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Skype For Asterisk Was Already Dead!

by in Telecom
The big story this week (so far), Skype for Asterisk (SFA) comes to its end. The official notification reads:

Skype for Asterisk will not be available for sale or activation after July 26, 2011.

Skype for Asterisk was developed by Digium in cooperation with Skype. It includes proprietary software from Skype that allows Asterisk to join the Skype network as a native client. Skype has decided not to renew the agreement that permits us to package this proprietary software. Therefore Skype for Asterisk sales and activations will cease on July 26, 2011.

This news arrived two weeks after Microsoft’s announcement to acquire Skype for $8.5 billion. This caused many to conclude that SFA’s demise is part of Microsoft’s dastardly plot to destroy all goodness in the world. Some of these theories can are seen here:
Skype Kills Off “Skype For Asterisk” – A Sign of the New Microsoft
Microsoft Kills Skype For Asterisk

Now a good debunking requires a common frame of reference, so a short background on SFA. The Digium Alliance partnership was announced in 2008, and SFA was in beta in 2009. It was a pretty ingenious concept, connect Skype to a PBX. Prior attempts at this were all miserable – take a look at VoSKY. But what was really cool about SFA was it was more than basic voice. SFA provided bi-directional integration with Skype that included presence and SkypeName dialing. No other solution had or has done this with Skype.

It was a coup for Asterisk, and it was really big for Skype as it had conquered the individual user, but still sought corporate adoption. Going out on a limb here, perhaps Skype’s limited corporate success can be partially attributed to its fickle strategies. SFA was first, then came Skype for SIP, then the program changed to Skype for Business, and its current effort to conquer the enterprise is called Skype Connect.
All of these subsequent attempts, were/are effectively SIP trunks. Dumb SIP trunks. No presence,  no outbound dialing to SkypeIDs. The service is primarily implemented for cheap long distance – not unified communications.
SFA was off to a great start. It got a lot of positive attention and licenses were selling. But the product had some unusual limitations – was Skype committed to it? In a post, Tim Panton, believes Skype wasn’t – that Skype hobbled the product. He points to an incredibly slow development/beta period, public friction, and odd license restrictions.

While SFA was still in beta, Skype launched Skype for SIP. Evidently, Skype liked the idea of connecting to a PBX – at least its voice services. Skype for SIP, looked to the PBX like a SIP voice trunk, the lowest common denominator of VoIP - simple and cheap to implement. The service initially launched on ShoreTel systems. Support for several additional systems and gateways including Avaya, Cisco, and SIPFoundry followed – but never for Asterisk.

It is easy to say that SFA was better than Skype for SIP, it was. But the advantages required education, commitment, budget, and administrators willing to set it up. It addressed a need that people didn’t understand. It required training and vision. Conversely, people understood long distance savings. Plus, everyone knows how to dial a phone. SFA faltered before it got out of the gate. Digium tried to spin damage control (http://blogs.digium.com/2009/03/26/the-rumors-of-our-death/), but Skype For SIP just had a more attractive cost/benefit/risk proposition.
SFA is big news this week, but it didn’t come up much in 2010 or 2011 before this week. It has been dying on the vine waiting to be put out of its misery.
I do love a good conspiracy, and it would be great to pin this on Microsoft.
Speaking of conspiracies, don’t even try to convince me that Darth Vadar had nothing to do with the destruction of the Death Star – he willed it. Come on, he just happened to be safely aboard a TIE fighter when it was destroyed?
But MS shutting down SFA is weak.
For starters, I might just subtly point out that Digium is the one that killed SFA – not Skype. UPDATE: This is wrong. Skype killed SFA, not Digium.  Now it is possible Digium is a covert MS controlled front. Consider this, its CEO presents how to run a business on open source – and then publicly blogs about how his company was forced to shut down while it cleaned up its mess.  
Another factor to consider is the Microsoft-Skype deal is agreed, but not done. Microsoft is not running Skype yet, and it is pretty unlikely the boys in Redmond are so worried about SFA that it needed to use back door nods and winks to kill it months before taking over the company. I heard a rumor that the whole deal actually nearly fell apart when Ballmer learned about SFA.
I think I will also take this opportunity to dispel another related yet separate topic that comes up. I keep hearing that MS will ruin Skype because Microsoft is a proprietary company. Microsoft may indeed ruin Skype and Microsoft may indeed be a proprietary company. But let’s be fair, few companies are more proprietary than Skype.
Skype uses its own clients, its own codecs, its own signaling, and its own firmware licensed to hardware partners. It does not interface with any other networks or equipment other than basic voice services. How its network actually functions, its resilience, reliability, encryption and security is a guarded secret.The logic that MS will ruin it because Skype is open and MS is not is hypocritical jabberwockey. If anything, Skype might teach MS a thing or two about being proprietary.
So that leaves the question: why did Skype kill off SFA this week and not next or the week before? To that, I have no frick’n idea. Maybe because they had an obligation to support it until now? Maybe because the Skype MS news earlier this month reminded them it still existed (I forgot), maybe because aliens that control Skype insisted. There could be several reasons, and it’s a reasonable question. Why Microsoft killed SFA, isn’t. (updated paragraph).

