VoIPowering Your Office: PBX in a Flash´┐ŻLean, Mean Asterisk Machine

Asterisk adaptations continue to proliferate. Here's a new one, created and maintained by seasoned open-source gurus.

 By Carla Schroder
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A new iPBX software appliance has hit the wires, PBX in a Flash. This is the brainchild of the folks at Nerd Vittles, who have spent the past couple of years writing high-quality how-tos about Asterisk@Home (which later became Trixbox) and general VoIP guff. Actually that's "folk" singular, as Nerd Vittles is the technology blog of Ward Mundy, who apparently has a lot of time to devote to tinkering and writing. (Which sounds to me like the perfect lifestyle.) Mr. Mundy made the mistake of programming his own personal Asterisk server to find him wherever he went, so I was able to track him down and have a good phone conversation with him about this new project.

When Trixbox was acquired by Fonality, it moved in a direction that wasn't entirely in harmony with Mr. Mundy's goals. So rather than starting a new blog devoted to railing about it, which is an acceptable but not-all-that-productive option, he decided to package his own Asterisk + operating system + other neat stuff bundle, and the result is PBX in a Flash. PBX in a Flash targets three distinct user categories: do-it-yourselfers who run their own Asterisk servers, users who would rather pay for some help, and developers.

Birthing the baby
PBX in a Flash was assembled in an amazingly short three weeks. It is not a beta release, but a mature, production-ready release. Mr. Mundy is sad that, so far, only a single bug has been found, so if you're into bug-hunting this could be a worthy challenge.

The four maintainers of PBX in a Flash—Ward Mundy, Joe Roper, Tom King, and Tony Vincent—were able to put this together so quickly because they are all experienced gurus, and because the code is based on an existing successful commercial Asterisk implementation that was maintained by Mr. Roper. (Which seems quite generous on Mr. Roper's part.)

Lean. Mean. Ready to rumble.
Unlike Asterisk@Home, PBX in a Flash is slender from the git-go. Rather than throwing in the kitchen sink, lawnmower, and stray livestock, PBX in a Flash includes just the essentials for a comfortable, functional Asterisk-based iPBX with nice graphical management and configuration utilities. It includes:

  •  CentOS 5 Linux
  •  Asterisk 1.4.13
  •  FreePBX 2.3.1
  •  Apache
  •  MySQL
  •  PHP
  •  phpMyAdmin
  •  Perl
  •  Festival-Lite, for text-to-speech
Of course you're not stuck with the default installation, but can easily add whatever you want. It's easier to add packages than to wade through a complex installation and figure out what you want to remove, and FreePBX makes it very easy to add new modules.

Mr. Mundy has big ambitions for extending PBX in a Flash, and plans to add custom scripts for adding other classic Nerd Vittles goodies like weather reports, news feeds, podcasts by phone, telephone reminders, and TeleYapper. No, not TeleZapper, which is an anti-phone-spammer weapon, but TeleYapper, which is for organizations that need automated calling trees to distribute information. Like churches, schools reporting weather closures, political organizations, and so forth.

He is negotiating with various VoIP service providers to include some free trials for DID (Direct Inward Dial) and PSTN termination services. He is also working towards providing monitored services and managed hosting, for folks who would rather pay someone else to do the work. But do-it-yourselfers will not be abandoned: PBX in a Flash will always be free and open source, with no propriety or off-limits bits. All source code and scripts will always be readily available, and soon developers will have a special script that turns their Asterisk box into a complete Asterisk development platform.

PBX in a Flash is available in two versions: a native Linux installation, and a VMWare image to install on Windows. The combination of VMWare and Windows is going to hurt performance, and you're still going to have to know how to run Linux, but it's a nice way to get acquainted without needing a second PC. Remember that an Asterisk server requires some muscle—you're using inexpensive PC hardware to do what used to require expensive telephony hardware, so don't complain. A gigabyte of RAM and a modern dual-core CPU will do nicely for starters, and these days won't break the bank.

Be sure to consult the detailed installation manual. You'll need to be connected to the Internet. Installation is pretty straightforward, but it has several stages. The first one is installing CentOS; then the installation script will download and install the iPBX software. There are some essential post-installation chores which are detailed in the manual—these are important, so don't skip them.

Another good reference page is Introducing PBX in a Flash: The Lean, Mean Asterisk Machine. Here be many helpful words and links to yet more.

Users of Trixbox will find a handy migration script here.

Resources and Help
The PBX in a Flash gang are pretty cool folks, and won't yell at you for not already knowing everything. There are good forums and an IRC channel, plus all the documentation already mentioned, so you'll have plenty of help. Come back next week, and we'll fire up PBX in a Flash and take it for a test drive.

This article was originally published on Nov 27, 2007
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