Open source UC solutions: Low-risk service delivery at low cost

Enterprises looking to stretch tight IT budgets and improve collaboration are exploring open source UC solutions to deliver new services at low cost. Learn about free and commercial open source-based UC apps, open source security and more.

Given the state of the global economy over the past two years, it should come as no surprise that IT budgets remain tight. According to our research, 78% of companies are reporting flat or falling budgets, down only slightly from 86% in 2009. Meanwhile, the need to improve collaboration continues, thanks to an increasingly distributed and virtual workforce.

Our advice [on] open source UC solutions: Treat them like any other applications.

Irwin Lazar
Nemertes Research

Thus, it is no wonder that both unified communications (UC) vendors and architects are exploring possible open source UC solutions to deliver new services while minimizing both upfront and ongoing costs. Open source solutions are already widely deployed in areas such as server operating systems, management tools and Web browsers.

Open source UC solutions range from free open source software such as Asterisk, FreeSWITCH and sipX to commercial open source-based offerings, including Avaya's Software Communications System, Digium's Switchvox, and solutions from eZuce, Deltapath and Fonality

Open source UC solutions are free to download and large communities of like-minded users provide a basis for support.

Open source solutions: More secure than you might think

As telecom and UC managers evaluate potential open source UC solutions, they often share security concerns. "What if someone put a Trojan in an open source distribution?" they ask. "Is there a back door?"

Most of these concerns apply to freely downloadable open source code rather than commercial systems based on open source, as commercial software from a reputable software vendor brings with it a measure of trust. But many security experts have argued that open source code may actually be more secure than commercial, proprietary applications because of the very nature of an open development model in which anyone can look at source code.

There are no guarantees that something won't slip through the cracks, of course, but it's worth noting that open source applications aren't exactly new and that most companies are already deploying open source applications for a variety of purposes. Some are even running critical applications on open source server operating systems such as Linux.

Smart deployment of open source UC solutions can reap big benefits

Our advice to those considering open source UC solutions: Treat them like any other applications. Conduct pilot tests. Make sure the open source apps you are deploying have a large support community and are well-established projects. Make sure those responsible for unified communications security are following security and vulnerability mailing lists for the packages in use. Conduct regular vulnerability tests using publicly available security scanning tools (here's a comprehensive VoIP security tool list), and remain diligent.

At the end of the day, handled properly, open source UC solutions can provide the same measure -- or an even better measure -- of security as proprietary alternatives and often at a lower cost.

About the author:

Irwin Lazar, Nemertes ResearchIrwin Lazar is the vice president for communications and collaboration research at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost models, conducts strategic seminars and advises clients. Irwin is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in the enterprise in areas including VoIP, unified communications, video conferencing, social computing, collaboration and advanced network services.


This was first published in September 2010

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