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Open Source PBXs Gain Momentum

CIOs attribute their interest to the minimal amount of capital needed to get started and the higher level of flexibility that open source applications generally present.

Hard economic times have resulted in good economic news for makers of open source PBXs.

In a study released by the Eastern Management Group based on a survey of 6,000 IT executives, open source-based PBX products and overall solutions now account for 18% of the private branch market

Most of the executives buying open source PBXs are using Digium's solution called Asterisk, according to the report. Explaining their success, company officials said they're seeing a high level of commitment from CIOs. They attribute that interest to the minimal amount of capital needed to get started and the higher of flexibility that open source applications generally present.

"CIOs are attracted to this because the cost is zero to implement and the chances are systems administrators know how to install it and make it work. CIOs are even able to reuse their old phone systems. They want to move up to a more sophisticated back-end platform without ditching their indestructible Nortel handsets; they can do it in phases with Asterisk," said John Todd, the open source community director of Asterisk.

Todd however cautioned that there are costs associated with installing Asterisk, namely a "forklift upgrade," or significant upgrading of a user's system. Todd recommended that users hire a consultant for the initial install, and then allowing companies' IT staffs to maintain it.

Nortel's 15% market share was second to Digium's 18% share for open source PBXs, with Cisco coming in third, with 12%.

The report contends there is a market shift currently under way where, thanks to the arrival of open source, traditional telephone makers are competing for dollars in a consistently shrinking market. Because open source PBX software is free and can be downloaded for free, it is assumed that it's being used almost exclusively in laboratories, the survey states. But that assumption has been fundamentally wrong.

"When the fog lifts, we find open source is the PBX of choice for a large and growing share of the commercial marketplace," said John Malone, CEO of the Eastern Management Group.

Offering evidence backing up the contention that PBXs are gaining acceptance outside of its traditional markets, Malone said 40% of businesses installing open source PBXs in 2008 were in the government, education, retail, medical, and financial markets. Furthermore, both large and small companies are installing more than one PBX.

For CIOs looking to just swap out their PBX, he recommended hiring a one-time consultant to install Asterisk, leaving IT personnel to maintain it. But for companies looking to integrate with complex sales platforms or call centers, the costs will be higher, he added.

Safeguarding an IP PBX presents some challenges, but basic measures can help. InformationWeek has published an independent analysis of this topic. Download the report here (registration required).

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