Friday, March 26, 2010

Asterisk PBX Deployment - Part 1

When we established out our corporate goals for 2010, the senior leadership team unanimously decided to accelerate expansion of our business into the Asia/Pacific markets.  My engineering and entrepreneurial background was a good fit for this project, so I took on the role of designing and implementing a solution to achieve the following objectives:
  1. Minimize cost and Maximize Return on Investment.
  2. Sustain Sarbanes-Oxley and PCI security compliance. 
  3. Centralize customer servicing of 25 languages into existing contact centers.
  4. Deploy 15+ country's by the end of the year.
The risk with rapid expansion is that it can be costly and a support nightmare if not done right. It is also a gamble for the business to take on a lofty project such as this with limited resources and funds; however, if done right we will reap the benefits of being one of the first Company's to bring many of these markets to the Worldwide Web.  Suffice of to say, I have no alternative, but to get this one right. 

Cost Comparison
Traditionally from a telephony and networking perspective, we are an Avaya and Cisco shop respectively.  These systems are proven; however, top of the line commercial products come with a suitable price tag.  Here's a typical cost for a single 30-person site Avaya/Cisco solution:
  • Labor:                 $25K
  • Equipment cost:  $53K 
  • Total CapEx:       $78K
Annual Recurring costs: $63K
(MPLS network, Maintenance Contracts, Phone lines, etc)

With a 5 year amortization of equipment, the annual cost for an Avaya/Cisco implementation for this project would be: $79K/site x 15  = $1.2 million/yr = $6 million/5 year TCO

The $6MM is only network/telecom equipment.  It does not take into account office lease, payroll, advertising, etc.  Following the traditional route would make it virtually impossible to achieve profitability in these small markets, which is probably why most of our competitors haven't done this already...

The alternative...
the telephony solution we chose for this project is an Open Source Software PBX called Asterisk.
Asterisk is software that turns an ordinary computer into a voice communications server. Asterisk is the world's most powerful and popular telephony development tool-kit. It is used by small businesses, large businesses, call centers, carriers and governments worldwide. Asterisk is open source and is available free to all under the terms of the GPL. 
The solution to our SOX/PCI compliance was to utilize the Cisco Adaptive Security Appliances (ASA) in the satellite offices and tunnel the traffic through our commercial infrastructure.  The ASA solution enabled us to:
  1. leverage our existing Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) saving $15K per location. 
  2. encrypt all voice and data communication between and within the sites. 
  3. manage the sites/systems the same way we monitor our traditional infrastructure. 
Here's the cost of the Asterisk/ASA solution:
  • Labor:                 $2K
  • Equipment cost:  $3K 
  • Total CapEx:        $5K
 Annual Recurring cost: $8K

With a 5 year amortization of equipment, the annual cost for the Asterisk/ASA implementation is: $9K/site x 15  = $135K/yr!

The annualized savings for Asterisk/ASA versus the traditional Avaya/Cisco solution is $70K/site or $5.2 million in 5 years! 

Needless to say, it was an easy decision to make.  $5 million bucks can be used more effectively elsewhere.

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