VoIPowering Your Office: trixbox Pro Reviewed

Installation and basic configuration of this slick, free (for the Standard Edition) VoIP package are quick and easy.

 By Carla Schroder
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In our last look at the newly released trixbox (it's a lowercase 't' on purpose) Pro we hadn't yet had a chance to look under the hood or to put it through its paces. So today you can follow along as your intrepid author installs and torture-tests yet another innocent, unsuspecting piece of software.

You don't have to wait for me—anyone can download the free-of-cost trixbox Pro Standard Edition (SE) and start getting acquainted with it. It may even have enough features to meet your needs as is. If sometime down the road you need the features in the Enterprise Edition (EE), or Call Center Edition (CCE) you can upgrade your existing installation without having to redo everything. Just log in to your Web control panel, pay your money, click a button and there you are.

The official recommendations are up to 10 users for the Standard Edition, 10–500 for the Enterprise Edition, and up to 200 agents for the Call Center edition. You can review the comparison matrix to choose the best one for you.

Feature comparison
While the comparison matrix shows you at glance what it is in each edition, there are a few features worthy of special mention.

HUDLite and HUDPro
HUDLite (HUD stands for Heads-Up Display) comes with the Standard Edition. Enterprise and Call Center editions get HUDPro, which must be installed separately. HUD-whatever is an excellent web-based management interface for your users to manage all of their calling functions. They can use it to transfer and park calls, place calls, put callers on hold, and even tag them with reminder notes. (Which hopefully will not substitute for actually talking to the caller.) It comes with instant messaging—which these days has replaced the telephone and e-mail as the primary vector for pestering co-workers—Outlook integration, and desktop alerts that you can turn on or off for several different functions.

HUDPro includes these and plus additional features like interactive desktop alerts and call recording on-the-fly. Call Center edition has features that call centers need, such as queue status, agent login and logout, call barging, and call monitoring and recording.

PSTN fallback
If your Internet connection goes down so do your VoIP services, so all editions of trixbox Pro automatically fall back to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network, or ordinary old-fashioned phone stuff) if this happens. If you don't have PSTN, but are relying on pure VoIP, this won't help you. This is a great feature because it doesn't require any manual intervention—it just works.

Analog and IP phones
All editions support both analog and IP phones.

Branch office support
trixbox Pro makes it easy to integrate any branch offices. Just set up additional trixbox servers, and then connect them with a few simple steps.

Historical system resource graphs
These come with Enterprise and Call Center editions. System resources and server and network activity are displayed both in real-time and in 5-minute historical snapshots. The hybrid architecture of trixbox Pro renders the problem of figuring out how much hardware you really need much less of an urgent problem than on your traditional Asterisk-based servers, but it's still nice to make collecting and viewing the data easier.

I like the concept of the "software appliance" that has everything you need on a single disk, including the operating system. Just pop in the disk and walk away while it installs itself. Some implementations are better than others; I have to give trixbox Pro the Best in Show ribbon. It is literally a hands-free installation, which you can't say about all software appliances. You don't have to do a thing until post-installation, and even that is easy. A lot of thought and care has gone into interface design, and it shows.

Your server needs to be connected to the Internet. If your local network has a DHCP server the installer will automatically collect an IP address and whatever else your server dishes out to its clients. Naturally we don't want servers on dynamic IP addresses, so the first post-installation chore presented to you is a network configuration menu. You can convert the DHCP assignments to static with a keystroke, or enter new information.

You'll need your official trixboxPro login, which you get from buy.trixbox.com. After entering this you'll see more post-installation chores—such as NTP synchronization, downloading IP phone firmware, setting up a VPN (Virtual Private Network)—take care of themselves, followed by a nice installation summary. Then you can log into a local setup menu where you get another chance to tweak network settings, run some ping or traceroute tests, see different kinds of system and network status, and set a root password on the server.

Building an iPBX
It's a good thing the installation is fast and easy, because creating users and extensions and setting everything up the way you want it is the time-consuming part. But even here trixbox Pro offers considerable help, as we'll see in next week's installment.

This article was originally published on Aug 27, 2007
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