Digium Acquires Switchvox

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Digium Acquires Switchvox

switchvoxdigiumSwitchvox, a provider of Asterisk-based solutions, has been acquired by Digium, the founding company of the open source Asterisk software solution. This is the second recent acquisition since Digium also recently acquired Astricon. Switchvox, with 1400 Systems Installed and over 66,500 handsets deployed, is an interesting acquisition for Digium. At first I was taken aback by this announcement since Switchvox took the open source Asterisk GPL code and added their own proprietary code. Why would Digium a strong proponent of open source acquire an Asterisk solution with proprietary code? It didn't make sense, but it will become crystal clear in my interview with Digium’s Bill Miller and Mark Spencer.

The first question is why did Digium feel the need to acquire Switchvox?

Bill Miller: The whole concept of making Asterisk easy to use is obviously what has been driving our whole goal. With the Asterisk Appliance we have part of that, but we really do want to own and control the CPE-based solution. And what really what Swithvox brings is what we think is the top GUI out there that is CPE-based. We’re not going to build a hosted environment. We’re not going to build what Fonality has and we clearly don’t like that approach. We believe that this gives us without a doubt the solution that we believe will mass market adoption.”

Will Switchvox keep the company name and product name?

Bill: They’re going to become Digium. For the foreseeable month or two then it will be business as usual because we don’t want to change anything and they’ll continue to offer their products, the SOHO and SMB version. We are working violently on an integration plan that we will announce the product strategy and the details going forward.

So they will keep their name, they’ll be a part of Digium, the product line will still remain Switchvox?

Bill: At least until we get it branded and re-launched as a Digium product with a subscription attached to it.

What happens to Switchvox employees?

Bill: All the employees from Switchvox will remain employees and we will keep the facility in San Diego. It will become the first regional office for Digium and sales office as well on the West Coast.

Knowing that Digium strongly supports open source and calls proprietary or hybrid-open/proprietary solutions “evil” (See Mark Spencer’s IT Expo keynote), I was very interested to hear his response to my next question and that is, “Here’s a tough question for you. So now typically Digium the developers of the Asterisk GPL code, totally open source, what have you. But Switchvox obviously took the Asterisk GPL code but added their own proprietary stuff. You’re not going to take the Switchvox code that they’ve done over the years and add it to the GPL, correct? That’s going to be your secret sauce.”

Mark Spencer: Well actually, the plan is to be able to take technologies that exist today as external things in Switchvox right - so Switchvox much like Fonality was kind of built on the idea of trying to keep the stuff out of Asterisk and put it somewhere else where it could be retained as a traditional and proprietary product. And our goal is to migrate those technologies from you know – try to get stuff that’s today ‘proprietary’ outside of Asterisk into technologies that can live within Asterisk and be open source. So yeah, we definitely intend to try to have some strategy for moving some of those technologies from Switchvox into open source Asterisk.

I replied, “Wow. That’s interesting. So you’re taking the proprietary code that they’ve developed - a lot of the secret sauce that Switchvox wrote and you’re going to help bring that to the open source community. You really are eating your own dog food.”

Superman vs. Bizarrostar trek mirror mirrorI recalled Mark Spencer's IT Expo keynote where he espoused the benefits of truly 100% open source solutions and how this contrasted sharply with some of Digium’s competitors such as Fonality. Again, Mark called hybrid-open/proprietary solutions “evil”. I couldn't help but think of Digium vs. Fonality as Superman vs. Bizarro. Who is Bizarro and who is Superman I leave for you to decide. Speaking of Bizarro, the season premiere of Smallville featuring Bizarro will be on tonight (Thursday).

I'm also reminded of Star Trek's Mirror Mirror episode where you there were nearly identical characters from alternate universes - but one set of characters good and one evil. (Though who wasn't rooting for "evil" Spock? Gotta love that goatee!)

Mark Spencer: So as a contrast right, look at what Fonality did. They bought an open source project [trixbox/asterisk@home] and then turned it into a proprietary product. What we are trying to do is go the other way. Take something that started out as a fully proprietary product and to try to leverage that to bring some additional technologies into open source. That's an interesting angle that I don't think anyone has covered.

An interesting angle indeed. Take proprietary code, make it open source, and give it to the Asterisk community. Beautious, I say!

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