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New Features for Asterisk in Focus at AstriCon 2009

New Features for Asterisk in Focus at AstriCon 2009

October 07, 2009
By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director

As the open source Asterisk (News - Alert) platform reaches its tenth birthday, it has come into its own as an alternative to proprietary PBX solutions and, as Digium software developer Mark Michelson notes in an interview with TMC’s (News - Alert) group editorial director Erik Linask, its legitimacy is becoming accepted by the business world, especially in the large enterprise and government markets, who have traditionally shied away from anything but expensive proprietary systems.

Part of the push towards open source telephony in these markets is the availability of a growing number of features that put Asterisk on a level playing field with other solutions – even ahead of them in many cases.  Michelson’s presentation at this year’s AstriCon conference focuses on the benefits of some of these new features, specifically, the Connected Party Information capability.
The complete interview with Michelson follows.
EL:      This year marks the 10th birthday of Asterisk. What has driven its growth over a decade?
MM:    There are several factors. One of the single largest factors is that open source software, in general, has become more widely accepted as legitimate. The cry of, “It’s free so it can’t be any good” is less prevalent, and some governments, particularly in Europe, actually prefer open source software over proprietary software.
Another driving force is the large community of users and developers. Since communication is open between the developers and users, we get a firsthand view of what users think of Asterisk and what steps can be taken to make it better. Also, since the software is open source, the users have the power to contribute code changes themselves.
EL:      How long have you worked for the company? What changes, if any, have you seen in the way the market uses and views the Asterisk open source telephony platform since you started working for Digium (News - Alert)?
MM:    I have worked about two and a half years at Digium. In my time here, I have noticed an increase in the number of large businesses that have turned to using Asterisk as their PBX. As I noted, Asterisk seems to be seen as more “legitimate” than it was just two years ago.
EL:      How does Asterisk help address IT/telecom departments’ pain points?
MM:    One Asterisk module that I work with on a regular basis is the SIP channel driver. One thing that is problematic with SIP is the liberties and misinterpretations taken by implementers when reading the relevant RFCs. Interoperability between SIP devices is always difficult.
That said, one headache that a PBX (News - Alert) administrator can face is two different types of SIP equipment not speaking to each other properly. If someone should find that one proprietary SIP product they use has an interoperability problem with another proprietary SIP product, that could be a real nightmare. It could take weeks, months, or even up to a year to make the bug known to both companies, get one to get a fix approved, and roll out a new release of the product. With Asterisk, if a problem is detected, the administrator can either open a bug report, for which they will generally get a patch within a few days to a few weeks, or they can dive into the code themselves and put together a fix themselves. With quick turnaround times for what could be crippling problems, Asterisk is a great solution.
Another aspect of Asterisk that helps IT departments is the fact that it runs on Linux. IT administrators who are already familiar with scripting, network administration, and the architecture of Linux systems, will find using Asterisk to be a lot easier than having to learn a brand new interface that a proprietary PBX might use.
EL:      What is your area of focus at Digium?
MM:    The bulk of my development work has been in the queue application and the SIP channel driver. However, by working with Asterisk every day for over two years, I have also become familiar with most aspects of the core and consider myself able to solve problems in most areas of the code.
EL:      How does your work help drive market awareness of Asterisk as an alternative to proprietary solution?
MM:    The actual development work I do doesn’t directly contribute, but I suppose that by improving the quality of Asterisk and adding new features, I make the product better, which then helps make it more attractive for those who might otherwise wish to use a proprietary solution.
In addition, developers at Digium are active on IRC and mailing lists. By having developers answer user questions directly, have development discussions publicly, and respect the input on new designs from other community developers, I hope that we make a product that is driven mostly by what the users of the product want.
EL:      You are speaking at AstriCon 2009 – describe your session and tell our readers why they should attend it.
MM:    The name of my presentation is, “Making the Most of Connected Party Information in Asterisk.” This feature is similar to Caller*ID, but it also allows for the caller to see who he is connected to, and can be dynamically updated during a call. For instance, if I were transferred to another person, my phone would receive an update and I would then see the information for the new person I am talking to.
One of the largest hurdles for people wishing to switch from a legacy PBX solution to Asterisk has been the omission of such a feature in Asterisk. My presentation serves to announce that the feature is there now.
The reason why such a presentation will be useful is that seeing all the new functions, configuration options, and modes of operation may be overwhelming or even off-putting for people. My presentation aims to give the technical details of how the feature works, a summary of the technical details behind the scenes, plus some tips for how to use the feature to its maximum potential.
EL:      What else do you expect to see or hear at AstriCon that will be particularly interesting or innovative?
MM:    I am very interested in hearing my colleague Terry Wilson’s presentation about the calendaring support in Asterisk, as well as my colleague Leif Madsen’s presentation about clustering in Asterisk. Really most of the “cloud” and “technical” presentations seem interesting to me. Chris DiBona’s keynote presentation will also certainly be enlightening.
EL:      Where do you see the Asterisk market in five years?
MM:    Considering how much change I’ve seen in half that time working at Digium, I expect Asterisk’s growth five years from now to be astounding. Since Asterisk is already the leading open source telephony platform, I expect that perhaps it may become the leading telephony platform in general.
I also hope that Asterisk will gain a firmer ground in larger businesses than it has in the past. Traditionally, Asterisk has been seen as ideal for small businesses, but if Asterisk could make the leap and become the platform of choice for all businesses, that would be wonderful.

Learn more about the latest additions to the Asterisk platform at AstriCon 2009, to be held Oct. 13 to 15 in Glendale, Ariz. AstriCon’s mission is to expand awareness and knowledge of Asterisk, the world's leading open source PBX, telephony engine, and telephony applications toolkit, over the course of a three-day conference and exhibition. AstriCon includes a wealth of information for every Asterisk user, whether you are getting started or have already discovered the power of Asterisk. Register now.

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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