The advantages of the Asterisk technology, according to Ciminelli, are that American Fiber was able to overlay its old dialing plan with its new dialing plan, enabling users to start using either one. In addition, the networked solution enables American Fiber's telecommunications systems at two locations to work independently of each other if necessary.
Though Cisco's system boasts similar features, there is some loss of functionality if the connections between the offices are severed, according to Ciminelli. If that happens, the Asterisk system includes a backup via Time Division Multiplexing to the second office. The user wouldn't realize the connection had been severed, he says. Cisco could only provide that type of backup with duplicate equipment at each office.
This feature, plus others, such as the ability for each user to set up conference bridges (rather than having to go through a central administrator), as well as price, factored in the decision to pick an open-source system over Cisco and similar competitors, Ciminelli says.
"Sometimes you have to move outside of your comfort zone," Ciminelli explains of his decision to listen to the open-source proposal. "Sometimes you just have to put your prejudices aside and look at competing systems."
Ciminelli, whose firm provides metropolitan fiber systems, expects open-source technologies to make an increasingly bigger impact in the telecommunications portion of the market.
"As voice becomes more of an application, there is a lot less value associated with the name tags on the box," he contends.
Why Cisco may not need to worry
However, Ciminelli is in the minority, and open-source right now represents only a very small fraction of the market, according to Krithi Rao, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
"Most of the companies changing to open-source are in the small and middle-size business market," Rao says. "Most of the large companies, which is the market where Cisco concentrates, are going to stay with Cisco. Open-source is a niche market right now."
Others see open-source as a trend that could impact Cisco's business, though perhaps only with IP PBX units. Vyatta provides an open-source router product but is much newer in the market, so it's too early to determine its potential impact, analysts say.
Vyatta's free Open Flexible Router, like Asterisk, runs on off-the-shelf software. Yet Vyatta offers the same WAN routing and security features as the proprietary technologies.
Even Sam Houston University, which is converting to Asterisk, is maintaining its Cisco routers and not switching to an open-source router system, says Aaron Daniel, the institution's senior voice analyst.
"We're replacing Cisco [IP PBX] with Asterisk because it's more cost-effective," Daniel says. "With Cisco, we have to pay a license fee with each additional phone. With Asterisk, we don't have the license and our technical team can make any changes that we need."
But the open-source infrastructure offerings aren't as good right now as the more traditional systems, he believes, so "we will remain a Cisco shop" in terms of infrastructure," Daniel says. "Open-source [routing] solutions tend to be slower."