Thursday, December 15, 2005

I'm back!

Hi all -

Sorry for the dropout - pushing to get some stuff done around here.

Here's a really, really interesting arcticle from Yahoo :
Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that relies on volunteers to pen nearly 4 million articles, is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica, the journal Nature wrote in an online article published Wednesday.
ADVERTISEMENT

The finding, based on a side-by-side comparison of articles covering a broad swath of the scientific spectrum, comes as Wikipedia faces criticism over the accuracy of some of its entries.

Two weeks ago prominent journalist John Seigenthaler, the former publisher of the Tennessean newspaper and founding editorial director of USA Today, revealed that a Wikipedia entry that ran for four months had incorrectly named him as a longtime suspect in the assassinations of president John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert.

Such errors appear to be the exception rather than the rule, Nature said in Wednesday's article, which the scientific journal said was the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia to Britannica. Based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.


This is really important, because it says that community efforts can stand aside commercial efforts, and be of equivalent quality. Of course, this is what Ernie is going to depend on.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Joe Batista and Commoditization

Well, I had the most interesting morning with Joe Batista, the "chief creatologist" of Hewlett Packard. A quick bio :

Joseph (Joe) Batista, Director & Chief Creatologist at Hewlett Packard (HP) Corporation, is responsible for building new business realties leveraging HP’s portfolio of assets, and driving new growth, strategy and implementation agendas that deliver real business results.

As you might know, I'm a former chairman of the Cape Cod Technology Council, which sort of sounds like "President of the Orleans Kiwanis". In a way, it is, but with a twist. Tons of successful Boston area executives and engineers have houses down here on the Cape, Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard, and they all have a vested interest in seeing high tech on the Cape flourish. So, we tend to have excellent speakers come to our breakfasts. As an example, we had the director of NASA's Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC), who has a house here, speak to us about all the neat 10 to 40 year projects that NASA is working on, including anti-matter drives and hopper bots. And yes, it does sound like Star Trek. That's because the producers of Star Trek make regular visits to NIAC for TV show fodder. Yes, anti-matter drives are a real project, ableit nascent, at NASA. Cool, huh? But, I digress.

Joe was speaking to us about the new economy, where the real asset is ideas. As part of this, he spoke about commoditization, and used as real world examples Clorox and coffee beans. Now, here's an excellent take away based on coffee beans. It doesn't take a creatologist to relate this to today's world of telephony:

Commodity == coffee beans, 1-2 cents per pound
Product == Maxwell house coffee, $1.25 per pound
Service == Dunkin Donuts Coffee, $1.25 per cup
Experience == Starbucks Coffee, $2-$5 per cup

I'll leave you with a quote from Pulp Fiction :

                                 BUDDY
How 'bout you, Peggy Sue?

MIA
I'll have the Durwood Kirby burger
-- bloody -- and a five-dollar
shake.

BUDDY
How d'ya want that shake, Martin
and Lewis, or Amos and Andy?

MIA
Martin and Lewis.

VINCENT
Did you just order a five-dollar
shake?

MIA
Sure did.

VINCENT
A shake? Milk and ice cream?

MIA
Uh-huh.

VINCENT
It costs five dollars?

BUDDY
Yep.

VINCENT
You don't put bourbon in it or
anything?

BUDDY
Nope.

VINCENT
Just checking.



Later...
VINCENT
Can I have a sip of that? I'd like
to know what a five-dollar shake
tastes like.

MIA
Be my guest.

She slides the shake over to him.

MIA
You can use my straw, I don't have
kooties.

Vincent smiles.

VINCENT
Yeah, but maybe I do.

MIA
Kooties I can handle.

He takes a sip.

VINCENT
Goddamn! That's a pretty fuckin'
good milk shake.

MIA
Told ya.

VINCENT
I don't know if it's worth five
dollars, but it's pretty fuckin'
good.

He slides the shake back.



Thursday, December 01, 2005

Made me fall off my chair!!!!

Ok - this has nothing to do with anything, but this was SO funny, it made me fall off my chair. Anyone who's ever been an engineer has a story like this one, but this is so over the top, I just had to share....

No matter how much resolve you could muster, it was still difficult to quit Apple if Steve wanted you to stay. You'd have to sit down with him for a reality distortion session, which was often effective at getting people to change their minds. One day, a few of us were talking about strategies to overcome Steve's persuasiveness.

"I've got it!", said Burrell. "I know the perfect way to quit that will nullify the reality distortion field."

Of course we wanted to know how he could do that.

"I'll just walk into Steve's office, pull down my pants, and urinate on his desk. What could he say to that? It's guaranteed to work." We laughed, thinking that not even Burrell would have the guts to do that.

