Going it alone with Asterisk requires some effort

It may pay to buy Digium’s service and support

As a point of reference for this test of IP PBX system, the majority of which are based on the open source Asterisk system, we thought it would be an interesting exercise to download the unsupported version of Digium's Asterisk software from the Web and install it on a local PC. This is a different product than the AsteriskNOW software we tested in our comparative review.

We downloaded the current Asterisk 1.4.0, which can be installed on a variety of Linux systems. We chose to install a Debian GNU/Linux system (also a free download). The basic Asterisk installation documentation provides some guidance on the necessary operating-system elements that need to be installed in order for the IP PBX to function. Digium recommends the Asterisk PBX be compiled on the target system (some binary versions of the Asterisk are available but are not generally recommended). After we compiled and installed the Asterisk system, we were able to start the PBX.

But once the Asterisk software is loaded and running, you will still need to configure the PBX. In this case, however, we didn't have a GUI screen to enter the extension and user information. The PBX configuration is maintained in a set of text-based configuration files.

We configured the SIP properties of our phone extensions and created a dial plan to handle the phones, voicemail, conferencing and other features. After a while you get more familiar with the functions of the various files, and sections that need to be configured and all the parameters need to be defined.

Additionally, we used a separate, stand-alone VoIP gateway, a Mediatrix 1204 for our Foreign Exchange Office (FXO) connections. The Asterisk system is well oriented to work with the Digium FXO interface cards, but the setup and configuration of our Mediatrix 1204 unit required our testers to do more investigation to setup to successfully integrate it into our PBX system.

By far, the easier way to get an Asterisk system downloaded and installed would be to use Digium's new AsteriskNOW system (see the main test story). This is a single-CD download that will boot-up, prompt the user with a few configuration questions and then in less than an hour, you should have a working PBX. By comparison, the configuration process is much easier, it is GUI-based, and is more a matter of clicking on the right screens and entering the correct user information rather than having to invoke the Linux editor to edit a variety of configuration files – you simply click on the appropriate check-boxes.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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