Placing some Fonality on the PBX Business with Linux

It may be the last step in the PBX evolution. A GNU-based Linux application that mimics all a regular PBX can do for 40-80% less.

It may be the last step in the PBX evolution.

A GNU-based Linux application that mimics all a regular PBX can do for 40-80% less.

That's what Fonality is all about, transforming open source tools into a valuable product. The open source tool in this case is Asterisk, which last week upgraded to Version 1.2.3.

The business model looks about that simple, too, focusing that tool on small and medium sized businesses who need packaged solutions, but who can benefit from the economic advantages something based on open source can bring.

CEO Chris Lyman (left) called today, testing his Skype connection (too slow), then switching to his cell. The company has recently grabbed some open source street cred by naming VA Software CEO (and blogger) Larry Augustin to its board, and it celebrated the 10 millionth call on its software, which it calls PBXtra.

"We are a full enterprise PBX at a key system price," he said. "It works well with VOIP or POTs. Some are ready, others are not."

Lyman is a serial entrepreneur. This is his third start-up, the biggest winner having been Virtualis, which was sold to Allegiance Telecom in 2000 and rebranded as Hosting.Com.

"We found we could add tons of value without modifying the source code," Lyman said of PBXtra. "We wrote software that wraps around the access platform. It’s unique in the context that we’re still delivering the benefits of open source telephony with some parental guidance."

One thing Augustin may be able to help out on is Lyman's responsibility to the community that birthed him. Here's what Lyman said when I mentioned the GPL and its requirements for sharing that software. "We occasionally contribute back to Asterisk, but with caution. We’re not terribly excited about enabling our competition. And that’s the rub. I think there’s a natural tension between open source communities and vendors. Understanding how to navigate that line is the difference between success and failure."

It's a line Augustin may help draw. That's why I call Fonality possibly the "last step" in the evolution of the PBX. Once everything moves to the Internet, is a PBX really anything more than a very limited operating system? And as Asterisk evolves, doesn't it make Fonality unnecessary?

I'll let you consider that below.

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