A year and a half later, it finally was time for Burrell to quit, after months of scuffling with Bob Belleville and some of the other managers, who wanted to cancel the "Turbo Mac" project (a redesigned, faster Mac based on a semi-custom chip, with an internal hard drive) that Burrell was working on with Brian Howard and Bob Bailey.

Burrell told Bob Belleville (who was probably relieved, since he knew that Burrell didn't respect him) and the human resources department that he was quitting, and then made an appointment to see Steve that afternoon. When he walked into Steve's office, he was surprised to see Steve grinning at him.

"Are you gonna do it? Are you really gonna do it?", asked Steve. Somehow, word about the urination threat had gotten back to Steve, and he was genuinely curious if Burrell would go through with it or not.

Burrell looked Steve in the eye. "Do I have to? I'll do it if I have to."

Steve's expression gave him the answer, so Burrell turned and walked out of the office, no longer an Apple employee.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

It's Mobicents day!

One question that might come to mind is, if Mobicents exists, why would Ernie?

Well, that's an excellent question. From where I sit, I would answer it like this: If C++ exists, why then have Visual Basic? Well, the answer to both is that sometimes you need to script a solution, and sometimes you need to build it from the ground up. Scripting is excellent for smaller applications and for integration with a bunch of technologies, components, etc. Fully featured development environments are a must for any sort of large feature development, or ones that involve many developers. Mobicents is an implementation of JSLEE, as are offerings from Ubiquity and others. Chances are though, in my office inside a small ISP, the web developer would really, really rather see a Python or TCL API than Java.

There's really room for both.

Open Source IMS

Well, I found this excellent post quoting the leader (Ivelin Ivanov) of Mobicents.org. For those of you who don't follow it, mobicents is an open source implementation of a JSLEE platform. From their site:

Mobicents is the first and only Open Source VoIP Platform certified for JSLEE 1.0 compliance. Mobicents brings to telecom applications a robust component model and execution environment. It complements J2EE to enable convergence of voice, video and data in next generation intelligent applications.

In his post, he makes an excellent argument why telecom providers need an open source solution, and the success that open source has had in making services horizontal, radically increasing the amount of applications available for a market. Of course, I couldn't agree more.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ernie's been PodCasted

Sometimes speaking is easier than writing - Adam Uzelac interviewed me for his podcast. I've tried to put down some of where I think Ernie is going - have a listen.

Ernie has it's first sponsor!


Hey - a big shout out to cape.com, for agreeing to sponsor the Ernie server. Currently got plans to unveil the big Ernie site right after New Year's... so now Ernie has a home. Thanks!

Ernie Application : *P

This is an excellent one from Alec. Basically, a standard way to make payments from your phone using a PayPal Web 2.0 API. Just press *P.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Om Malik's Applications

More examples of great applications that Ernie could enable, and supporting Adam's thoughts, this time described by Om Malik. The future will certainly contain multi-player games.

Jon Arnold with an Application

Jon's looking for those applications too... from his blog:

The best takeaway message for me was the importance of having applications that cater to the specific needs of a law firm. Peter explains how it's great to use VoIP to replicate what they had before - law firms are not early adopters, and are not looking for the multimedia richness of IP - at least now. However, what he's looking forward to are third party apps that can help him address specific problems, such as billing - something lawyers are quite fond of. In the TDM world, this simply wasn't possible or practical, but with IP it's easy, and Peter looks forward to being able to pick and choose apps from various developers that suit him just right.

Peter certainly echoes the importance of apps being the real drivers of value, and the same story will hold for countless other vertical markets. So, for all the developers out there, this podcast should be a good listen.

Ernie's Alive!

Or getting there... I'm busy documenting the basics of Ernie on my site, and will forward that link when I'm done. Until then, look! Ernie has a rough architecture diagram!

More Ernie Applications

From an e-mail conversation with Adam Uzelac, a whole host of potential Ernie applications... Not fully baked, but very exciting...


How about this one...think houseingmaps.com - I am a person that is
looking to buy a house in an area that I do not know. So as I am
driving around looking at the general areas, I enable Ernie as my
"housing agent". I get fed not only the location of houses that are for
sale in the area that I just stumbled on, but I also select the one that
interests me, and I get an IVR that calls me up and spews info about
house - like a verbal walk-thru. This Ernie-app was invoked once I
found the area of interest. Could couple in a "click to call rep" like
feature - though I do have to say that I think Real Estate Agents aren't
worth what they get paid - but I digress....

Another one might be a weather advisory service, similar to the old
sirens that would sound when there was a Tornado sighting. (I grew up in
Michigan) Ernie is tied into some local weather source, and based on
input from that, a SIP-based "siren" alerts subscribers.

How about via Paypal API - and some PINcode-like authorization, being
able to make a purchase somewhere, with a audio and textual
confirmation. This one I am not so sure about - but just brainstorming.

