January 2, 2008

Asterisk awakens open source love in telecom entrepreneur

Author: Tina Gasperson

Marc Fribush, a former "Microsoft guy," is a telecommunications industry entrepreneur who discovered the benefits of open source when he launched a turnkey SAAS telephony business based on Asterisk. "It's really powerful stuff," Fribush says.

Fribush's previous company produced Web telephony software for the online dating industry. When that business was sold in 2006, he started looking for his next project and noticed an interesting trend. "We were looking at the Asterisk movement, and we started looking at some of the momentum," Fribush says. "It was a big disrupter. And we thought that one of the missing pieces was a turnkey solution where the application was actually hosted." Fribush partnered with his friend Michael Rand to launch Aretta Communications. "That's really the start of my open source background. I've really always been a Microsoft guy. You get converted when you see the power of open source tools. Now it is the majority of our infrastructure."

Fribush says that with open source he's had to change his mindset on software support, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. "When you come from a .Net background, there's more professional support that goes along with that. With open source, the bulk of it is going to be community-based. You can't expect to pick up the phone and have these applications supported. You have to find your answers another way. You just have to change your mentality.

"Primarily, we go to the community, but certain applications have professional versions. We start our development on open source versions, and if we have to we migrate up to the supported version. The code base is typically the same, and you can usually leverage a lot of the community-based support resources. I happen to believe that the community-based support mechanism is superior in many aspects. You can search on your specific error message and see a whole slew of other users who have experienced a similar problem. It's a much more friendly support mechanism, as opposed to calling an 800 number and you don't know if anyone else is having the same issue."

Aretta's customers have no objections to their telephone service being built on open code. "There are two different flavors. The early adopter enthusiast -- a lot of those come from the Asterisk community, and they want it to be an open source product. On the other side is the day-to-day business user that just wants a telephone system that works. At the end of the day, they don't care that it's running on open source. We have the entire spectrum."

One of the biggest benefits of building on Asterisk has been the low cost. "There's no question that it's a whole lot cheaper than buying licenses from Microsoft to do your development work," Fribush says. "The other thing is flexibility. Open source really gives you tremendous freedom to make any kind of modification you might need to get it working in your environment. If I need the software to do something, maybe someone else has already developed it that way. And if we can't find people locally, there's usually always someone internationally that's got really solid experience with the application. Dealing with those people, even on a contract basis, is a lot cheaper."

Patience is a virtue when it comes to working with open source, Fribush says. "A lot of open source projects are on fast release schedules, and it doesn't leave time to do a ton of testing. You have to be real careful before you upgrade to the next release. It could fix a problem but create others. When we first started Aretta, we would upgrade after every release, and sometimes have fatal errors afterward. There was really no need for us to upgrade. With open source, if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Categories:

  • Telecomm
  • Open Source
  • Business
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