Chris Lyman is setting in the middle of a perfect storm. As CEO of Fonality, Lyman is building an IP-PBX company that leverages Asterisk (an open source platform) and embraces managed service providers. In other words, Fonality has converged three hot markets (unified communications, open source and managed services) into a single solution.

I realize that big vendors -- Avaya, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, etc. -- are promoting unified communications solutions. But if you're an MSP looking to get into IP telephony, it may be hard to ignore Fonality's value proposition.

At first glance, Fonality makes its living selling Asterisk-based telephony systems that run on Dell servers. But Lyman is quick to point out that Asterisk version 1.2 has about 195,000 lines of code. Fonality's developers have written an additional 2 million lines of code in order to design a turnkey IP PBX for managed service providers and small businesses.

Fonality's latest IP PBX, known as trixbox Pro 2.0, serves 20 to 200 seats and has gained support for additional telecom standards outside of the United States.

Fonality sells trixbox using a "hybrid hosted" model. This is a key point for managed service providers. MSPs and solutions providers deploy the trixbox (a specialized Dell server) within a customer premise, and the system communicates with Fonality's centralized data center. MSPs can charge a monthly fee to monitor and maintain the trixbox systems, and most maintenance can be done using a Web browser, according to Lyman. MSPs can also re-brand the solution as their own.

Unified Communications

During an online demo yesterday, Lyman showed me how trixbox works with HUD (Heads Up Display), an employee dashboard that sits on your desktop and unifies company-wide phone calls, voice mail, presence indicators and instant messaging. Basically, you get a clear view of employee activities -- who's available, etc. -- without eavesdropping on their conversations. Color-coded indicators show you who's tied up on calls, who's offline, etc.

Although MSPs can potentially earn recurring revenue from trixbox, Lyman insists that the solution also offers up-front product margin as well. He asserts that trixbox Pro (a higher-end solution) delivers 50 percent reseller margins, and hands-free provisioning reduces or eliminates on-site visits.

Guilty of Hype?

If I sound a bit too upbeat about Fonality, feel free to post a comment and bring me back to earth. I've been writing about Fonality, Digium and other companies that have built solutions on top of Asterisk, and I'm convinced open source IP telephony systems are the wave of the future. Although Fonality has fewer than 150 employees, Lyman says Fonality serves more than 5,000 companies and 100,000 end users in 100 countries.

True believers include Dell, which began reselling Fonality solutions in January. If a technology is good enough for Michael Dell, it's usually ready for mass market adoption.