Open-source routing vendors don't agree that their products don't match the capabilities provided by proprietary vendors. Dave Roberts, vice president of strategy and marketing at Vyatta, says that the company is in discussions with a number of companies of varying sizes that want to keep costs in check while being able to change source code to meet their needs. Open-source offers this capability, and proprietary systems don't, he says.
But some companies don't have the technical expertise needed to tweak open-source code to meet their own needs, counter Rao and Cisco officials. Universities, which have students and staff with technical expertise, are notable exceptions. And even companies with some technical expertise may not have the necessary open-source knowledge to maintain the systems on their own. American Fiber Solutions, for example, contracted with Asterisk creator Digium for technical support as well as for the Asterisk system itself.
Bill Miller, vice president of product management and marketing at Digium, admits that most of his company's customers are those with some internal expertise. But he says Digium also provides support for those customers and prospects that need it.
Cisco counters cost claim
Joe Burton, Cisco's director for engineering for unified communications, counters that once the cost of support is factored in, Cisco's system is competitive on price with open-source systems. Additionally, he says, Cisco uses open-source, notably the Apache Web server, in some of its products.
"We believe that open-source is strong in some areas," Burton says. "We have a history of contributing to it, of leveraging Linux, Apache and other open-source code. We continue to look at the cost of our own solution to ensure that the full cost of ownership compares favorably to others in the market. As long as we continue to provide the right total value to our customers, we'll continue to get our fair share of the business."
Though the router market is certainly newer, Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst at Infonetics Research, says that there is room for open-source products in this part of the market. He wouldn't call them a threat to Cisco, however, because the entire market itself is growing.
"Open-source is growing like wildfire, but the whole pie is getting bigger," Machowinski says. As there is more demand for routers and IP PBX systems, the open-source companies can succeed without taking any significant market share away from Cisco, though Avaya might have some more competition at the lower end of the market, he contends.
"What would be more of a threat would be someone providing a ready-to-use open-source solution" with no coding needed, Machowinski says.
Even so, Sam Houston University's Daniel suggests that Cisco will have to rethink its licensing practices to make its IP PBX offering cost-competitive with open-source products.
Adds Agate, "This could make a big impact on Cisco. This is the way that voice over IP will be done in the future."
Phillip Britt is president of S&P Enterprises, an editorial services firm. In that capacity, he has covered technology subjects for 15 years for several national publications.