Cool Tool for Asterisk Developers

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Ottawa-based PIKA Technologies Inc. has been making phone-related hardware for more than twenty years. But far and away its most successful product—ever—is a slender little computer appliance, the PIKA WARP for Asterisk.

You’re probably thinking, ‘Ah, they’ve put Asterisk on a little, low-cost computer to be able to market an inexpensive IP phone system.’

And you’d be half right.

PIKA has put the Asterisk 1.4 code—along with a bunch of other voice-processing software development tools—on a small, relatively inexpensive dedicated Linux computer. And they’ve built the necessary telephony interfaces into the unit, along with some other useful features we’ll talk about a bit later on.

But, PIKA vice president of sales, marketing, and customer care Terry Atwood assured Enterprise VoIPplanet in a recent interview, WARP is not a phone system when it leaves the PIKA warehouse. It is a development environment.

In his words, “It is an appliance that can be used to deploy any Linux application, but it’s particularly suited to deploying Asterisk. It’s really meant as a development platform for people who are developing on top of Asterisk—to add their crown jewels, and all of their software to—and then deploy it as a phone system.”

This makes sense, especially considering Asterisk isn’t so much an open-source IP PBX as an open source voice application platform, capable of supporting a variety of functions. “About half the people that we’ve attracted to WARP are using it with Asterisk,” Atwood told “The other half are using it with their own voice processing applications that they’ve written from the ground up.”

WARP is successful, according to Atwood, because it was needed; there was demand from the get-go. “We really designed it with input from people that needed something in the marketplace,” Atwood said, “rather than designing something that was technically elegant and that should be successful in the marketplace. We’ve now got more than 100 developers working with it ”

Some, like Intuitive Voice, have already launched successful PBX products on WARP (among other platforms). Others are still in the development process.

PIKA WARP appliance
the PIKA WARP for Asterisk appliance

“We’ve got all kinds of companies that are working with it,” Atwood continued. “We’ve got some large cable companies who’ve gotten into providing IP dialtone, as well as business telephone systems. Major service providers; guys who are deploying small IVRs on this box—IP PBXs, gateways, logging applications,” and more.

So, what do you get with the WARP package. Here are the high points:

  • 533 MHz processor
  • 256 MB internal RAM plus 256 MB Flash
  • 1 GB removable SD Flash—in lieu of hard disk storage
  • 10/100 BT Ethernet port
  • 1 USB port
  • Audio-in port for hold music (something you don’t get on any off-the-shelf computer)
  • Audio-out port for paging (ditto)
  • 1 FXS port on all units
  • 4-port FXS station, 4-port FXO trunk, 2-port/4-channel BRI modules, mixable for a maximum of 8 additional ports
  • power failure transfer jack on analog modules
  • software—lots of it
    • Linux OS (special, stripped-down PIKA version), drivers, and tools
    • Asterisk 1.4 and Asterisk GUI—and, as of this week, WARP supports the popular FreePBX interface, available for download at the WARP developers’ online community Warp Xtra
    • suite of PIKA voice processing apps (VoIP, conferencing, echo cancellation, etc.)
    • suite of utility software (database, web server, web language, etc.)
    • ability to add any other software you like.

Prod interface
back of WARP, showing interface ports

Atwood pointed out that the substitution of flash memory for the hard drive found in most computers has several advantages. It’s cheaper, it lowers power consumption (making the unit cheaper to run, as well as “greener”), and it increases reliability. “Generally, people who have had problems with their computer have had problems with their hard drive,” he observed.

In total, the appliance is anywhere from 10 to 25 percent than an off-the-shelf PC to deploy. But, as important as cost savings is, the appliance approach has some other significant advantages, in Atwood’s view.

“It eliminates a lot of the headaches that developers have,” he asserted. “Developers that try to save money by assembling PCs from components end up with all kinds of integration and compatibility issues. Even if they are buying a box off the shelf from Dell, Dell changes motherboards in their computers every six to eight months, and with every motherboard change incompatibilities arise. This eliminates that whole level of frustration. With WARP, they don’t have to go through that any more, because nothing changes, the environment remains the same.”

Finally, the WARP appliance is brandable. “We’ve had quite a few people ask us to put their logo or their brand on the top cover here, so even niche companies can look as if they have a product that in total belongs to them, including the hardware.”

So, in fact, Atwood’s characterization of WARP as a development platform—while true in itself—isn’t the whole story. It is a device that, in addition to being a development environment, is an OEM hardware platform for the applications developed on it. Very neat.

The list price of PIKA WARP for Asterisk is $725. Interface modules are $175 each. In a nice twist, there’s a developers kit, consisting of the standard WARP appliance plus an FXS module, an FXO module, a getting started guide, and some other goodies, that’s actually cheaper (at $550) than the retail appliance. Limit: one per company.

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