I betcha there's a TON of applicability in the gaming world. Think of a
'Live game' that involves location, SIP-based calls, and live status on
a frappr map. DND-like: (Phone) "You have an alley within a mile, and
an enemy also within a mile in the opposite location." (/Phone) and you
have to decide where to go. Treasure Hunt: (Phone), "Your getting
warmer..." (/Phone).

Just some thoughts.....

How many VoIP Providers are there?

A note to all of you out there: here's a pretty interesting site looking to rank the VoIP providers in the world, based on price. What's even more interesting is the criteria they use for ranking : price. Hmmmm.... Alec is right. We are acting like a commodity market.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Ernie Applications

So, I'm on a hunt for possible Ernie applications, in some way to describe what the thing will do, but also to try to illustrate the hole in the space. The first place I'm looking for applications is the intersection of Web 2.0 APIs with the telephony/SIP space.

Of all the Web 2.0 APIs that are being used, it looks like google maps is the among the most common. I figured this out by looking at a list of mashups, and I looked at what they were using. Another one is this API that maps an IP address to a physical location. It doesn't get it EXACTLY right, and won't work if you are doing a VPN, but it does work OK for most purposes. It's how those "Do you want to date somebody in South Dennis?" windows pop up on your screen. I happen to live in North Dennis, but it's close enough.

So, imagine the neat things you can do with your phone if you could use these two APIs in the call handling....
  • An inbound SIP call can be routed on geography to the right salesperson.
  • Using a SIP client (in your handset, desk, whatever), you call for a restaurant. Recommendations are made based on where you are.
  • Same deal, but call to see what movies are playing nearby.
  • You can run a call contact center, and see where (on a map) your callers are, and use that to help route products (pizzas, whatever)
The point is that these are just two of the Web 2.0 APIs, and there are certainly many dozens you can use. Voice applications platforms should be naturally and deeply ready to be integrated with them. This is what Ernie is trying to do.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Ernie Visions

At lunch today, I was trying to tell some geeky friends what Ernie
was going to be. It was a good experience, because they were geeky,
but not necessarily next-generation geeky. Here's the tag line I
came up with: Ernie wants to be the Apache of communications.
Imagine the tens, and probably hundreds, of thousands of users,
integrators and consultants that take Apache and create web
applications with it. They add value by integration, custom web page
development, whatever. The basic point of Apache isn't that it's an
application, but that it enables them. Ernie is just like that, but
for real time communications. By real time communications, I mean it
will cover not only voice, but IM and presence.

As part of the Ernie movement, we need to come up with a number of
applications that come off the shelf. I like doing a voice form, a
presence based routing application and maybe voice mail. We need a
good, open source voice mail program, don't you think? I should
probably poll this.

One more thought for the future - wouldn't it be cool if the entire
interface to Ernie was a web page? You could log in, load your
script, run it and test it. If you could do that, then we could
setup trial Ernie servers so that developers could log in, create
applications, and test from their desktops. That would be too cool.

Put thy money where thou mouth dost lie



Well, I think I'm just about finished bashing Asterisk, although I have ONE more way to improve it to go. I'm going to save that for later. Now that it's out of my system, I want to tell all of you (the three people who read this, including my Mom and my girlfriend), that I've picked an open source project, and I've started to prepare it inside my little office on Cape Cod.

The open source project is called the "Open Applications Project", or as I'm going to call it, Ernie. Ernie is a software application and library that developers can use to create communications centric services. It will integrate presence, voice and web services features together, and present them to the applications developer in a web scripting API. The API will be appropriate to create typical voice applications such as voice mail, auto attendants or call centers, as well as next generation applications like presence based routing or voice-bots.

Architecturally, the application will be complete standards compliant, appropriately disaggregated, scalable and business ready. This means that it will be as SIPPY as it could practically be (although there's an emphasis on practical, here). It can be run standalone, but be architected so that external hardware accelerators can be used. As an example, it will probably have an interface so that we can use a Convedia or Snowshore media server for higher density operations. It will be business ready, so will have native hooks and interfaces for billing and account management.

Why Ernie? Well, I like Ernie. He's a rebel, he's an anarchist, and he's just slightly smarter than Burt. There's a personal connection here too, and I just want to emphasize that I look nothing like Ernie. Well, not too much.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What should be fixed in Asterisk #2

The cult of personality.

Mark Spencer is certainly a most excellent man, and we all owe to him a big thanks for what he's done for our industry. It's time, though, to recognize that the real power of open source is in the community, and not in the business interests of the main sponsor. As you might be aware, openpbx.org is a fork from the Asterisk code base. Apparently, there were those that felt that there was too much control exerted by the current Asterisk leadership and too many strings from Digium. From their site:

-------------------------------------------------------------
Here are a few things to highlight the reasons for this fork:

Wanted community input and control, No single person can stop progress.
We will use the best of code that already exists. (ie apr, rtp stacks and sip stacks)
We will not reinvent the wheel if it is not necessary.
We will not have the dual license concerns
We will not allow business decisions to affect software development.
Everyone can commit without having to disclaim copyrights.
We can't compete with our customers because we are all on the same level.
-------------------------------------------------------------

Now, anyone that is a software engineer knows that forks are probably bad. Now that I've had time to consider it, I think the fork is unfortunate. I would like to see more energy going into the advancement of open source, and less energy on politics and duplicate efforts. Unfortunately, the existence of openpbx and asterisk ensures plenty of waste and politics for a while to come.

