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Jordi Nelissen interview

From what activity does this interview take time?

Mainly from my development time, although I am a multi-skilled person so it is probably also taking some time away from documentation, blogging and drinking coffee.

You are a co-founder of Escaux, which proposes a product called net.PBX based on Asterisk. Why develop a product rather than become an integrator?

I have been working both for integrators and telecom providers in the past. In the integrator business people have the tendency to put a lot of knowledge in the heads of their engineers and few in documentation, tools and processes. In the end you end up with a heterogeneous set of customer implementations which have become very difficult to maintain. Telecom providers on the other hand are much better organised in rolling out massive volumes. These telecom provider tend to be slow and rigid but are very well organised allowing them to offer strong SLA's. ESCAUX combines the advantages of an integrator and a telco. We are very flexible in adapting our product to customer requirements, with new features being added every month. But we will never implement a new feature by patching an existing installation like integrators do. Telephony is extremely critical to our customers and thanks to our industrialised approach are we able to rebuild our customer's IP Telephony solution from scratch within 30 minutes.

How good is Asterisk to build a product on?

Asterisk is a very powerfull toolset allowing us to create almost any telephony solution. However in order to build a product you need much more than only Asterisk. We rely on various Open Source products to perform back-up, pro-active monitoring, remote management, configuration management, support of fax software and ISDN interfaces, etc...

Is the Asterisk base a strong selling point?

We have seen the market change completely. 4 years ago it was not always a good idea to mention Asterisk in front of your customer. Today Asterisk is becoming a reference just like Apache.

Is net.PBX Open Source?

net.PBX consists of a SOP (Service Operational Point) and an SMP (Service Management Point). The SOP is the actual Asterisk box sitting in the customer's network. The SMP is merely a platform to configure, monitor and backup a whole bunch of SOP servers in a very efficient and controlled way. The SOP is entirely Open Source and can be downloaded at SourceForge. The SOP behaves as a standalone plain Asterisk box and if you want you can always disconnect it from the SMP and manage it yourself.

How do you manage the combination of Open Source and proprietary?

All Open Source software is located at the SOP, all proprietary software is located at the SMP. This makes the split very clear and clean.

By putting proprietary parts in an open source based solution, don't customer loose some benefits of open source software?

What is far more important than Open Source is Open Standards. Our customers are not interested in altering the source code of our product, however they are interested in being able to integrate their IP Telephony solution with their business servers (CRM, ERP, Building Management systems). This can only be accomplished by using Open Standards. On top of this, by using Open Source software, the time-too-market and cost-to-market of new features is very low, resolving bugs is very fast and transparant and this offers direct benefits to our customers. Some of our customers have build additional SOP modules and asked us to validate these modules. These modules have been added to the SMP and have become available to all our customers.

How do you build a product on Open Source software?

We tell our customers that we have 'industrialised' Asterisk. Asterisk is not a product, it is a toolkit - a very good one -. The rest is 'simple', you listen to your customer, implement the requested feature and instantly make it available to all your customers by publishing the new feature at the SMP.

Do you maintain the net.PBX Free edition? The software available on is one year old.

There you touch our sweet spot. Indeed, the software at SourceForge has not changed for over a year simply because it did not have to change. The software at SourceForge is the SOP. It is an Asterisk/GNU/Linux distribution which can be installed on any PC. At boot time this PC will then connect to the SMP and will fetch all the latest features, modules and actions. The SMP is kept up-to-date with the latest features and we have scheduled a new update/upgrade of the SMP right before Profoss. Profoss visitors will receive our SOP install CD and will be able to judge for themselves.

Can you reassure Profoss participants that your talk won't be a commercial show?

The topic of my talk is 'Debunking Asterisk myths'. Based upon my past experience with products like Cisco CallManager, failures and successes we had with Asterisk, observations we did in the market, I will try to explain to the Profoss participants what can be done or shouldn't be done with Asterisk. A lot of IT decision makers are looking at Asterisk not knowing whether Asterisk is ready for them. They have been relying on these incumbent PBX providers for decades and need to be reassured when it comes to using Asterisk. Does it scale ? Is it stable ? Can I interface with my existing infrastructure ? Do you have a migration path ? What about integration with Microsoft ? These are all questions that must be answered.

Thanks for taking the time for this interview!

You're welcome.