That was admittedly my thought when I received the list of who was going to be on the panel I moderated last week at VoiceCon on open source telephony. The other two panelists were obvious choices: Bill Miller was from Digium (makers of Asterisk) and Raza was from 3Com who have recently announced that they would be reselling a version of Digium's Asterisk Business Edition. Both Bill and Raza made sense to me. But Tony Pereira of Nortel? Nortel does not leap out at me as a company working with open source telephony - what in the world are they doing with it, I wondered?
It turns out that the answer is... "quite a bit!"
As Tony Pereira outlined in our panel as well as in conversations afterwards, Nortel is in the process of launching their "Software Communications Server 500" (SCS 500) targeted at small businesses and built using open source telephony software!
Interestingly, though, it does NOT use Asterisk.
Instead Nortel is using the "other" major player in open source telephony, the "sipXecs" product from SIPfoundry.org. (Previously called "sipX" but renamed "sipXecs" about a year ago.) I've not written all that much about sipX here but it certainly has been a product I've known of over the years. It started out as a PBX product from Pingtel which they then released as an open source version ("sipX" and now "sipXecs") and also had a commercial version called "SIPxchange". sipX garnered perhaps its most attention back in October 2006 when it was announced that Amazon.com would be using it for their internal phone systems (see the links on the SIPFoundry.org site). At a fundamental level, sipX provides similar functionality to Asterisk but where Asterisk is focused on being a "platform" for telephony that can work with a wide range of protocols, sipX is focused exclusively on SIP and also provides an extensive GUI management tool. (Pingtel provides a (obviously biased) comparison of sipXecs vs Asterisk on their wiki.)
From what I learned at our panel, Nortel is essentially creating their own supported version of "sipXecs" that they will sell as the "SCS 500". It will have full commercial support from Nortel. Target market will apparently be "small" businesses. No info really available on Nortel's site yet, although glimpses are visible through support documents (such as here and here(although this appears to be about an earlier 1.0 version last year)).
All in all it's to me a fascinating move by the folks at Nortel and I look forward to learning more about the SCS500 product over the next weeks and months as they launch it. It's a rather nice boost for the whole world of "open source telephony", too, to have Nortel making this move as well.