So... for the benefit of the industry, I encourage Mark to listen to the concerns of the openpbx crowd, because they have a point. And, to all the openPBX members, I'll just say that you would do well with keeping Mark around as a leader. He's good, and he's proven.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ooohh... it's a growing mob!

MORE people are pissed. Vive le revolution!

The best things I saw at the IT show...

First, I need to take one company out of the running - Iotum. I have interests there that conflict with a completely impartial analysis. Let's just say that Iotum is really rocking, and I completely agree with the always intelligent Jon Arnold.

So, Iotum aside, here's my top three places:

1) Xelor Software : Xelor makes software that works directly with your existing Cisco infrastucture to automatically configure it to live up to VoIP standards. An excellent management team, with Mark Reid from PictureTel, Steven Guthrie from PingTel and Rob Scott from a host of excellent plces.

From their site : Xelor Software provides the first proactive solution to address the three major challenges facing enterprises with IP telephony: the reliability of phone service, the performance of the converged network, and the quality of each call.

The company’s software has been in development for more than three years. The core research and development was undertaken at the Australian Telecommunications Cooperative Research Centre (ATcrc) in Perth, Western Australia. Leveraging years of experience focusing on QoS issues for ATM networks, the initial engineering team applied the maturing standards for Class of Service for Layer 2 networks and Differentiated Service for Layer 3 networks to the fast-growing convergence of voice and data on a single network.

2) Inveneo.org : Only an altruistic geek could come up with this one... it's a wonderful thing to see. Inveneo is a non-profit company that creates products to be placed in ultra-remote places that enable communications infrastructure. I saw their solution that takes a bicycle, attaches a generator to it, then uses it to power a VoIP system. Now, who does that remind you of?


From their site: A low cost, ruggedized, pedal and solar-powered PC and communications system that provides remote villages access to simple computing, voice calling, e-mail and the Internet.

3) SiVox : The company I mentioned that did the call agent training software. It was really, very cool.

I'm not the only one grumbling at the IT show

Can you believe that it costs me $5.00 an hour to do this? I'm at the Internet Telephony show in LA, and they charge us $5.00 an hour for WiFi access, and then they limit the bandwidth to 64kbps. They are so generous. And I'm not the only pissed off one, either. I say we hack'em.

At the IT show...

Well, there's a marked difference between the Pulver show and the IT show. At the last Pulver show, I noticed a considerable lack of small companies, leading me to believe that it was growing harder to have a small company in the VoIP space. Now that I've been to the IT show, I've found them again. I'll hunt the show floor today and give you a list of the companies I think are exciting, but not well known.

What should be fixed in Asterisk #3

I'm at the Internet Telephony show, and a friend commented that I really didn't like Asterisk. I said that wasn't quite right, because I liked it for being an open source iPBX for Linux. I just didn't like that everyone was morphing it into these very un-PBX like applications. I understand that their options are quite small, and Asterisk will get the basic job done, but it is very square peggish. Which brings me to #3....

Stop spending time working on anything that's not PBX-ish. For instance, I hear about Asterisk being used for LCR and predictive dialing all the time. ACD functions as well. These functions are not really in the realm of PBXs, but of call centers and class 4 switchees. Imagine spending that time making a really, really cool soft client (or management dashboad) for Asterisk. From the looks of it, iaxcomm hasn't been updated in 10 months. How about we all goose that for a while?
Imagine that it will tell you all the states of the people on the phone, give you a visual call directory, click to dial, integrated with presence, Outlook, etc. That would be so hot. We had that back at Netphone in 1996, and it made my life as a manager SO much easier. Want an example of what I'm talking about? Check out the Gizmo project. So very cool....

One really cool application

One of the things I'm afraid of is that I'm full of sh*t. I mean, I'm not pulling a fast one on anybody intentionally, but predicting the future is a tricky business. As a former CTO, and as a whatever-I-am now, I make a lot of statements about how I think the world is, and where it's going, and there's always this voice in the back of my head that says "Are you really sure about that?"

My biggest gut wrenching comes when I talk about next generation voice applications. I've been saying, as have many others, that next generation applications are going to be important, and will drive service providers. The voice inside my head screams "Prove it."

