VoIPowering Your Office: Thrashing PBX in a Flash

While on the whole a great success, the product's not perfect. We help sort the good and the not quite so good.

By Carla Schroder | Posted Dec 10, 2007
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Last week I promised that today we'd take PBX in a Flash out for a spin. So I set up a trunk with a peer, created some user accounts, configured some softphones, and made some calls. I don't have anything dramatic to report; it all worked routinely. I didn't have a chance to test the auto-provisioning scripts, so as soon as I get some hardphones to play with I'll plug them in and report back.

While the FreePBX Web interface is nice and decently organized, you might find yourself staring at some of the pages and wondering what to do. Check out the FreePBX Administration Guide for help.

You'll be running into password-protected pages every time you turn around, it seems, so remember your console scripts for managing these:

passwd-maint            set master maint password for web GUI
passwd-amp              set password for wwwadmin
passwd-meetme           set password for Web MeetMe only
passwd                  set root password for console login
Run help-pbx at your root login on the server to see all of your custom commands.

What happened to sweet 16?
Happy birthday PBX in a Flash! It turned 21 on December 5, 2007. 21 days, that is, and the Gang of Four that run the PBX in a Flash show have been busier than Santa's elves. In honor of the occasion, they have released version 1.1. This is not such an earth-shaking update that you need to dash out and get it, but it won't hurt anything if you do.

Good stuff about PBX in a Flash
No review would be complete with some good cop/bad cop comparisons. So here are mine, starting with the good stuff.

Updates are as easy as falling over, and upgrading Asterisk on PBX in a Flash (which we will henceforward refer to as PiaF) brings a smile to my face. On other all-in-one Asterisk-based PBXs, upgrades are difficult and vexing. For PiaF, just download and run the update-source script, then follow the nice, complete instructions. Two good side effects of PiaF's method of compiling sources on the fly are you can get the latest, greatest release any time you want, and if you have problems with Digium hardware, you'll get better treatment from their support staff. Users of pre-compiled Asterisk binaries sometimes have to employ a bit of extra insistence to get help.

I think it is the custom scripts that are going to set PiaF apart. The Whole Disk Backup script is an ingenious hack that runs Mondo Rescue at scheduled intervals. With a Mondo whole-disk backup you'll experience minimal downtime from a hardware failure, because you'll be able to perform a bare-metal restore with ease, and you'll have all of your settings and data. Depending, of course, on how recent your backup is. For example, if you run the backup script nightly you'll never lose more than a few hours' data.

You have a number of options for backups storage: a USB Flash storage device, an FTP server, or a Samba share. The backup is stored as an .iso, which you must burn to a CD or DVD. Then boot the system with your new disk and in a short time you're up and running again.

Not so good stuff
While PiaF is a fine piece of work, it nonetheless has a few rough edges. The documentation is still a work in progress, but even though it's incomplete and rather disorganized, it's still more than you'll find for most similar projects. The scripts download site is especially messy; you have to dig to find the actual scripts to download. (Try here.) Lads, I know you're busier than one-armed cat herders, but a few more hyperlinks would be nice!

The forums are active and full of helpful information. However, those who are into instant gratification will be sorely tested, because getting posting privileges requires manual intervention by the forum moderators. You can search and read them all you want to, but it may take a day to get your full privileges.

PiaF comes with two iptables control scripts: enable-iptables and disable-iptables. These load and flush the default iptables rules, which you can see in /etc/sysconfig/iptables. Something went wonky when I tried it, and I lost network connectivity. PiaF does warn you when you run help-pbx:

enable-iptables Turn on IPTABLES (You need to configure it!)

Which I've been procrastinating about, because I can't stand the horrid over-complicated Red Hat method of creating and using iptables rules, so I always rip out all the default guff and write my own nice clean sensible, comprehensible iptables scripts.

The other one isn't really PiaF's fault—I forgot to immediately yum upgrade CentOS, so when I finally remembered I was in a hurry, and it wanted to download 180+ MB of files. Oops.

While we're on the subject of the PBX in a Flash site and forums: there is a prominent warning in the installation manual that you need to use the Firefox Web browser to access your Web server administration panel. This seems to hold true for the various PBX in a Flash Web sites, too—NerdVittles.com, the PBX-in-a-Flash forum, and especially the script download site are all happier in Firefox.

A2Billing and Text-to-Speech
Next week we'll wrap up our little PiaF series with a test-drive of the A2Billing module, which you can use to become your own VoIP mogul, and the Text-to-Speech engine, which the devs claim works out of the box.

Resources
Nerd Vittles
Edith Piaf. Treat yourself.

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