3rd Party App Licensing for Asterisk: How can we do it?

May 12, 2008 by Garrett Smith

On Friday, May 9th, I was involved in the weekly VoIP Users Community Conference on Talkshoe, organized by Randulo. The topic for this week, “3rd Party App Licensing: How can we do it?”, was organized by Dean Collins of Cognation.

Digium has a licensing, sales and fulfillment mechanism in place for their G.729 codec, and one of the goals of this call was to discuss the mechanics of Digium’s licensing schema, and determine if this vehicle might be suitable for 3rd party application developers to sell and license Asterisk related plug-ins such as Snap Dialer.

Dean Collins came up with a few preliminary questions to be addressed on the call.

Should commercial software applications like SNAP Dialer even be encouraged for the Asterisk community – or is this the slippery slope?

Should this license schema model be centrally managed by Digium – what are the alternatives?

Is a centrally managed approval process like Salesforce.com / i-tunes appropriate for the Asterisk user community, or should it just be a “published document schema,” but all sales are handled by each individual company?

In the G.729 model and appropriate solution (NIC address registration)?

Are there alternatives that should be considered instead?

What are the limitations of NIC licensing over server IP address, etc.

How does this affect client applications running on “client” machines?

What type of applications would you like to see licensed via this 3rd party ecosystem model?

What do we do from here?

Is this something Digium should be developing internally and present to the Asterisk community as a “suggested working model?”

Is this something that can be developed by the community and presented to Digium for their approval and adoption?

Who on this call wants to be involved and what do you want to do from here?

Talkshoe

Turns out, the idea of creating a central portal where developers could showcase applications designed for use with Asterisk Open Source PBX is something Digium has been thinking of doing. Steve Sokol from Digium mentioned the possibility of having a standardized base Asterisk platform, with a simple user interface…that would allow developers a starting point for creating apps.

I have always like the idea of Asterisk evolving as more of a “Voice Operating System”…a standardized and documented base platform for which developers could create countless applications. Having been on the call, my personal thoughts regarding such an initiative are as follows:

A – Having a somewhat standardized platform base (as suggested by Steve Sokol) would certainly ease the support burden (consumer support) and limit the variables for developers.

B – In order to reach its maximum potential, any such base platform would need to be constructed in a “developer agnostic” fashion, such that Digium could not subvert it in any way or insert overt protection mechanisms to safeguard their own commercial interests. Not suggesting that Digium would do this, but I think it would concern developers.

C – Long term, you might even be able to integrate a cloud-based development environment using tools like Adhearsion, that would facilitate participation from would-be developers with no specific telephony background. Providing tools to level the playing field would foster maximum potential in terms of innovation.

D – In terms of the revenue derived for Digium or whomever would potentially administer the developer portal…I think you could incorporate several schemas that would not only operate on a “per channel” basis. If I were a consumer, I might want to simply pay a single price for a feature pack that I could use in production regardless of the number of trunks I have. Perhaps a flat percentage of profit share would make more sense? Ex: 20/80 split (portal administrator/developer) for sales tickets of $250 or less. 15/85 split for transactional sales from $251-$500. 10/90 split for transactional sales of $500 or more. This is a simplified example.

E – In order to accommodate OSS purists types who do not seek to profit from their creations, you could have a section of applications that are free for consumers to use. You could also offer free single-channel versions of certain applications to promote increased usership from a trial/evaluation standpoint.

F – The Asterisk community is extremely fragmented…and that is to our detriment in the sense that it creates confusion for non-technical consumers of Asterisk-based products. I have seen many terrific applications which will fail commercially because the developers do not have the wherewithal to properly market their products. The ability to distribute my product through a well established venue gives me instant visibility and will allow me to compete with other developers who have an advantage from the standpoint of marketing capital. It is not always the best application that succeeds, but rather the loudest voice which is heard IMO.

G – You could also potentially build in vehicles for the developers to provide their own support mechanisms in order to participate. You could have a chat interface, a WiKI, bulletin boards, etc…that are specific to each application being offered. The developers would bear some of the responsibility of supporting their products, but would be provided with vehicles to make it easier and less costly for them interface with consumers from a support standpoint.

H – For that matter, you could build in some type of user feedback system. Developers who do a good job of documenting and supporting their products would maintain a higher level of overall user satisfaction, and would be given preferential placement in the portal for their efforts.

What do you think? If you are involved in Asterisk development, or have experience with 3rd party application development for things like Salesforce.com or Apple’s iPhone, I’d love to hear from you.