So, here's some proof, and maybe the voices will stop. (Maybe I should just up the dosage on my medication, too.) I met with a company at the Internet Telephony show yesterday called SIVOX (www.sivox.com) that makes a call agent performance suite. It's an application that trains call agents using real time simulations. Their customer (I think it was SBC) has hundreds of scenarios designed to train the people that answer their phones. The one I heard was an irate customer calling into a health care company. The application comes with an agent screen to tell you what to say, like, "I'm sorry to hear that, sir. Could you please give me you social security number, and I'll look it up?" If you don't say the right thing, an integrated speech recognition engine will detect it, and a talking head (called a coach) will tell you what to do. At the end, you get scored.

Now, isn't that a cool application? It's a perfect example, because it relies so heavily on computer/telephone/human interaction. This is the second cool application I've found around the training space. So, I know that, at least for this vertical, next generation applications will be important. So, shut up voices. I said shut up!!!!

Monday, October 24, 2005

What should be fixed in Asterisk #4

How about making SIP the backbone of the application?

Let's talk about the future of telephony, especially in the enterprise. Telephony in the enterprise is all about SIP. Sorry, let's fix that... ALL ABOUT SIP. At this point, it's really not even up for serious discussion. Any enterprise infrastructure will probably live and die on it's ability to play well in a SIP architecture. A quick check on the Net shows some hard clients that support IAX, which I suppose is inevitable. But, the number of SIP endpoints far outweighs the number of IAX endpoints. The functionality in SIP far outweighs IAX. That's not to say that IAX doesn't do firewalls better, because it does. But IAX and SIP are fundamentally different, and SIP is fundamentally better. Any iPBX that isn't very, very SIPPY is going to lose to one that is.

Another example of voice form

I have a friend who is sitting in the office with me who runs a VAR that caters to the HR departments for governments, health care facilities, etc. We were sitting and speaking about what sorts of applications could be done when you integrated next generation applications and HR. Here's one that we came up with:

Imagine voice forms used to do job applications. Instead of filling out a form, you would have your applicants call on the phone. They could speak their name, type in a phone number and answer some yes or no questions. For instance, have you ever worked at a fast food restaurant before? How many years? For Burger King, press 1. For McDonalds, press 2.

Now, that's not bad. But, here's where it goes nutty - add an online quiz. You want to be a waiter in my restaurant? Here's the quiz I'd give...

"A customer asks if a Pinot Noir is a good wine to have with lamb. Is this a good pairing? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no."
"When you are waiting for your customers, do you wait in the kitchen? Press 1 for yes, 2 for no."
"Please press the number of times you've been arrested for DUI. "
"You pressed 0. I'm sorry, but every good waiter has had at least one DUI. I'm sorry, you are unsuitable." (Just joking here... well, not really. It's one of the biggest reasons I was never an excellent waiter. No big drinkers in my family.)

Now, lots of value here for everyone. Quality control on hiring. Value added for the person who installs the system. Indepenent experts who start to create their own tests to determine skill levels.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Real Life Example of Voice Form

Here's an auto-attendantee example of how you could write a form based application:

Imagine you own a heating and air conditioning company, and you want your phones to work like this: When someone calls into your shop, you want the phone to be answered with your company greeting. It says "For faster service, please enter your home telephone number. " If the phone number matches a current customer, find the owner right away on his cell phone, home phone, whatever. If the phone number doesn't, bring it to an operator or to voice mail. With a form based application, that's maybe a few hundred lines of VxML and PHP, a $500.00 computer, a SIP infrastructure.... and that's it.

Here's to irony... I signed up for google ads, and it places adds up there that relate to what I'm writing about. But, everytime I criticize Asterisk, it puts Asterisk ads up there!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Voice Forms

So, I feel like I'm gravitating to an open source project. I'm thinking about taking the SIP forum toolkits, and their VXML effort (whereever that's at), and making an open source tool to host "voice forms" and other voice based applications. A voice form is a VXML script that interacts with a caller, and asks for certain information and stores it into database. It's possible to take the results of the voice form and send the caller to another place. The main functionality would be voice forms, but things like Auto Attendants and ACD applications would be supported as well. It would be software only, but would support interfaces to standards based hardware for scalability reasons.

Writing voice forms is pretty easy - very much like writing HTML. One goal of the project would be to allow anybody to deploy a SIP based voip form from scratch in about an hour, only using an off the shelf PC. A number of Voice Form examples would be shipped with the application, and the documentation and tutorials would be as complete as possible. From a business perspective, this would enable any company to quickly integrate voice into existing web infrastructures without requiring custom hardware.

I'll try to put this into better words after work...

Friday, October 07, 2005

OpenPBX.org

Not that I'm at all taking credit for this, but OpenPBX.org has forked the Asterisk code. According to them, the main reason was that they weren't able to get the changes they needed into the mainline of Asterisk. I think there's another reason too - the dual source licensing issue. Either way, asterisk now has an evil twin. I mean OpenPBX.org has an evil twin. Whatever.

