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Asterisk Gets 400 Million New Users

Asterisk Gets 400 Million New Users

September 15, 2009
By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director

(This article originally appeared in the September, 2009 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.)
Traditionally something of a niche phenomenon, open source PBXs have seen a significant surge over the past few years and it has become much more mainstream and more competitive with traditional communications systems. According to The Eastern Management Group, open source PBXs claimed 18 percent of the North American market in 2008, a 40 percent growth from the previous year.

There are several reasons. Open source is becoming less mysterious as its user base grows and word of its reliability and stability spreads anecdotally. The economy also has certainly played a major role, considering an open source PBX (News - Alert) can cost 40 percent less than traditional alternatives.
But, perhaps the most important driver of growth is the ongoing development of features and add-ons from the open source community. The very nature of open source – particularly Asterisk (News - Alert), the gold standard to which all other open source solutions are compared – is to encourage development of new capabilities that can be bolted onto an Asterisk PBX to harness the full power of IP communications.
When you talk about the power of IP Communications and its rapid growth worldwide, one of the first names that comes to mind is Skype (News - Alert), which now boasts more than 405 million registered users, with some 12 million of them online at any given time. Despite those figures, and although there have been a few products designed to bring Skype more effectively into the business environment, the key limitation has been that Skype has never been very effectively integrated into the business communications network – until now.
Digium (News - Alert) has bridged the divide between Skype and the PBX with its launch of Skype for Asterisk, a connector module that allows businesses to connect their desktop phones to Skype through an Asterisk PBX. Not only does this make Skype calling easier in a business environment, it also allows Skype calls to be connected to IVR systems, ACDs, and any other telephony applications that are part of the PBX platform. 
Skype for Asterisk, which Digium co-developed with Skype, is the first Skype-sanctioned connector to a full-fledged PBX system. The add-on to an Asterisk PBX lets businesses register as many Skype accounts as they need, allowing users to receive calls from Skype accounts, right on their IP deskphones. With a bit of additional configuration, users can also place outbound calls to Skype accounts through their Asterisk PBX.
“Anybody can call you over Skype, and when it hits Asterisk, it becomes just another Asterisk call,” explained Steve Sokol, Product Manager of Software at Digium. “For outgoing calls, the call would come from a SIP deskphone to Asterisk, and Asterisk would recognize the extension is pointed to a Skype username, and it would simply send the call directly there.”
One of the concerns of IT departments has been security, especially regarding the file transfer capabilities that are part of Skype. The calls themselves don’t present much of a threat, since they are encrypted and run directly from endpoint to endpoint. For IT managers who are concerned about the potential loss of sensitive proprietary information when users have Skype installed on the desktop, Skype for Asterisk circumvents the threat because it is installed on the Asterisk server, not on the desktop. It’s part of the IT infrastructure and entirely under the control of the IT department.
As for its scalability, it’s a commercial product and is meant to perform as such.
“It goes as far as what you want to buy licenses for,” says Sokol. “There are some physical limitations eventually; if you have hundreds of thousands of calls, you’ll probably overwhelm the processing power of the computer it’s running on, because Skype is encrypted and Skype data has to be decrypted as it comes in.”
There’s an obvious synergy between Skype – a free VoIP calling platform – and Asterisk – a low cost, reliable alternative to proprietary systems, which makes this partnership a no-brainer. Skype also has grown more rapidly than even Niklas Zennstrom could possibly have imagined, and Digium’s bet is that it will continue to grow, as more capabilities are built into its application, which Digium will also look to add to Skype for Asterisk. Skype’s IM capabilities, for instance, will likely also become a part of the product.
“We’ve discussed the possibility of extending this to support video, so you could have a SIP-based or other desktop video phone system and that would be able to transfer to Skype video and vice versa,” said Sokol. “That’s going to require some additional work on both sides, but we have high hopes for it. We’re looking forward to a long relationship with Skype and continuing to expand what’s available for Skype users and developers. “
For now, the case is simple: If you want to make free Skype calls through your PBX, install Asterisk and away you go.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Erik Linask

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