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Digium Offering Switchvox Without Open Source?

Digium, the lead sponsor behind the open source Asterisk open source VoIP PBX project, is expanding its appliance footprint with a new SMB targeted device.

The AA300 appliance is geared for up to 150 users and deploys technology from Digium's Switchvox division to provide a full telephony solution.

Switchvox, which was acquired by Digium in the fall of 2007, uses open source Asterisk as its base. But the Switchvox product itself is not open source.

Overall, the new Digium Switchvox product lineup does push open source further into the mainstream with a product that is positioned against proprietary PBX solutions from Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), Avaya, Shoretel and others.

"The core is still Asterisk, but it's a very specific flavor of Asterisk to allow us to do what we want to do," Tristan Degenhardt, Switchvox product line director, explained to InternetNews.com.

"With Asterisk, you can build any kind of telephony application and because of that it is trying to be all things to all people. Switchvox is definitely not trying to be a [Graphical User Interface] on top of Asterisk. Instead it's trying to be a phone system and it turns out that the best way to build a phone system is to start out with Asterisk."

Though the core Asterisk project itself does not have a GUI, there is an open source effort from Digium called AsteriskNow that provides an Asterisk package, including Linux and GUI. Degenhardt argued that Switchvox provides an even easier way to utilize Asterisk and make telephony applications more accessible and extensible.

At the heart of the Switchvox system is the Switchboard, which Degenhardt explained is a real time control panel that allows users to drag and drop calls to transfer them. She commented that the Switchboard is a visual browser based interactive application that put information at users' fingertips.

"Voice products have been aching for a new paradigm in the way that communication really should fit in better," Degenhardt said. "I always see these phone systems sitting in a corner, then we've got email, word documents and other tools but the phone system has been out of the loop. We have to keep pushing forward in pulling in the data that is out there and leveraging it. Switchboard is an attempt to show what it possible when you bring your phone into the loop."

The other key difference between regular Asterisk and what Switchvox provide has to do with how it enables other applications to be tied in.

"There is an application layer in between and the Switchvox GUI and Asterisk that is doing quite a bit more and that is where the bulk of development has happened," Degenhardt explained.

In addition to Asterisk, Switchvox also leverages other open source technologies including Linux and the PostgreSQL database. Degenhardt noted that it's the Switchvox software that pulls it all together and adds its own special sauce -- not open source.

As to why Switchvox code is not open source, Degenhardt was quick to comment that Switchvox has been involved in open source for a long time.

"We do contribute SwitchVox code back to the open source version of Asterisk, but we didn't build it with the idea of being open source in the beginning," Degenhardt said. "Now we're slowly making the transition to having code to be ready to be put into open source. The goal is to contribute back, we're certainly doing a lot more of that now that we're part of Digium."