Oh the humanity!!!!

I confessed to a friend this week that everytime I started to write about Asterisk, I felt like I was bashing it. He confessed to me that he was afraid sometimes to criticize it as well, because of the overwhelming popularity of the software, and the large number of smart people who liked it. His problem is that he's smart too - and obviously I'm not so smart. Hey, if you don't like it - ask for your money back.

So, I'm starting a top five list of things to fix in Asterisk... Number 5 : Replace that SIP stack! Last time I looked (which is about two minutes ago), there's a file called chan_sip.c, and that file holds the entire SIP stack. Oh my goodness, where do you start with that one? One file? The entire stack? Hello? I hate to be sarcastic here, but I DID hear that it will run faster if you put it all in a file.

If the IETF is producing a draft a week, exactly how does the asterisk community expect to keep up with an isolated implementation? Note to any asterisk developer out there : there's a thing called the SIP Foundry. Look into it - it's a good thing. Now, all of you check me on this... ever have any problems interoperating SIP devices with Asterisk? OK - so do you ever wonder why?

Ok, so if I'm Mr. Smarty Pants, why don't I go and fix this? Well, I just might. But I hope to be fixing a more fundamental thing. Open source is forever. I mean, come back in a long time, and you might just find it still hanging around. If this stuff is going to be with us for a long, long time... shouldn't we working on the architecture issues? Setting this stuff up so that we don't build a pile of code? I think we should, and my contribution for today is to look at the big picture and question it.

God d*mn - I do bash it every time I write. Mr. Spencer - it's nothing personal. I swear.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Session Border Controllers

Lately, I've been thinking and writing (for myself, mostly, but I'm going to send it off to the SIP Forum as well) about session border controllers in a pure SIP network. Here's what I've been able to come up with, and I wanted to share it with you:

1) As long as there are private interests that use the Internet, they will have their own networks they attach to the Internet, and will therefore create a boundary. These boundaries will most likely contain sessions, and they will require control. Therefore, somewhere, there will be seesion border controllers.

2) If pressed to boil them down to their essence, SBCs would perform authentication, encryption, media traffic control and execute policy decisions.

3) Since policy decisions will most likely be complicated, and might tightly integrate with many third party technologies and programs, I think it will be essentially software based. That is, I don't expect this function of SBCs to live in firewalls any time soon.

As I look at Asterisk and SER today, I don't really see either one being excellent at SBC functionality. Here's one hole in the open source world.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Even more about asterisk...

A friend pinged me this morning and asked why I was so negative on Asterisk. It's a good question, and let me make one thing clear - I'm not all negative about it. I think that Asterisk is a wonderful thing in many ways. It's been the first and most succesful open source effort in IP telephony. I am a firm believer in the open source movement. It's radically lowered the entry cost for all IP telephony. It's an abassador for VoIP.

More than that, I want to make it PERFECTLY clear that I have nothing against Mark Spencer. In the few times which we've spoken, he's been nothing but gracious and modest. I'm happy for his success. He's a very smart guy. I wish him all the money and Chateau Neuf Du Pape in the world.

So, why the constant diatribe? Simple. I think that open source software is for eternity. I can imagine a time in a thousand years where people use the software we write today. And, if you don't believe me, just look at the COBOL market. It still exists, and there is every reason why it shouldn't. Now, if we are about the business of writing long term software, I think we need to look carefully at what we have, and think deeply about the path it should take. Software engineering teaches us that the choices we make early in the process have very large effects downstream. Take this to the logical consequence... if we are writing software for a 100 years, shouldn't we really deeply think about the architecture today?

Monday, September 26, 2005

My problem with Asterisk

Well, thanks to the History channel, I have my answer about why Asterisk bothers me so much.

I was watching this show on Sunday morning (yes, before church, Mom), and they had a show on about a spy. As part of the show, they mentioned this German airplane that was a "fighter bomber specially modified for reconnaissance". That made my stomach twist up in a knot. The plane was ugly, was probably too slow to be a really good fighter, and couldn't carry enough weight to be a decent bomber, and where are they going to put all that reconnaissance equipment? And these guys are German! They should WAY know better than that. Maybe that was one of the times when all the good German engineers had fled or were bringing the place down from the inside.

And that's my basic issue with Asterisk. It is a project that aims to do everything. And, will someone tell me just how you optimize for everything? In the real world, you either have something that's strong in one area, and weak in the others, or just a very mediocre but rounded effort. Now, I understand that, next to the SER proxy, it's the only strong game in town. I've always been a PingTel fan, but anyone at the VON show would see that Asterisk is ruling the show floor these days.

Well, you know, history might not repeat itself, but it sure as hell rhymes.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Go, maddog, go!

