SHSU Switches Back to Cisco CallManager from Asterisk

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SHSU Switches Back to Cisco CallManager from Asterisk

cisco-logo.gif In 2006, I came across a Network World article, which espoused the fact that Sam Houston State University (SHSU) had switched from the Cisco CallManager IP-PBX to open source Asterisk. I wrote about this news since 6,000 students and faculty were moved off Cisco to the open source Asterisk IP-PBX, which was great news for the open source Asterisk community. This deployment demonstrated that Asterisk could scale and put to rest one of the main complaints against Asterisk.

jason_fuermann.jpg Well, 3 years have passed, and according to this thread written by Jason Fuermann, who is responsible for SHSU's IP phone system, SHSU has switched back to Cisco from Asterisk. Say what?

Let's go back to what I wrote in 2006...
The main reason for this migration was cost, according to Aaron Daniel, senior voice analyst at Sam Houston State University. "We thought that it will be more cost effective in the long run to go with an open source solution, because of the massive amounts of licensing fees required to keep the Cisco CallManager network up and running," says Daniel. According to the article, each phone attached to the CallManager required a separate annual licensing fee to operate. I'm not sure that's entirely accurate. I could have sworn you weren't required to pay annual licensing fees for the phones, but you did have to pay an optional support cost based on the number of phones. But assuming this is true, this could become yet another strong driver to cause Cisco CallManager shops to jump ship to save on TCO (Total Cost of Ownership). In SHSU's Asterisk/Cisco setup, they will keep their existing Cisco phones but attach them to Asterisk servers on the back end, thus eliminating the phone licensing costs.

So if the main driver to switching to Asterisk was lower costs and lower TCO, why would they switch back? Who wants to pay more for something? Is it because they thought Cisco had superior features? Is it because they thought it was more reliable? Is it because Cisco begged or bribed them to come back? Is it because of turnover in the computer/telecom department with someone that insisted on Cisco only?

A 'hint' can be found in the 2006 Network World article:
In another potential issue with open-source VoIP, SHSU loses the technical support from Cisco with its Asterisk migration. But Daniel says he has so far been able to keep up with support issues through mailing lists and the online community that develops and supports Asterisk.
The answer is revealed in the thread posted by Jason Fuermann, who works at SHSU and is responsible for their IP phone system.

Jason writes:
If you can't tell we've moved to call manger. There were a lot of factors for this. Most significantly we were essentially maintaining our own branch of the code since we had to develop some of the features that were required and were in the process of trying to figure out how to program shared line appearances. In the beginning that wasn't a problem (we were used to it since we were a majority open source shop), but after a significant loss of personnel these types of systems became much harder to maintain. It was decided that we needed something we could bring joe shmoe off the street to administer and here we are now. We successfully rolled our entire campus to voip and haven't looked back.
So the reason was not more features in Cisco. It wasn't lower TCO and it wasn't Cisco bribery. Nope, the reason was the university lost personnel that were familiar with Asterisk and they want to be sure they can hire anyone off the street to maintain their IP-PBX.

Apparently, people with Cisco certifications are still more ubiquitous. Although, there are many Cisco certifications in networking that are not voice over IP related. In this case, you'd have to be a Cisco Certified Voice Professional (CCVP) to be a certified CallManager expert. Asterisk isn't that hard to learn, so I'm surprised this is the reason. Also, if someone is a CCVP, I guarantee they can pick up & learn Asterisk very quickly.

What say you?

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