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The Open Source Route to VoIP - (vendor selection)

Asterisk, from Digium, was a huge success for Lifestyle Communities.

When Lifestyle Communities Ltd. took the Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) plunge about three years ago, it purchased an Avaya Inc. private branch exchange (PBX) switch for its headquarters office in Columbus, Ohio. But when IT Director Tom Roberts decided to roll out VoIP to branch offices, he found a cheaper and more flexible alternative to Avaya's advanced features: Asterisk, Digium Inc.'s open source PBX.

Asterisk enables four-digit dialing among locations, advanced call routing and database lookups. It's working so well that the company plans to swap out Avaya for Asterisk when it moves into a new downtown headquarters next year, Roberts says. To connect branch offices with corporate, Lifestyle purchased a Digium single-port T-1 card and hooked it up with a T-1 crossover cable to the Avaya PBX.

There are no licensing fees for the software, but Roberts "did send our main system admin to acquire an Asterisk certification," he says. The system can connect to Lifestyle's customer relationship management applications so that employees browsing Web pages can dial any telephone number by just clicking on it.

And Roberts, an open source enthusiast, also uses Asterisk at home. His two preteen daughters can have separate conversations with friends at the same time, just like execs juggle lines one and two at the office. "We haven't had a telemarketer get through since implementing it." That's because Asterisk has what it calls an "ex-girlfriend," which basically screens and dumps preprogrammed numbers like spam.

Anne McCrory is editorial director of CIO Decisions and the CIO Decisions conference. Write to her at

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