Open-source Asterisk appliance takes on Nortel

Hardware bundled with an open-source platform allowing developers to tweak the software to their telephony needs

Media processing vendor Pika Technologies announced Friday that its Warp appliance line is customer-ready and ready to slay the Nortels and Ciscos of the world in a bid for the small to mid-sized corporate tele-space.

Pika's hardware line, which includes the Appliance for Asterisk and Appliance for Linux, is bundled with an open-source platform that will let developers tweak the software to their telephony needs.

Features include functionality for up to 75 IP station endpoints, traditional telephony features like power failure transfer and on-hold music jacks, Ethernet and USB ports, plus an LCD display.

Ottawa-based Pika developed the line to provide an alternative for those looking for a cheaper, customizable solution. Said Terry Atwood, vice-president of sales, marketing and customer care at PIKA Technologies: "There's Nortel, Avaya, Cisco, MyTel and Panasonic dominating the market ten years ago, and it's still the same."

Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president of enterprise research with the Yankee Group, said, "It's definitely more of a platform that allows people to do application development, making it more of a low-cost PBX, and good for the small businesses."

He said that companies looking for an alternative to the standard back-room box set-up wanted to turn to a PC-based model, but there were several factors against it, including a prohibitively high cost and reliability problems. Vertical markets that required special features (such as the prison system) were the only ones who stuck with this model.

But, over time, the cost of hardware has come down, and the machines themselves have become more powerful. In terms of Pika's offering, the embedded nature of the application means a low cost for developers shopping around. It has a solid-state memory instead of hard drive, which improves reliability.

The only drawback is the embedded hardware can make it difficult to load certain applications on the appliance, but, said Atwood, Pika provides tools that help administrators mesh everything together.

Once developers get their hands on it, they can "harden" the code, yielding a customized experience that can be tweaked--unlike the offerings from the big boys.

This is what drew the VoIP company Unlimitel to the offering, which they will be rolling out this month. Working with Pika, Unlimitel was able to craft a unique look-and-feel, along with sticking in all the features they wanted, such as voicemail, customized menus, a virtual receptionist, and call queues, according to operations director Stephane Monette. "You can design custom design features, but with Cisco or Nortel, there's no way to do that," he said. They can have up to 50 IP phones on the system at a fraction of the cost that a larger vendor would charge.

Kerravala said that the open-source and development aspects of the product could be a bit daunting for a telco operative within the company. He suggests that, for the product to work best, IT and the telco expert should work together to make it work best, as an IT manager would be better-versed in open-source and would be able to craft the code necessary.

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Briony Smith

ComputerWorld Canada

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