Manufacturer’s Support… A major question to consider when purchasing an IP PBX

May 9, 2008 by Garrett Smith

When in the market for a new VoIP system, the pressing question always arises: What type of support will I be receiving from the manufacturer? How much will I be paying for support either once a monthly, annually, or per incident basis? What type of support will I be receiving? Email? Phone? Emergency phone system services?

Support is a critical area of decision making when deciding to go with a new VoIP phone system. From an engineering standpoint it is most definitely needed on a post sale basis; first to get the system up and running and configured correctly, secondly to solve any problems or issues that rise along the way, and third to answer any questions the user may have about features and functionality of the system itself. In my mind, support options would be the absolute first consideration made when purchasing a system, and as a sales engineer I would like to give you a little insight on the Switchvox Support Options for its two phone systems, and why I have taken such a liking to its system and support team.

Switchvox has two software loads, a SOHO version of software and SMB Version of software. The SOHO version is designed to support up to 20 users, handle 10 concurrent calls placed in a small office, and is neatly outfitted in the new AA60 chassis. The SOHO software includes Silver Level Support only, and Switchvox institutes these cost on a per user level. The SMB Version of software is designed for a larger scale application, and can span up to 400 users, 75 concurrent calls, hardware redundancy, and supports options which include Silver, Gold, and Platinum level support. The SMB version can be neatly outfitted into any Switchvox hardware chassis including the AA60, and 3U Chassis–the AA350.

Support works on three levels for the SMB application and proves to be very affordable and less costly in years to come. The support packages are laid out below.

Select your User Subscription Plan

Every extension on your system needs a valid subscription plan. Subscription plans allow for the activation of a user extension and provide technical support.

You may be thinking, wow this seems like a bit much. Let’s say I have a 50-User SMB System, and will need the phone support during normal business hours. That means I will be paying $3850.00 just in user licenses and support alone. You may think this a bit high in cost, especially when you add the costs of hardware, software, and endpoints to complete your new VoIP system. Let me ask you this: What are your current phone system costs per month? If you are using an older analog Legacy PBX, or even a proprietary VoIP system such as, Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, or Mitel, I can almost guarantee you every time, you are paying more in one year on support costs than you would ever pay in upfront costs of a Switchvox support contract. It gets even better though with Switchvox, after your first year of support, your costs from $77 dollars per user drops to $17 per user meaning you get the same level of support you receive in the first year of implementing your phone system for a fraction of the original costs. Let’s do the math for the second, third, fourth, and fifth year of owning your Switchvox SMB platform. A flat rate support cost of $850 per year for 50 users. What a drop from $3850.00 in the first year, and you are still getting the same level of support and dedication from the Switchvox team.

Who Really Gains From PTZ?

(Part two of a four-part series on PTZ)

Who really gains from PTZ?

  1. Business Owners
  2. Employees
  3. The General Public
  4. Insurance Companies
  5. General Consumers

It’s only logical that companies turn their products obsolete to recapture another slice of their existing market share, so when they introduced PTZ technology the first thing out of my mouth was “OH MAN, I just can’t keep up!” Surely my original CCTV set-up was doing the trick, after all I had four cameras focused my property, so why would I ever bother shelling out more money for such an upgrade?

That’s when it hit me. If I was worried about “shelling out more money,” then maybe an upgrade in loss prevention wouldn’t be such a bad idea. After much digging I came across this GREAT blog from a few years back at Solomon’s VoIP World demonstrating Linksys’ first release of a PTZ camera and its role in IP Surveillance deployment. Only one camera was used to capture the same area that previously had been managed by four CCTV units, and also for the first time I would be able to take full control and position the cameras on a given location via my Dell Inspirion unit or my Apple iPhone when I’m on the go.

It is apparent the PTZ technology has been an excellent replacement for a fixed surveillance system, as it becomes the first featured camera to replace our current outdated technology and combine a wide array of security benefits for all members of on our top five list, whether they find themselves in an isolated region of their industries or in a community area facilitating many different demographics.

IPCS Word of the Day: CCD

CCD = stands for “charge-coupled device.” First invented in the 1970s, this technology uses a shift register combined with photo-diodes to create the modern day imaging device. Used in cameras, scanners, fax machines, etc. The size of the CCD chip is normally 1/4″, 1/3″ or 1/2″. As a rule of thumb, the larger the size, the higher the quality of the image produced and the higher the price. Refer to specification sheet of the camera for its CCD chip size.

