VoIPowering Your Office: AsteriskNOW, the Friendlier Asterisk

The AsteriskNOW beta was released last week with much fanfare. AsteriskNOW
is a complete Asterisk-plus-Linux implementation. That is, it comes with a Web-based
administration interface, the Asterisk code, and the operating system system,
all rolled up into a single nice neat bundle. This is designed to spare us from
the toil and horrors of assembling an Asterisk server from scratch, which admittedly
is a bit of a job—as we’ve already discovered.

AsteriskNOW is not comparable to TrixBox (formerly known as Asterisk@Home)
in that it does not include MySQL, SugarCRM, FreePBX, the HUDLite server, or
drivers for every VoIP device in existence. It’s just Asterisk with some nice
extra bits, so it’s perfect for admins who don’t want to get bogged down under
the weight of every possible add-on. Rather confusingly, Digium bills it as
an “appliance”. I’ve always thought of an appliance as a complete package that
includes both the hardware and software. AsteriskNOW is just software. I tell
you, keeping up with both telephony and marketing jargon is too much like work.

The versioning is also a bit confusing. This release is AsteriskNOW 1.4.0-beta2, which is based on Asterisk 1.4.0-beta4. The download files are not named asterisknow-[version], but asterisk-[version]. There are five different installation images to choose from:

  • AsteriskNOW Beta 2 (32-bit)
  • AsteriskNOW Beta 2 (64-bit)
  • AsteriskNOW Beta 2 (x86 Xen guest image)
  • AsteriskNOW Beta 2 (x86 VMware image)
  • AsteriskNOW Beta 2 (x86 LiveCD)

I downloaded the LiveCD, which is asterisk-1.4.0-beta2-x86-LiveCD. (By
the way, you’ll have to register before you can download.)

All of this integrated, bundled goodness is made possible by rPath Linux using their Conary packaging technology. This is the same packaging engine used to build the Asterisk Business Edition. rPath Linux has a pronounced Red Hat-ish look.

Let’s boot up the LiveCD and have a look at this shiny new AsteriskNOW.

First boot
AsteriskNOW, like all good Linux servers, is designed to run either headless or with an attached keyboard and monitor, and to support remote administration. It’s easier to get acquainted with AsteriskNOW when you have an an attached keyboard and monitor. If you want the nice Web interface, you’ll need to access that remotely because, again like a good Linux server, X Windows is not installed on the server.

The boot sequence stops at a welcome screen that tells you the default login
is “admin,” “password.” Hit the return key to let it finish booting. When you
see the Console Menu it’s done.

When you boot the LiveCD it will look for a DHCP server on your network. The easy way to find the IP address assigned to the server is to look at the AsteriskNOW console menu, because it tells you. The console menu has options for updating the system, entering the Asterisk console, restarting Asterisk, shutting down or rebooting the system, or quitting the AsteriskNOW console. “Quit” and “Shutdown” didn’t do anything on my test system. Alt+F9 takes you to the familiar Asterisk CLI, Alt+F1 takes you back to the console menu.

Logging into the Web GUI
Go to a neighboring PC, fire up the Firefox Web browser, and enter the IP address
of AsteriskNOW, like Log in with the default login,
and you’ll be forced to change the password and log in again before you can
do anything else. Then you’ll be swept away by the Asterisk GUI setup wizard
and guided through the initial Asterisk server setup. You can skip through this,
or get started with configuring your server. Once that’s done you’ll find yourself
back at the main administration page.

Login password confusion
There are two “admin” accounts; one for the Web GUI, and one system account. So when you change the Web password, you don’t change the system password. This is standard behavior because the Web server has its own password manager; having the two account names the same is a bit mind-bending.

SSH login
An SSH server is enabled by default, so you can log in remotely like this:

$ ssh admin@

Use the original “password” password to log in. You may also log in locally on the server. First open a Linux console by pressing Alt+F2, then log in with “admin” “password”. Use the passwd command to give yourself a new password:

[admin@localhost ~]$ passwd

Come back next week and we’ll continue our dive into AsteriskNOW, learning
essential tasks like creating a root password, adding and removing software, and how to update the system.

AsteriskNOW screenshots
AsteriskNOW download

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