Biggest Lotusphere Disappointment: Where’s Asterisk?

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My previous two missives concerning Lotusphere served mostly as summaries of the event’s news, along with some impressions favorable and some not. One subject not tackled that I did want to make it a point to highlight was the disappointing absence from the show: Asterisk/Digium (here’s some background on Asterisk).

As discussed, unified communications – or unified communications squared (a reference to unified communications plus collaboration) as the IBMers refer to it – was a big focus at the show. Besides multiple mentions the first day, the subject was given a keynote of its own to open day 2. Suffice it to say that it was a popular topic of discussion.

Not quite as popular as unified communications, but still receiving considerable emphasis, were open source and open standards (yes, in case you’re wondering, they are in fact different subjects). Much was made – by IBM, partners, attendees and by others – of the open source foundations to products like Connections and Notes – which depend on Roller and Eclipse RCP, respectively. The unified communications demos, for their part, emphasized the open standards nature of the offerings, with much of the heavy lifting done by the open stanard SIP protocol.

So you might understand how I could expect someone, somewhere to mention Asterisk or its corporate sponsor Digium, Asterisk being the most important open source, open standards IP telephony project going. A reference would have sufficed. But unless I missed it somehow, no such mention was made. The omission was perhaps understandable, given the importance of partners like Avaya, Cisco, Dassault, Nokia and so on – some of whom have products that Asterisk and/or Digium directly compete with.

But it’s regrettable nonetheless. As I outlined to several of the IBMers in attendance, technology adoption these days is increasingly a grass roots affair. Certainly IBM will have success selling into large and potentially medium sized businesses alongside the Avaya’s and Cisco’s of the world, but not as much as they might have if they could sell a combination of services and software to the growing Asterisk market. The former players throttle the market size through pricing, a lack of open source, and other inhibitors, while the latter leverages the same distribution advantages that grew the Ecipse, Linux and MySQL markets and previously unheard of rates. Why not try to piggy-back on that kind of success?

The point here, to be clear, is not that IBM should not work with its corporate partners. It should, and obviously will. But neither should it ignore the lessons learned with its work in communities like Apache, Eclipse and Linux. Volume is a big incentive, and I’d bet on Asterisk’s volume over some of the high priced alternatives. Maybe next year’s Lotusphere will feature a discussion that includes both the traditional corporate partners and volume open source alternatives.

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