VoIP Insider Makes Top 100 Telecom Blogs List

May 8, 2008 by Garrett Smith

VoIP Now recently released its list of the Top 100 Telecom Industry Blogs. Wouldn’t you know, our little VoIP-blog-that-could, VoIP Insider, made the list! The list is broken into seven categories: VoIP, Corporate Blogs, Mobile Blogs, Wireless Blogs, Outside the U.S., Niche and Toys and Gadgets. We made the best Corporate Blogs list; blogs which “belong to major commercial telecom companies or to individuals who hold high positions within major commercial businesses and corporations.” Some blogs listed were also “concerned with a specific product or service.”

Check us out at #42 (alphabetical, not ranking, order)!

Our Director of Marketing and Business Development, Garrett Smith, also appeared on the list for his Smith on VoIP blog. It’s great to be considered among these great communicators!

Thanks to Jimmy Atkinson at VoIP Now for including us on his list!

More Reasons Why Voice 2.0 Developers Prefer Open Source

Dal over at Asterisk VoIP News has written a terrific piece detailing some of the reasons why “Voice 2.0” developers prefer to work with open source platforms, as opposed to proprietary, closed technologies from the likes of Microsoft, Broadsoft or Sylantro. The original story comments on the findings of a recent industry survey administered by research firm iLocus.

penguin.jpg

First, let me say I agree emphatically with Dal’s analysis of the survey results.

A – Open Source Platforms are now considered “carrier grade”. OpenSER, Asterisk and FreeSwitch power many of the voice related applications we use everyday….we just don’t necessarily know that. I am seeing OSS platforms used extensively in the carrier / service provider space. OpenSER and FreeSwitch offer tremendous scalability, and even Asterisk won’t be typecast as just an IP PBX for small businesses much longer. These platforms are feature rich and inherently flexible, and can be safely deployed to service a variety of user requirements. They also benefit greatly through the efforts of faithful coders around the globe.

B – …platform vendors have an established telco customer base, who in turn have paying customers which forms a natural first target population for a developer’s Voice 2.0 application. This is also true, but it is my belief that the current “per capita” growth rate of OSS platform deployment will soon eclipse that of traditional proprietary system, if this has not already occurred. Having a huge “installed base” of users is the proverbial “feather in the cap” of traditional proprietary vendors. Will these users continue to be willing to pay a premium for new features and services? I’m guessing that as more businesses become aware of the overall “cost of ownership” between closed and OSS technologies….well, let’s just say that it’s a good time to be a Penguin.

C – The survey also reveals that the Voice 2.0 developers are not so keen on consumer driven applications. Dal surmises that developers are aggregating their efforts toward commercial “business” users, rather than mass consumers because it ties into an easier monetization strategy, and also because of our current love affair with CRM, Conferencing, FMC and other business communications productivity enablers. While I agree with these takeaways….I also feel that a growing sentiment amongst voice application developers (and a correct assumption) is that the vast majority of features, bells and whistles are completely wasted on general consumers. This may seem a bit generalized….but for many consumers of voice services….dialtone, text messaging, ringtones and Youtube videos are meeting their general day to day requirements in good stead.
As more vendors like SalesForce.com open up their platforms (and their installed customer base) to OSS loyal developers….and if applications continue to migrate from the desktop into the network cloud….the effectiveness of the “installed base” and “well established distribution channel” arguments for proprietary technologies will wane.

Other than that, Skype is doing a great job of defending its turf, as well as innovating at the same time, adding Video, Presence and other “Voice 2.0” features and continuing to serve it up at a budget conscious price point. Tough opponent to contend with. I suspect these factors also contribute to an overall preference for a “business focus” amongst Voice 2.0 startups.

One aspect that Dal did not comment on, but which cannot be underestimated, is price. As a developer, I can acquire a Voice 2.0 capable development foundation such as Asterisk or SER for next to nothing. I don’t need to wait for a callback from a Sylantro reseller in order to get started building my baby. I can point my browser over to SourceForge and be writing AGI scripts in a matter of hours. I also do not need angel investors or VC’s to bankroll my operation, nor do I need a college degree or much of a foundation in traditional application development. OSS platforms also happen to work well with OSS development tools like Ruby and Adhearsion. If you would have told me I could get free, unlimited access to a capable voice platform and also free tools with which to develop….I would probably be mulling over yacht trimmings instead of writing this.

