years. "People worried it was an unreliable gremlin that you put in your infrastructure," and those concerns have abated to a great extent, he said.

Sales of Switchvox, the packaged Asterisk PBX system that Digium acquired in 2007, are up year over year, Windham said. 4Q08 and 1Q09 were down sequentially due to the bad economy, but in the last two quarters, sales have bounced back.

Mobility: Digium is aware of the "gigantically important" role of mobility in the future of enterprise communications, and so is planning to continue enhancing the Switchvox platform with Unified Communications features that provide mobility. However, Windham isn't among those who see desk phones disappearing as workers migrate to mobile-handsets only.

Having the ability to extend the PBX to the mobile device is important, but the dynamics of the mobile device market aren't necessarily conducive to optimizing this device as the business endpoint, Windham said: "I want the thing I carry with me to keep getting smaller, more portable, lighter," but those attributes aren't ideal for audio quality--so when you are in an office, you'll want the quality of a desk phone, he believes.

The Fall of Nortel: I wondered what, if any, effect the bankruptcy and sale of Nortel had on Asterisk and Digium, especially given Nortel's strong position in the SMB market. Windham said the cloud of uncertainty that hung over Nortel meant that "a lot of people got interested in figuring out what they were going to do," while at the same time the economic downturn was forcing people to look at more economical alternatives like open source. But that was about as much of a direct connection as he was willing to make.

There's been a ton of interesting stuff here at Astricon, which I'll be writing about in some future posts. I'm moderating a session on enterprise deployments of Asterisk, and my panel includes two integrators who have each done 1,000-seat-plus Asterisk deployments. Frankly, I didn't know there were Asterisk deployments that big, so I'm really interested to learn more about it.