December 02, 2010, 10:56 AM — In a move that might send shivers down the spines of mainstream IP PBX vendors like Avaya, Cisco and ShoreTel, Michigan CAT has deployed an open source Asterisk IP PBX to handle its phone calls and contact center at half the cost of what commercial vendors would have charged.
Even the CIO in charge of the decision was a little nervous about whether the free software could support 300 phones across seven sites, but with the urging of his CEO - an open source fan - he went ahead with the project anyway.The software itself was free, but network prep, peripherals and a tech to handle the project full-time all came with a price tag. Overall the savings vs alternatives and the flexibility to add new custom capabilities over time make the choice seem obvious in retrospect, says Scott McCrea, CIO for the firm, which is a statewide dealership for Caterpillar heavy equipment
"I'm proud of our decision," he says. "They say nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM or Cisco. That can be true about choosing Asterisk."
McCrae may be a pioneer by choosing the open-source platform, but it's hard to say. The down economy hit PBX sales hard - down 25% in 2009 - says Matthias Machowinski, an analyst with Infonetics, and they have yet to recover. The crunch likely pushed more businesses to at least consider free alternatives. "Open-source has been driving down prices," he says.
Measuring the number of CIOs like McCrea who are willing to download, learn, deploy and support the open-source PBX code is hard because the only number tracked is downloads. They've been steadily growing, according to Digium, the company that oversees the free version of Asterisk and sells enhanced, supported versions. But downloading the software doesn't mean it winds up in production networks.
A controversial report last year estimated Asterisk and other open-source PBXs held an 18% marketshare among PBX vendors in North America. The study by Eastern Management Group projected that use of open-source PBX software would grow by 40% this year.