Brazenly stolen from a Network World article... Mad Dog tells us exactly why open source will be succesful:

"You must be telecommunications people who expect your software to work," said speaker John "maddog" Hall, executive director of Linux International. His riposte came after he received a smaller-than-expected response to his request for a show of hands of how many people in the audience had sent bug reports to software companies and then actually had the bugs fixed.

Some 850 million people globally use software and 250 million of them want to change it in some way, Hall said. "I know because they've told me - all 250 million of them have told me." Of that number, 250 million actually have time to make a change, while 65 million have the expertise. In the end, 33 million software users will actually change software code to suit their needs, he said.

Hall also took a swipe at Microsoft. He noted that for a company in China that brings in $1,000 annually in revenue buying Microsoft Office is the equivalent of paying $40,000 in the U.S. "If I had to pay $40,000 for Microsoft Office, I'd put a black patch over my eye and go, 'Arr, arr, arr! I'm a software pirate!' "

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

VON Show... Continued

The real problem with the VON show is the speed of it all. It really moves super-fast, and by the end of the day, you don't even remember the beginning of it. I think it was a pretty good show, but it seems like it is now dominated by the larger companies selling larger products. I remember the time when many of the companies were small - we used to play a game counting the number of new phones from Asia. Now, every company has a big product selling into a big market.

I spoke today about SBCs in a pure sip network... here's the presentation.
http://www.thomashowe.com/FinalVONPresentation.pdf

Monday, September 19, 2005

Mark Spencer isn't Stupid

I suppose anyone who knows me knows I'm not a big fan of Asterisk. I'm just not a fan of any software, no... make that any THING, that purports to be all things to all people. Maybe that's because I find it hard enough to be something to somebody. That aside, Mr. Spencer taught me some things during his talk today - I wanted to pass it along.

During his talk, he mentioned that open source was right for telecom. First, it's a very large market, and there are plenty of opportunities for players of every size. Second, it's a very technical direct market, where most of the direct consumers of the technology were tech savy. There's a very large incentive for open source software, and can save service providers lots of money. There's an extreme need for customization, since differentiation is critical for carriers, and open source really shines here. And finally, the barriers to entry for open source don't exist as they do on the desktop.

Mark's dead-on with this. I don't think it answers how you can do projects that require very large team efforts to accomplish, but that's OK. It does give a great answer for the smaller projects.

Shoot - I might even start to like Asterisk someday. Until then, I want my money back. Oh yeah - it's open source, so I can't ask for my money back.

First day at the Pulver show

Well, like the change of seasons, the VON show is now upon us, and I spent most of the day at the Open Source summit fishing for new ideas. Basically, I think I confirmed in my mind that the vast majority of success in open source has been in the Enterprise and new carrier market. I asked the panel if they thought that large carriers and open source was necessarily a bad combination. They remarked that they thought large carriers would, and in fact were, deploying open source based systems now. I wonder if they are deploying these solutions at the edge of their networks, or in some sort of trial. I can't imagine that they are replacing core equipment with it. I noticed that even the smaller service providers (that being Telio) had deployed open source solutions that were glued together with their own custom code. In other words, even the smaller carriers weren't taking single open source efforts off the shelf. They did say, and I believe it, that the SER proxy was the best of the available carrier class open source offerings. I do think that it's curious that every time they are asked about carrier class, they speak about scalability, without addressing other carrier concerns like fault tolerant hardware platforms, FCAPs or regulatory concerns such as CALEA. I'm not used to being a naysayer, but I wouldn't be worried about open source taking over Nortel's business, at least this year.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Oh - I'm public now

I suppose the cat's out of the bag now... I'm officially resigned from Versatel Networks. Here's the letter I've sent to family and friends...

==========================================
Dear friends, family and co-workers,

It is with great regret that I've handed in my letter of resignation as CTO of Versatel Networks effective at the end of September. A recent family event has made extensive travel impossible for me, and because of this, I can no longer serve Versatel in this capacity. As I am sure you know, I make my home on Cape Cod, and never thought I would retire in Canada - but I honestly hoped my stay would be longer. Luckily for me, and with the very generous support of the Versatel executive team, I will continue my association with Versatel as a consultant for some time to come. I have personally worked with over fifty companies in VoIP in the last ten years, and all of them have taught me something. Versatel, bar none, taught me how to treat customers right. They are truly world class in this regard, and I remain a student of their excellence.

I am going back to consulting, and will probably focus on open source development and consulting, writing and teaching. As this is a fairly challenging personal time for me, I would ask for your good thoughts and wishes, because I feel like I'm going need all of them.

Thanks,
Tom

Open source directions

I think I've come to a personal conclusion on where I'm going to spend my open source efforts : enterprises and smaller service providers. Coming from Versatel, I can see how even a company as excellent as they are have an uphill climb against the much larger Tier 1 vendors who supply to the carriers. Traditionally, the enterprise was all about channel, and if you didn't own the channel, you couldn't win the war. My bet is that the channel is now the Internet itself, and the days of the stupid phone installer are numbered. Instead, we are coming to the days of the stupid system administrator, and he goes to the Internet first.

