Open-Source VOIP Made Easy as a Software Appliance

Review: AsteriskNow GUI lowers barriers to entry and eases the transition from testing to deployment.

Digiums AsteriskNow marks a major step in the development of the Asterisk open-source project: The newest distribution integrates central voice over IP PBX features with an easy-to-manage operating system environment and offers simple ways for companies to transition Asterisk from testing to deployment.

eWEEK Labs performed tests on AsteriskNow Beta 4. Beta 5 should be available soon, and Digium representatives said the first release candidate will be available on or about April 11. The Beta 4 version is available for download in several iterations—including 32-bit and 64-bit ISOs; Xen and VMware virtual machines; and a Live CD.

AsteriskNow is a software appliance, so the installation packages include an underlying operating system, rPath Linux. Built with rPaths rBuilder, AsteriskNow removes the complexity of dealing with kernel updates and system dependencies, and is simple to manage and configure.

For example, AsteriskNow offers a couple of ways to update system software: We could initiate an update from the text menus on the server console, or we could manually initiate or schedule Conary updates from the rPath Web GUI. From this GUI, we also could configure e-mail notifications and alerts, keeping administrators in the know about system status.

Highly modular and quite slick, we found the new OS management interface to be much easier to use than the tools that come with the popular Asterisk distribution, Trixbox. However, there were occasions when we couldnt completely avoid using the command line with AsteriskNow, as many Asterisk add-ons and plug-ins have yet to take advantage of the Conary update system.

AsteriskNow is a slim Asterisk distribution, excluding applications such as SugarCRMs SugarCRM and Fonalitys Hudlite that are automatically bundled with Trixbox. And it had to be: Digium needed a lightweight Asterisk distribution for its new solid-state Asterisk hardware appliance.

AsteriskNow will be available under a couple of different types of licenses. The version we tested is licensed under the GNU General Public Licenses GPL, Version 2, but Digium representatives said there will be another free—but not open—version available soon. This latter version will provide access to a range of productivity and mobility software applications provided by Digium Ecosystem Partners.

Open-source purists may be offended by some aspects of AsteriskNow because the free product pushes other products and services. But most administrators will be able to overlook that because AsteriskNow does a good job of easing the transition from testing to deployment: Digium promises a one-click upgrade to Asterisk Business Edition from the management GUI, and there is also a button that takes administrators to a site where they can buy Polycom phones from a Digium reseller.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here for how to fix the echo in small Asterisk deployments.

AsteriskNow features the new Asterisk GUI, an SSL (Secure Shell)-protected Web configuration front end for VOIP (voice over IP) deployment. Although not as in-depth or granular as the FreePBX GUI that comes with Trixbox, we found the Asterisk GUI to be incredibly easy to use and navigate.

Beta 4 introduces a new setup wizard that launched automatically the first time we logged into the Asterisk GUI. The wizard first walked us through the setup of extensions and trunks—we designated local extension lengths and patterns and then identified local analog trunks (such as our Digium Wildcard TDM400P) or VOIP trunks.

Next Page: The wizard at work.