Several IP telephony veterans are banding together to organize the first major open-source community concentrating on VOIP technology.
Pingtel Corp., of Woburn, Mass., is spearheading the initiative, dubbed SIPfoundry, by releasing its SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) software platform into the open-source world as well as by forming a nonprofit organization to give legal and technical assistance to open-source developers working with voice over IP. Pingtels mission, officials said, is to do for IP telephony what Apache and Linux have done for enterprise servers.
The open-source VOIP effort will pull together several projects, including Vovida, an open-source SIP effort used by Vonage, and Resiprocate, which provides a SIP stack and tool kit that allow developers to build applications that use SIP to initiate a session and establish communication.
Pingtel formed SIPfoundry to shepherd efforts to create open-source IP telephony, messaging, presence and collaboration software. An initial proposed board of directors for SIPfoundry comprises people who have worked on open-source IP telephony projects, including Robert Sparks, Cullen Jennings and Jason Fischl from the Resiprocate and Vovida projects; Bob Andreasen and Dan Petrie of Pingtel; and Martin Steinmann of St. Paul Venture Capital.
"SIPfoundrys objective is to represent the SIP community and offer the premier repository for information for the development of VOIP," said Steinmann, in Woburn. "It is a nonprofit company we incorporated as a completely independent entity to be the overall umbrella organization to care for SIP-based activities in the open-source community. Its governance structure is open to others to join. ... By bringing together existing, functioning communities that have proven they can deliver on key components of the infrastructure, [SIPfoundry] has the critical mass."
SIPfoundry will also work to ensure interoperability of implementations "across a broader set of industry players," Steinmann said.
Whether SIPfoundry will be successful depends on how well the market embraces an open-source approach to VOIP, analysts say. Without a single point of contact to go to when something goes wrong in an open-source IP PBX, the project could face an uphill battle.
"If this were to take root, it could really shake up the enterprise PBX market as its structured right now," said Brian Riggs, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va. "But the movement from systems to software has not really been complemented by any real movement from proprietary to open systems."
Its possible that the initiative is too early in the development of the IP telephony market, Riggs said. "Im not entirely convinced that this meets a need or solves a problem. As IP telephony staffs gain more experience supporting software-based telephony platforms, this sort of strategy seems like something that they would be interested in. As it stands now, a lot of the individuals implementing IP telephony networks arent accustomed to thinking of the software this way."
No one knows how well enterprises will embrace open-source VOIP, said Jennings, who is also an engineer in Cisco Systems Inc.s voice technologies group in San Jose, Calif. "A lot wont care how they bought their technology. They are interested that theres some way to support it."
Thanks to the involvement of open-source projects, anyone doing development a year from now will be aware of the ongoing work in SIPfoundry, Jennings said. "I think that within the [telecommunications] engineering community—people who actually build SIP phone systems—everyone will be aware of what code they can use [and] what it does."
Still, large industry vendors wont welcome the initiative with open arms. "What were doing is very disruptive," St. Pauls Steinmann said.
The first open-source release under SIPfoundry will be Pingtels source code for its SIPxchange IP PBX and Instant Xpressa soft phones, under the GNU Lesser General Public License.
With the release of its intellectual property into the open-source community, Pingtel will shift its business model to sell a subscription service. "We will acquire open source code on a regular basis, test it on different hardware and SIP platforms, and certify it to work with those platforms," President and CEO Bill Rich said. "We will offer the best of both worlds—low cost and the flexibility of open-source software with the support you get with a proprietary solution."