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  • Anonymous

    Good post Dave. Heres a thought or two to add to your post. Once the deal is complete would Digium really want to be involved in helping sell MSFT-Skype services by providing an easy means to connect to it. The CEO of Digium has already spoken out against the deal with MSFT and Skype. So in reality if hes against the deal why would you continue on your partnership. You wouldn't. So the service wasnt widely used the CEO of Digium didn't like the deal and at the same time they new people would conclude that it was MSFT influence. Come one people wake up. It made little business sense for Digium to continue with it is the real reason. Any smart business person can work that out. MSFT had nothing to do with it but blaming them will get a lot more hits on your blog I am sure:-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12918359245379488571 Dave Michels

    Thanks for the comment.

    A few responses to it. First you ask if Digium would be involved in helping MSFT?

    I don't think Digium cares more about making a compelling product for their own customers. That's why Switchvox has a Windows Client and Outlook Plugin. I don't think Digium drags MS revenue.

    CEO spoken against the deal?
    Windham's post (http://blogs.digium.com/2011/05/13/microsoft-plus-skype-equals-microsoft/) isn't necessarily for or against the deal. He shares some concerns, but primarily uses it as evidence that VoIP is cool.

    He concludes with "disruptive communications companies and technologies are changing the world at a rapid pace – and in this case, they are generating gigantic value for their shareholders in the process."

    In other words, any company providing free VoIP to a global user base should be valued at $8.5B.

    A point I didn't make above is Digium may have made a big mistake. Skype does not have a strong partnering pedigree – MS is better (Intel, Dell, Logitech, Apple). MS may really want to build up the usage of Skype and having the most robust PBX integration (I don't see Asterisk as a big competitor to Lync) may have been a good asset.

  • Anonymous

    When you share concerns about a deal publicly your certainly not for it. There are some anit MSFT statements in there which indicate hes not for it.

    I think your right that they wont drag through MS revenue but at the same time why help it and why endorse their service which you are competing directly against, although that being said they already are competing with Skype in a manner of speaking, so maybe this is a moot point.

    Probably one of the biggest factors is usage. With the limitation factors you mention and a low take up some times investments like these are easy to can. Why would you want to spend time building and supporting an investment that is unlikely to give a return. Especially when gateway builders like Audiocodes provide the same thing. Its not like if this went away companies couldnt still use Skype in a similar fashion, they would just need to buy a gateway to do it.

  • http://www.disruptivetelephony.com/ Dan York

    Dave,

    Good post… but I will take issue with one point you make. *Skype*, not Digium,shut down Skype For Asterisk. They have definitively said that in an official statement from their PR firm that I just wrote about.

    Now, why *Digium* chose to send their email this week, I don't know. Perhaps it was just that it was now very clear that Skype would not be renewing the agreement and they wanted to give users as much warning as possible. I don't know.

    Dan

  • Kevin

    Good theory. But Luke used the force to warn Darth Vader to get his ass of the Death Star. Darth Vader had some jitter /packet loss on his force connection and that is why he wasn't sure what was going to happen. So Vader did not know what hit him. And if he did he would have packed lunch. So Vader had nothing to do with the destruction of the death star. Those rebels just had good intel.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12918359245379488571 Dave Michels

    As Dan York points out, Skype has now taken credit for killing SFA. I actually misread the orig statement from Digium – it did say Skype killed it.

    I am not sure if the SFA story will really end here. I suspect the product will resurface. It always made sense, and sooner or later someone at Skype will figure out that more versatility means more users.

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