Early voice over IP (VoIP) adoption was limited to large enterprises, universities and government agencies because the equipment was too expensive for small or midsized businesses. Now, with the advent of low priced systems based on free or inexpensive software on commodity hardware, even the smallest companies can take advantage of VoIP's cost savings. Value-added resellers (VARs) who investigate and enter this market now will be well positioned to take advantage as adoption of the technology spreads.
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Low-cost PBX systems open a new market opportunity to VARs who service SMBs. VARs can offer customers the following IP PBX solutions:
- Open-source based software
- Pre-built and configured software
- Vendor-integrated hardware and software
Option one: Download open source IP PBX software
Open source IP PBX software can be downloaded at no cost for Linux, Windows, Mac OS and several versions of Unix. As in the case of other open source software such as Linux, a community of developers continually adds enhancements and corrects bugs. For-profit companies have also entered the market to provide support, pre-configured releases and documentation.
The most widely installed open source PBX is Asterisk. Versions are available for Linux, Mac OS X, OpenBSD, FreeBSD and Sun Solaris. There's also a Windows variant called AsteriskWin32. Asterisk was developed initially by Mark Spencer, now CTO of Digium. It is supported by Digium staff and by a community of open source software developers.
Other open source PBXs include CallWeaver, OpenPBX, sipX and PBX4Linux, which -- like Asterisk -- are released under the Gnu Public License (GPL). The GPL allows free download, modification and use of the software in a product. However, any modification or additions to the software must be made available at no cost to the open source community.
How to package an open source IP PBX
Download open source software and purchase PC or MAC hardware with sufficient CPU capacity and memory to support the chosen software version. If the IP PBX will connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), purchase and install the appropriate interface cards. Compile and build the software, and configure and install it on the hardware. If required, modify the software to add non-standard features. Participate in the developer forums to learn about new revisions and about problems and fixes discovered by others. Provide ongoing software and hardware support to end user customers.
Sufficient software skills are required to compile and build the software and diagnose any problems that occur. This option must be chosen in cases where the customer requires modifications such as an interface to the customer's accounting system or non-standard call routing options.
About the author
David B. Jacobs of The Jacobs Group has more than twenty years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software start-ups.