VoIPowering Your Office: The Wild iPBX Roundup, Part 1

For lo these many years here at Enterprise VoIPplanet we have been giving
a lot of attention to a small gaggle of iPBX systems:

PBXtra, trixbox, trixbox Pro, and AstLinux are all based on Asterisk. In fact
there are dozens, if not hundreds of Asterisk-based iPBX systems. Digium has dual-licensed
Asterisk—there is a GPL edition, and you also have the option of a proprietary
license that allows you to not share changes that you make to the code. So it
is attractive to both open source developers and commercial developers who don’t
want to share their Awesome Intellectual Property. (I think they’re missing out
on the full benefits of the open source development model, but, oh well, that’s
their business.)

SipX is the open source cousin to the commercial SIPxchange, and neither one
is related to Asterisk. Each one of these has its advantages and weaknesses,
which we are going to compare in this two-part series to help you decide which
one (if any) sounds like a good fit for your shop. In Part 2 we will also include
some honorable mentions of other iPBXs that are worth trying out.

PBXtra, trixbox, trixbox Pro
PBXtra is Fonality’s original enterprise-worthy iPBX. PBXtra pioneered the hybrid
hosting model: All of the management functions are hosted in Fonality’s data
center, and all the customer data files are stored on the customer’s PBXtra
server. PBXtra is managed both by the server administrator and users via a Web-based
control panel. This eliminates a lot of problems: Fonality handles all security
patches and upgrades, remote users can connect just as easily as local users,
and their extension numbers travel with them. No firewall hassles, and if you
use certified hardware, setup and administration are easy.

PBXtra scales up a lot better than Asterisk because the Fonality engineers have invested a lot of resources into improving the original Asterisk source code, plus the hybrid hosting allows your local server to handle a bigger load.

trixbox Pro has been extensively overhauled and now also supports the hybrid hosting architecture. You can use the Standard edition for free. The Enterprise and Call Center editions have more features and cost money.

Some admins are not comfortable with hosted services and prefer to retain
as much control as possible. (If Fonality goes offline, so does your PBX, the
thinking goes.) So for these folks there is still the original Trixbox, which
is a standalone VoIP server.

All editions of trixbox are available as both software and hardware appliances—you
may download a complete software appliance that includes the operating system
and install it on your own hardware, or you may purchase a stylish server with
trixbox already installed. PBXtra comes only with the server hardware; it is
not available as software-only.

Just like Asterisk, PBXtra and trixbox support a large number of VoIP protocols
and telephony hardware selections.

Of course this is always a debatable subject, but I think that Fonality provides the cleanest, best-organized user and administrator interfaces. We’re a long ways from magical, telepathic iPBX systems that require no skill to set up and run, but PBXtra and trixbox are pretty fast and easy.

Fonality is friendly to resellers and has a number of programs for their whole product line, so if your ambition is to be a VoIP mogul they might have something for you.

AstLinux
AstLinux has grown a lot since the last time we took a look at it.

AstLinux is Asterisk plus Linux, stripped down to fit embedded devices like
Soekris and WRAP boards, Gumstix, VIA mini-ITX boards, and ordinary x86 PC hardware.
All of the nonessential bits are removed, and only the applications that are
necessary to run an iPBX remain. It also supports WiFi, SNMP, SER (SIP express
router), name services, OpenSSH, tc (for traffic shaping), and iptables, which
means it is very adaptable as a border router and for tuning your VoIP network
performance. It is designed to run from Compact Flash, which is very fast and
reliable, but it will also run from a hard drive or LiveCD. The LiveCD has the
option of saving settings and data to a USB storage device, so you could use
it on diskless production systems.

The AstLinux Development Environment (ADE) is for users who wish to customize AstLinux for their hardware, or to customize the feature set. It’s not for the plug-and-play set, but for OEM developers and users who want to build AstLinux images with exactly the features and hardware support that they want. It’s easier starting from a lean, mean installation and building up than it is to weed out junk you don’t want, especially on embedded systems.

Next week we’ll wrap up with SipX/SIPxchange, the various Asterisk editions, and a list of other worthy contenders for your iPBX.

Resources
VoIPowering Your Office with Asterisk: Free Long Distance with Free World Dialup is the final article in the AstLinux series, with links to all previous articles
VoIPowering Your Office: Fonality Promotes trixbox to the Pro Ranks
VoIPowering Your Office: Cashing In on the VoIP Gold Rush

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