We’ve reached the tipping point, and I fully expect the trend towards adoption of OSS platforms and dev tools to continue to accelerate and proliferate at an astonishing rate.

Grandstream Discontinuing BudgeTone 102 and HandyTone 488

May 7, 2008 by Garrett Smith

Our friends at Grandstream notified us recently of a halt on the product production of the BudgeTone102 and the HandyTone 488. We wanted to let all of our customers know in case they own either of these products or were planning on purchasing them.

Effective immediately, Grandstream has stopped accepting orders for the BudgeTone 102. Grandstream also discontinued firmware releases for this model. BudgeTone customers can continue to receive support (including RMA service) from Grandstream for up to 12 months after end-of-life. The BudgeTone 102 is being replaced by the BudgeTone 200.

They also will stop taking new orders for the HandyTone 488 after May 30. They will sell existing limited inventory on a first come, first serve basis. Firmware updates will be discontinued for this model on May 30 as well. Customers will also continue to receive their support services from Grandstream for up to 12 months after end-of-life. HandyTone 488 is being replaced by the HandyTone 503.

Trixbox (CE, SE, CCE, EE)…What is Best For You?

In the realm of IP phone systems there are many flavors to choose from. You have the small petite servers for a few users, such as a small or home office, then branch out to the big monsters that can handle 1,000 concurrent calls at once. It is easy enough with some simple wit and a little money to figure out a box that has the power for your needs, but one thing that some people do not take into consideration is the software back bone that makes this happen.

In my next few paragraphs I will be talking about the much loved trixbox unit and their software bundles. We will look over the Community Edition (CE), Standard Edition (SE), and then the Call Center Editions (CCE), and Enterprise Edition (EE).

Trixbox CE is the free (open source) edition of software. By “open source” I mean this is the drive that made VoIP where it is today. The source code is open to the public, so that people like me and possibly you can look it over and improve it. This edition is fully modifiable. You can also download it for free here and load it onto a computer or spare sever and fool around with it. What is even better is that if you made something nifty then you can submit the code back to trixbox, and they may make it apart of the next release of software. How cool is that? You can contribute to an industry that is constantly growing. Now I could sit here and talk about all the features of this version, but the list would go on and on. Let’s put it this way, there are hundreds of features. So if you’re that nerd that likes to tinker and fool with settings and see what you can do, then this is the box for you.

Trixbox SE is not an open source program, but rather is hybrid-hosted. This means that Fonality/ trixbox has control over your system and makes sure that nothing breaks. Some people like the idea of having someone help out and make sure that everything is all in working order, while others do not like the idea of a possible big brother always looking over their shoulder. In any regard, this version is free as well. It will just take a little time to go here and download it. SE has even more functionality than CE, and what is even better is HUD. HUD stands for “heads up display.” This neat program installs onto a computer on the same network as the server and links an extension from a phone to your desktop. It shows you all the other extensions and people using the same HUD program. This HUD program is called HUD lite, and there is a difference with this version and the HUD pro program that is available with the other two versions of trixbox software I am about to talk about..

Now, let’s talk about the features that are not free. Those being CCE and EE. Both versions are fully monitored by Fonality. Meaning that if something fails, like your network crashed, or the Hard drive fails or your server went down as it was processing a change you made, all you have to do is call them up, report what happened, let them diagnose anything wrong with the box, and POOF your server is back up and running in a short amount of time. Now if you had the CE version this wouldn’t be happening. So for you companies that NEED your business VoIP PBX to work, and have constant monitoring and be up and running at all times, this may be the way to go. Not to mention EVEN MORE FUNCTIONALITY. I do highly recommend taking a look at that last link. Review the functionality of both CCE and EE. Some of these features you cannot find anywhere else. Oh, one more thing–both these versions have HUD as well. But this is the PRO version. Want to know more about HUD? Click here for an interactive Demo.

Now that we have reviewed the versions and what they offer, some of you are surely wondering about the price. Here is the breakdown of what CCE and EE cost.

So, after looking at that pricing matrix (some of you may have had your jaws hit the floor), I need you to think of it this way: Yes, you could buy the monthly fee, but do the math. Add the monthly fee up for two years, and you have a close price to the lifetime license. And I am pretty sure that you are going to have that box for more than two years. Also, think about the added functionality that you have that no one else does. You could be the envy of any business around you. So those two factors alone should make that pretty convincing to take a chance and ask some questions.