Case study: Asterisk proves its worth

Looking to expand its phone operations, Summer Bay Resorts called on Asterisk -- and the open source IP PBX delivered

Despite Digium’s current positioning of Asterisk for the midmarket, plenty of large-scale implementations speak to the scalability and versatility of the open source IP PBX. One such rollout — that of Summer Bay Resorts, a time-share vacation property company — provides ample evidence that if the phone is the lifeblood of your business, Asterisk is more than up to the task.

(Read about open source VoIP for the enterprise in Open source VoIP makes the business connection.)

Nearly all of Summer Bay’s business relies on its phones, and nearly all of its phones run on Asterisk. With around 60,000 customers, three main resorts, and several call centers throughout the United States, Summer Bay’s phone and data infrastructure is necessarily large. There are nearly 600 seats in Summer Bay’s call centers, and they log more than 1 million voice minutes each month and 7.1 million calls each year. It’s safe to say that Summer Bay’s 13-server phone system gets a workout.

Just a few years ago, the company’s sole, 40-seat call center relied on a legacy PBX. Rapid growth, including the addition of several call-center sites, pushed this system to its limit, and the decision was made to move everything over to Asterisk. The company has since deployed Polycom SIP phones on every desk and at least one HP DL360 running CentOS and Asterisk at each site, tying the whole system together at the company’s headquarters.

Beyond basic dial tone, Summer Bay has implemented SIP trunks to international resorts for simple call transfers and has wrapped Asterisk around legacy phone systems where necessary. The company is in the process of writing a predictive dialer app for Asterisk. For reporting, it has developed in-house tools and is writing a .Net app to handle all call monitoring and reporting throughout the organization.

According to David Kurtz, Summer Bay’s director of IT, flexibility was a key factor in the decision to move to Asterisk rather than a commercial solution. “We have to turn on a dime. Adding 40 inbound toll-free numbers and handling call routing for those numbers can happen at a moment’s notice,” Kurtz says. “We can do that very easily with Asterisk. There’s no way we could have been this flexible, this mobile, and this quick on rollouts with any other platform.”

In addition to the PBX side, Summer Bay also moved all inbound and outbound calls from PRI circuits to SIP channels provided by Global Crossing, a connection made by its voice and data rep at CDW. In this way, Summer Bay’s long-distance and toll-free costs have dropped right along with its data costs because everything is data. But the cost savings didn’t stop there.

“Our implementation costs for the entire voice operation were around $90,000, including the phones,” Kurtz says. “Quotes from commercial vendors were around $1,000 per seat. There’s no way we could have done this with any other phone system.”

Surprisingly, Summer Bay isn’t a Linux shop. “We’re predominately a Microsoft infrastructure,” says Jason Brown, Summer Bay’s network manager. “But I can’t see us running a PBX on Windows.”

When asked about reliability, Brown’s comments show his Novell roots. “The Linux servers have been 100 percent rock-solid,” he says. “The Asterisk process has abended once or twice over the years, but it’s never been a problem.”

“Our ROI has been unreal,” Kurtz adds. “It’s not only saved us hard dollars right away, but our productivity has gone up in terms of what we can do with the phones and how quickly we can deploy solutions.”

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.