Aretta Communications: Asterisk-based hosted VoIP with near-instant provisioning.

Part 82 of Phone for Rent: Understanding Hosted PBX Services — Aretta's platform includes server virtualization, which allows new customers to be set up in minutes.

By Mark A. Miller | Posted Oct 5, 2010
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Aretta Communications Inc., headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, provides small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) with simple, robust, cloud-based telephony.

The company is somewhat unusual in that it provides Asterisk-based solutions, and markets to firms that are seeking this open-source solution but do not want to deal with the issues of setting it up. The company also provides technical support for existing Asterisk systems, billing customers on an hourly basis for assistance.

Since the Asterisk solutions are rich in features and highly scalable, they provide SMBs with the functionality of enterprise-grade PBX systems, while virtually eliminating the capital expenses and support costs associated with those systems.

Aretta targets its service to firms with between 3 and 30 employees, and makes its service available worldwide—anywhere a broadband Internet connection is available. The firm also sells its service through resellers, including multi-systems operators (MSOs—firms that own multiple cable systems) and WiMAX (a wireless standard for last mile broadband delivery that is offered as an alternative to DSL and cable service) providers. The company claims that over 1,000 SMBs use its combination of hosted, open-source Asterisk PBX applications, integrated SIP trunking, and preconfigured VoIP handsets.

Because Aretta specializes in Asterisk technology, it has packaged some interesting configuration and management tools with that system to ease their customer’s installation challenges. The offering includes a virtualization platform, called Virtuozzo (from SWsoft, which creates isolated virtual environments on a single physical server. These environments allow for intelligent partitioning (dividing the server into multiple virtual environments); complete isolation (functional, fault, and performance isolation); dynamic resource allocation (allowing the CPU, memory, network, disk and I/O to be changed without rebooting; live migration (assuring business continuity with data available and recoverable); and mass management (a suite of tools and templates) for automated multi-server administration.

Aretta claims that with these tools, a new Asterisk virtual server can be automatically provisioned in less than two minutes, including a SIP trunk that is already provisioned and registered. The system is then ready to take extension registrations and make/receive calls. Aretta claims that this design allows their SMB customers to go online, build a quote, place an order, and have a complete, ready-to-go IP-PBX with integrated SIP trunking in just a few minutes rather than days or weeks.

The Aretta solution consists of three key elements: the NetPBX Pro system, the NetSIP trunking, along with VoIP phones and accessories.

NetPBX Pro and NetPBX Pro Complete are touted as the most advanced hosted Asterisk systems available, with both systems offering multi-channel (trunk) capacity, SSH access (Secure Shell, a protocol for UNIX administration), plus advanced call recording and voicemail capabilities. The Pro Complete version adds unlimited calling in the lower 48 United States and Canada, and one Direct Inward Dial (DID) number at no charge.

Each server runs on 64-bit hardware based on Intel Xeon Nehalem quad core processors that are housed in one of three data centers(Atlanta, Chicago, and Las Vegas) that include an uninterruptible power source, diesel generator backup, and multiple gigabit Ethernet links to the Internet. An on-line system guides the customer through the ordering and configuration process, providing an instant price quotation as the process completes.

The NetSIP Trunking services provide connections from an Asterisk or other IP-PBX to the public telephone network. This trunking service allows customers to check their call detail records in real time, order one or more telephone numbers in over 6,300 rate centers in the United States, plus 43 countries globally, order toll-free numbers, and enable or disable international calling. Two types of SIP trunking plans are available, an unlimited per-channel plan that includes unlimited inbound and outbound calls to the 48 United States across a specific number of channels; or a per-minute and package plan that offers pre-set rates (1.9 cents per minute for inbound and outbound calls to the 48 United States, with 3.9 cents per minute for inbound toll-free calls), or optional packages that lower those pre-set rates.

The NetPBX systems work with any SIP or IAX compliant endpoint. The company recommends the Polycom Soundpoint line of desk phones and speakerphones, but the system is interoperable with devices from Aastra, Cisco Systems, Grandstream, snom. and others. Softphones from CounterPath or Zoiper are also recommended.

Aretta claims to have a pricing model that is unique to the hosted VoIP industry, as it is based upon traditional trunk line usage, not on the number of extensions or users. Aretta’s prices are based on the size of the system, with the correct amount of simultaneous capacity. This capacity can be upgraded or downgraded instantly online, which allows for adjustments in cost as the size of the system scales. Unlimited extensions are thus possible, with the customer only paying for the size of the system that they need.

Further information on the Aretta solutions can be found at www.aretta.com. Our next tutorial will continue our review of various service providers hosted voice solutions.


Author’s Biography
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation®, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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