In the very long term, the large service providers may simply be the ones that supply the best pipes, as sustainable differentiation becomes harder to maintain. It will be up to the smaller providers to come up with the niche applications that are compelling and add value. Adding to that, I know that the PBX is not a function that's going away anytime soon, and I wonder if any PBX vendor can win a long term battle against Chinese phones and asterisk.

That said, I think I'm staying with the smaller service providers and enterprises.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Shtoom...

Sounds like a start on an open source applications platform for VoIP... from their site.

Shtoom is a open-source, cross-platform VoIP softphone, implemented in Python. As well as the basic phone, the package also includes a number of other applications -

shtoomphone - the end-user phone
doug - a framework for writing server-side voip applications.
There's a number of applications implemented using doug that ship with shtoom.
shtam - a simple answering machine/voicemail application
shmessage - an announcement server
shtoomcu - a simple conferencing server
Shtoom works on Windows, Linux/Unix and Mac OS X. The phone has a number of user interfaces - Qt/KDE, Gtk/GNOME, wxWidgets, Cocoa (OS X), Tk and a command line.

The phone has audio support on Linux using OSS or ALSA, on OS X using native CoreAudio, and on all other platforms using the PortAudio library. A native sound drivers for Windows has been implemented as part of Pythonwin, and needs to be hooked up.

Shtoom requires Python 2.3 or later, and Twisted 1.3 or later.

Monday, September 12, 2005

And maybe there's....

monitoring software for VoIP. Measure QOS, traffic patterns, unauthorized intrusion? No real excellent CALEA story out there, never mind an open source effort around that. It'll be important for nearly eveyone, and could really improve the quality of VoIP for every service provider, and ensure security for enterprises....
I know that there are some good hacking tools, like SNORT, SNIFF and Ethereal that might be used as a start for a project.
Think, think, think....

Thursday, September 08, 2005

An interesting thing happened today... the comcast installer came to my house to install a new service (I just moved). And I realized that this whole VoIP thing was really happening, if there was a guy in my small town who's job was VoIP. I mean, someone else other than me.

One thing that's really hard for me, and probably anyone, is to time what's going to be next. I am thinking that we've got the whole world of IP services availble now for the picking. Any service that involves voice can now be pretty easily deployed into the network, and anyone can subscribe to it. The problem is that it still costs some pretty good money to deploy these services. Even at Versatel Networks (which makes a very excellent product, by the way), most customers are looking at tens of thousands to purchase the platform, and off they go.

I wonder what sort of impact would be made by a generalized service platform for VoIP, based on software and developed through open source. It would have an API that developers could write to, and handle prompt playing, recording, some mixing. It would be a SIP only device - no hardware. You write your application to the API, host it on the computer. Maybe make it really scalable, maybe make it fault tolerant....

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The search for an open source project...

Well, I'm now deep in the search for an open source project. Here's what I'm thinking about - VoIP Peering. A VoIP Peering and Interconnect BOF was held last month at the IETF meeting, and from what I hear, there was real involvement from the carriers. It's pretty clear (I think) that, in the long term, carriers MUST use IP peering when available because of cost reasons. Never mind what this means for the large amount of IP services that will follow afterwards.

This sort of goes with something else I'm thinking about - the principal of end to end transparency in the Internet. One knock against session border controllers is that they break the transparency rule in the Internet.

So, given that peering will be done over IP, but today's SBCs break transparency rules, what I'm thinking about is leading an open source effort to make an Open SBC. This Open SBC will follow a route more friendly to the IETF, and concentrate on executing policy between networks, establish authentication and encryption, maybe help with media routing and try to find some way of doing all of this without breaking the transparency rules. Or at least, as few as possible.

I feel like Pooh bear walking around, scratching his head saying "think, think".

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Back in the saddle again

I'm back... I'm back in the saddle again... For those of you who know this classic Aerosmith song, let me just say that I'll never be as nasty, raw or as excellent as Steven Tyler was when he recorded this song. But, we all need role models, and Mr. Tyler IS a local, so why not? I need a new wardrobe.

That said, I am back in the saddle again - back to consulting again after a sixteen month stint as the CTO of Versatel Networks. I'm actually leaving a little earlier than I imagined I would (for personal reasons), and I'm really rooting for my northern friends. They have an excellent product, and they are all excellent people. I hope I can treat my customers half as well as they do, because I've never seen better customer service.

Now that I'm back, it looks like I'll be focusing in on open source, writing, training and my old standby, custom engineering. Check in here to get the latest scoop about what's going on with me. Of course, if you happen to need a schmuck like me in your organization, just drop me a line. Back to the screaming....