VoIP and open source forge links

Francois Lambert, CO of Aheeva Technology Inc., a Montreal-based company that develops and markets IP-based contact centre solutions, is committed to open-source VoIP.

He said his firm is focusing primarily on Asterisk, an open-source private branch exchange (PBX), primarily developed and sponsored by Huntsville, Ala.-based Digium, a telephony hardware manufacturer.

“We are focusing mostly on Asterisk, which makes money providing professional services and selling its Business Edition,” said Lambert. “(Digium) doesn’t reveal the source code, but it’s still very cheap at $1,000 for 30 users.”

Lambert claimed that the switch was a little buggy at first, but Aheeva enhanced it with answering machine and call progress detection. Putting more functionality back into Asterisk isn’t a big concern for Aheeva.

“We benefit from making Asterisk more stable,” said Lambert. “We promote Asterisk around the world and have a good relationship with Digium.”

Besides, the company can keep some functionality to itself. For example, Aheeva developed a lot of features on top of Asterisk, allowing it to offer blended or inbound/outbound agents. All calls can be recorded, and Aheeva has a workforce management module that allows a contact centre to trace agent adherence to schedules.

Aheeva has been having great success with open-source VoIP. They have a sister company, Atelca, with a 400-seat contact centre, and a Canadian customer with 30 seats, plus a wealth of global customers in Ecuador, Mexico, Germany, South Africa, France and Chile.

Atelca uses a Linux soft phone. Said Lambert, “The only license we had to buy for Atelca was Windows.” Speaking of the technology, Lambert was confident.

“We looked elsewhere,” he said, “but Asterisk is stable and, compared to Avaya or Genesis, for a 200-phone system you would save probably millions of dollars.”

This is still telephony, and in an open-source environment a company like Aheeva has to have good people to secure the quality of service, the proper switch and the right setup. Overall, the company has put in 3.5 years in total product development.

Jon “Maddog” Hall, executive director of Linux International, sees no reason for not using open source for VoIP. When asked at VON Mexico to address security and open-source VoIP, he was quick to reply: “There is no evidence that closed source or open source is any better at preventing people from doing break-ins.”

For an open-source solution for PBX, Hall said there are “a lot of tricks. I wouldn’t use an Intel processor for it. I’d use a Power PC instead, as most people would assume an Intel processor. That might render the binaries written to get into my system less ineffective.

Then I’d taper down the kernel, removing as much as possible, so that there is less code to exploit. I would definitely hook up to some kind of a service to keep the kernel updated as often and as fast as possible.”

However, Kamil Khan, chairman and chief corporate development officer for Softroute, a VoIP telephony company based in Thornhill, Ont., made the decision to limit the role of open source, saying that “the client is under Windows because it is an open standard and offers tremendous security.”

Khan, who was at VON Mexico promoting his VoIP service and soft-phone, nonetheless felt that open source could add value to VoIP systems. “The switch is on Linux,” he said, “but my company’s Vbuzzer product was built on Softroute’s own proprietary software, and we wanted open standards partly because of the SIP protocol.”

Mario Kreslin, an Aheeva account executive who was also at VON Mexico, feels that going open source for VoIP is one of the main reasons for the company’s success. “We can provide all that our customers need, whether for inbound/outbound, recording, scripting or skills-based routing.”

“Our solution had to be up to the standards of the industry,” said Kreslin.

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