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Carmelo Zaccone interview

From what activity does this interview take time?

I'm working for the Agency of the Walloon's government which roles is to promote the usage of new technologies related to ICT, telecom & network. My role as en engineer within the agency's 'Technology Watch Working Group' is to follow high tech Network relate subjects in order to widely disseminate the information (thru white papers, news focuses, talk @ conference or workshop) and promote their usage towards both government and public authorities as well as SMEs. As my relation with IP telephony is a long story, this technology takes a special place in my areas of interest.

You have a strong technological background. How would you characterize Asterisk's technology?

From the early days of enterprise telephony up to recent evolution in this world, PBX where mainly closed black boxes where it was quite impossible to integrate the telephony with other systems without a strong (and often closed) involvement of the PBX vendor/partner. This even if the evolution as brought PBXs from a silicon oriented product towards a pure software solution.

The arrival of Asterisk has forged a new mind is this area: one can have many (to not say all) features of a good traditional PBX while having the flexibility to have a large open door for vendor's "lock free integration" thru the philosophy of the FOSS community.

However, being deeply involved into IPtel NextGen's architecture design (I was formerly active in SIP @ IETF), I have to admit that Asterisk is still a PBX with minor SIP support thru the B2BUA functionality and neither a real SIP statefull proxy nor a presence server (SIMPLE or XMPP) which are two main trends technologies today.

In two words, I would say that it's a very good an impressive building block for many telephony needs such as IVR, VoiceMail, MCU capability, etc but not yet a 'full fledge IPtel next gen solution'

How big is the influence of FOSS in the telecom industry?

To answer this question, I'll split this industry in two areas: residential/enterprise and operator.

From many years nowadays, we do see that residential & SME's network or telecom products are manufactured based on Open Source Software. As examples, we can mention access router, wifi access point, IP webcam, print server, etc. The usage of FOSS in this area is not only focused on the usage of the Linux Operating System but also on the application software (routing engine, firewall, print spooler, video capture/encoding/streaming, etc) which runs on theses products.

On large enterprises this is not the main trend. Indeed, these structures often direct their product/solution selections towards well established or well known brands/players and as these are for the majority not Open Source oriented...

Looking at the telecom operators market on the point of view of open source is not an easy task. This market as been always very conservative and closed to the philosophy which drive FOSS. However, since the deregulation of the market and the arrival of newcomers with innovative ideas, this 'private club' as welcomed Open Source Software: Asterisk is a typical example as it is being used by some ITSPs worldwide either as IP-PTSN bridging solution of as enterprise telephony gateway. SER, OpenSER & SIPfoundry are others well established in the context of providing next gen telecom services.

Big players won't be keen to admit it, but doesn't FOSS solutions take market share away from them?

Indeed, many big players would not promote this message at least as an official company's position. However, some famous market study organisms such as the Gartner Group position FOSS solutions (Asterisk being part of it) in the Magic Quadrant as 'niche players' or 'challengers' ! So this is a strong message.

As a technology watcher for the Walloon government, what trends do you currently see in the telecom market?

The biggest trends ever after the arrival of the telephony into a data network and which is nowadays having a strong take off is the migration towards a more integrated communication solution. Indeed, putting voice onto a data network just for the sake of reducing call cost is not the top reason on the list!

We are not anymore in single IPtel migration plans but in a research for improved Collaboration & Communication Tools including feature such as Unified Messaging and intelligent communication routing, rich presence status and notifications.

In short: we do already leave the VoIP Era to enter the Communications Era!

How is FOSS progressing in Wallonia?

We have to take into consideration two sectors, the private and the public, and two domains, the services and the usages.

On the private sector, we do see an increase in the number of SMEs acting in Open Source services with real concrete competencies (maybe thanks to the nowadays large availability of professional education). As a result, we see that the usage of FOSS in this market becomes more affordable as the service offer (with no hidden/forbidden costs) increase.

On the public sector, there is also a clear trends to open this mind to Open Source products/developments as this partially solve one of the historical problem this sector had: an increase of their freedom with respect to the suppliers and the 'ownership' of the solution which offer them more flexibility and continuation.

A well known example is the CommunesPlone's project, currently in the news as it takes part of the PloneGov EU project in a quest of an award. This project aim to offer "solutions of electronic government" for the small municipalities.

Part of the AWT mission is also to determine the level of ICT usage within Wallonia on 3 sectors: SMEs, local authorities/municipalities, citizen. In the upcoming municipality study, covering 2006, we do have some figures. For a complete overview of this survey, you should wait the official 'press conference' in the coming weeks! But here are some in prime-time ;-p The figures clearly demonstrates that Open Source covers a third of the market in what concern the presence of Linux servers and Open Source server applications. However, what concern the usage of a Linux based PC desktop, the situation is still quite low.

Is the Walloon government fostering Open Source development?

At the AWT, one of our strength is the focus on technology rather that on a vendor name. Taking this into account, this mean for us that we do believe also in Open Source as soon as development are realized in a professional way and that there is a continuation in the product.

In the agency, we do not only 'watch on technology' we do experiment them thanks to our internal technical staff and actually we have a ratio of fifty-fifty in Open and closed source solutions.

Other government entities do also believe in Open Source, as examples Easy-Wall the Walloon government entity for E-Administration and Simplification or the 'Union des Villes et Communes Wallonie' the entity which represent local authorities are also FOSS minded.