Help in comparing Cisco Call Manager and Asterisk

I work for a School District with a campus of about a dozen buildings in New York. We currently have Asterisk deployed throughout the district, predominantly with Cisco 7912, 7940 & 7960s VoIP phones connecting via sip in all buildings with the exception of a Toshiba PBX which is still in operation in our High School. While call quality is excellent, there are a few annoyances of missing functionality due to Cisco’s limited support of sip on the 7960s that impact some office staff – particularly where a secretary monitors a bosses phone.

This has caused a couple of the administrators to push for a Cisco-Call-Manager. Ironically, I have Polycom phones deployed in one office that are addressing the secretary/boss issues of call presence, intercom and so on quite well. For whatever reason, those administrators refuse the Polycom solution (which would be to purchase ~50 Polycoms for staff that would utilize their benifits and redeploy the 7960s in another building – this of course would be just a few percent of the cost of installing CCM) yet will not let the issue go. Some of the other justifications that I have heard for this position amount to, ‘it costs more so it must be better’. Others are more reasonable like, all of our phones should be the standardized, although I have yet to point out that the 7912s barely resemble the others and we’ll get by - or that scrapping the all the Cisco phones in the district and replacing them with Polcoms would still be much less of an expense than replacing the call manager. Additionally, it is nearly impossible to articulate a lot of the small things that Asterisk is already doing for us - like connecting to public address systems, modems for hvac, monitors and various other legacy equipment and the distribution of faxes to email & printers. Collectively these things are saving us a ton of money.

I hope this thread will be an informed discussion comparing Cisco-Call-Manager and Asterisk by people who have experience with deploying both of these systems in large organizations.

John Harragin

I’ve used Cisco CallManager before (at a previous employer)… Can’t say it was a pleasant experience, but I think that was mostly due to the server hardware. The “Cisco” server appears to actually have been a low-end Compaq rack mount (1u), nothing redundant box. We used it with some success initially (other than finding it somewhat hard to setup to do exactly what we wanted as far as multiple incoming line handling). However, after the hard drive failed and we replaced it, we never could get it to work right again. Gave up after a couple weeks and installed an Inter-Tel hybrid style phone system that was much easier to program…

Am using Asterisk now at my new employer. We’ve got some quirky volume/“half-duplex” sound issues going on, and it occasionally just shuts down on us (the Asterisk process, everything else is still working fine on the box and no log entry), but other than that, we like it. :smile: Hoping to get it a little more stabilized though, having to log in and check it manually every few hours gets a little old.

I’ve been forced into using Cisco Call Manager for the past several years. My company started out with version 3.3 and is now on 4.2 provided by a huge company employing literally thousands of people that we pay obscene amounts of money to for licensing and support. I honestly cannot say that I’d recommend it to my worst enemy.

We’ve had ongoing phantom problems - below is a list of some of them that recur with relative consistency, though all are very random and not reproducible. Sometimes something will happen a dozen times in a few hours, then not recur for 2-3 months. Other times, problems will plague our system for days at a time and then disappear without anybody changing a thing.

Calls drop randomly.
Crappy quality in calls - static, pops, echo, watery sounding voices, etc.
Calls take a long time to go out the gateway.
Phones would go into SRST mode for no reason, then come back.
Silent voice mails appear randomly that you can’t delete.
Phones randomly die/start flaking out. (I had one that picked up the XM radio signal for our overhead music through the handset!)
Call Manager just dies from time to time for no apparent reason.
Under 3.3, if you transfer a call when another is on hold, the two callers are connected with no way for you to get either back. This happened more than once with irate customers, who then became even more irate. Cisco knows about this flaw but says it’s ‘intended behavior’ and won’t be fixed. (???)
Hold music reverts back to the default bad funeral home music every 2-5 months.

I could go on for pages if I were to look up the list of problems I’ve dealt with - those are just some of the ones that I could think of during this reply. In short, both our employees and our customers passionately despise our phone system. I cannot even guess the amount of money in lost sales and employee productivity that our phone system has cost us. I was even ready to quit my job at one point because of the Cisco phones.

BTW, I know our problems aren’t due to faulty hardware because we’ve had literally a half a dozen different servers and they all have the same types of troubles. Other stores in my company have the same type of thing happen at them as well, each running on different servers.