ITEXPO is the business technology event that brings together IT professionals and experts to explore the latest technology and trends in M2M, SDN, cloud, VoIP, WebRTC, unified communications and much more. NetSapiens CEO, Anand Buch (@_abuch_), took part in multiple panels during the event including “Open Source Software in the Service Provider Network” and “Open Source vs Commercial Softswitches”. This interview with TMC’s Erik Linask (@elinask) focuses on open source software as it applies to voice applications and switching in the service provider’s network.
Erik: Hi, I’m Erik Linask here in Anaheim California at ITEXPO. On the program with me this morning from Netsapiens: Anand Buch. Anand, great to have you on the program.
Anand: Thanks for having me back.
Erik: Always good to see you. You spent some time on a couple of different panels this week, a couple of them focusing on the open source nature and specifically one on Open Source vs. Commercial Softswitches. Why was that particular session of interest to you?
Anand: It was interesting when it came up, and we’ve had obviously a number of folks that asked us to participate. The biggest reason is because I think there is a misconception about the ease of open source. The open source community is obviously alive and well, but the question is when you start having to commercialise a product, what’s that next step that you need to take? The reason it was of interest is because if you look at our client base, we’ve had a number of folks that have actually moved over from an open source type application and have moved into a commercial offering and migrated from let’s say an Asterisk or Freeswitch based solution that they may have taken to a particular point, then they want to grow beyond that. And so we’ve had a number of folks who have engaged with clients that have had prior open source experience but now they want to move into more of a commercial grade, carrier-class platform. So, it was interesting because it was certainly kind of a not a one-or-the-other scenario. We’ve seen people be successful doing open source, but I think the things that we discussed were what are the considerations whether you go one way or another.
Erik: So, for those folks that you mentioned that start with an Asterisk or some other open source platform, where do they hit a wall?
Anand: So, it’s interesting. There’re a couple of different things that we’ve seen from our client base. From a scale perspective, at some point unless you have the wherewithal and the talent in-house to be able to really engineer a platform using open source components and build a product, what they find is that they’re kind of piecemealing and growing organically, if you will, and either putting multiple of instances of open source together (multiple instances of Asterisks) so scale becomes one issue. The other becomes usability. As an offering gets more and more mature and you start to span across multiple end users, the product needs to be internally usable with your administrators, your CSRs or folks like that, and then even more importantly, the end user needs to have interfaces that they can use to do those things. So, the challenge has become for these service providers that are built on open source is, “Ok, now what? Do I have to go find a set of consultants that can build using interfaces on top of my open source component or do I go look at an open source specific vendor that only builds interfaces?” You start adding a lot of complexity to your network so that becomes a big hurdle. And so then, also from a resource perspective, when you start doing that you start to say, “Ok, I’m a small or medium-sized service provider. Do I want to focus my attention and energy on building a product or selling a service?” And obviously, when you’re small, you have to make some pretty key decisions about where you utilize your resources. And so our argument to most people is to spend your time on the application layer, spend the time on understanding what your client needs, don’t worry about the plumming and the core and the infrastructure- let a vendor worry about that.
Erik: So, there’s an opportunity for someone like NetSapiens to come in and step in and help them.
Anand: That’s correct. And once again, even our platform even though it’s a proprietary platform its open standards based and there’re open APIs on top of the platform so people still have that level of customization that they need. And the reason why people go to open source in the first place is, ” Hey look. I control it, I can do whatever I want with it, I can configure it whichever way I want so we try to maintain that level of flexibility, but we abstract the core infrastructure component of it so they don’t have to worry about it- the SIP stack and the core application platform and any of the switching functionality that exists.
Erik: So, that effectively allows them to focus on the services and applications that will actually generate revenue for them. As you said, let’s let the infrastructure experts deal with that.
Anand: That’s right. Many times, what you’ll find specific to our market (we focus on the mid-market service providers) it is incredibly important to differentiate. So, what they should be focusing on is what can I do to the platform to make it fit the needs of my particular client base? We have, for example, a number of service provider that focus on different vertical markets. For them to be able to really spend the time and understand what a requirement is- even the technical requirements- of what their end user needs, they need to translate that to an application and a revenue generating application quickly. To have to worry about not only the application but then also having to worry about maintaining the core platform, that becomes a pretty daunting task.
Erik: Generally speaking, does it make sense for service providers to start with open source, or would they be better off with proprietary alternatives?
Anand: So, that’s a great question and I think it boils down to where they are and how core the VoIP or UC offering that they have-how core that is to their offering going forward. It’s also a function of the availability of platforms to be able to jump right into them at a price point that’s not daunting. So, what we see is a number of greenfield folks that have said, “I need to start working on something today.” The market is moving that much faster. If you asked me that question five or ten years ago, I would have said, “Some of these guys are prototyping using Asterisk and maybe it makes sense (Asterisk or Freeswitch or whatnot). Go tinker with it.” Once again, it boils down to if you have the engineering talent in-house, you may consider prototyping something, but I think now, it’s all about time to market. There’re incredible amounts of competition so for you to go build something yourself and do it right, you’re going to be behind the pack, so it really depends on your goals and objectives. But if you are a service provider who is very serious about VoIP and UC, and you don’t have this world class engineering team behind you, then commercial is the way to go.
Erik: Excellent. Is that kind of thought process resonating in the market? Is that kind of helping you build your business?
Anand: Yeah, absolutely. I think a number of things that are happening. Because we’ve been in the industry as long as we’ve had we have a solid thriving set of service providers that are using our platform, we have a lot of success stories of people who have gone from open source to a commercial softswitch. Now, what’s happening is as that customer base is referred to or referenced and our new clients are coming to the table and they talk to what’s happening in the community, a lot of these guys are driving them towards saying, “Don’t mess with it. Go commercial if you’re a small team and you’re focused on understanding what the end user needs.” And it doesn’t mean that you don’t use any open source components, part of the discussions and part of the panels- we use open source where it is commodity, where it is hardened, where it’s well established and well deployed. We use open source components also, but those are databases and operating systems, and things that have really hardened in the industry but when it comes to the application platform, people need a vendor and an engineering team behind that vendor that could really help them. So, yeah we continue to see that. We also see a lot of people are trying to guide people going into the business saying, “Choose wisely. It’s an incredible amount of work to try and build your own platform.”
Erik: Absolutely. Well Anand, great to have you on the program. Great to have you here at ITEXPO and we look forward to catching up with you again next time.
Anand: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it.
Erik: In Anaheim, I’m Eric Linask. Thank you for watching.