LAMP/Asterisk-powered voicemail keeps Katrina victims in touch

* LAMP is the engine behind

Linux, Apache Web server, MySQL and PHP - the widely used LAMP platform - are key parts in a recently-built voicemail system that is helping displaced residents of the Gulf Coast keep in touch with family and friends around the country. LAMP technology is the engine running, a project that provides freely accessible voicemail services to people who had to evacuate their homes due to Hurricane Katrina.

The system works like this: displaced people call 1-866-78CONTACT (866-782-6682). At the voice prompt, callers get the option to leave messages for other people, or to retrieve messages left for them. Mailboxes are based on old New Orleans-area phone numbers; to leave a message for someone, callers enter that person's 504 area code number and then leave the message. Displaced persons can get their messages by calling into the system, choosing the "retrieve messages" option, then entering their old phone number to access the mailbox.

Currently, the system consists of five Debian Linux servers running the open source Asterisk IP PBX platform for voicemail, auto-attendant and call processing applications. The MySQL database back end is used to create mail boxes on the fly, based on phone numbers callers punch in (any seven-digit number can be used, not just New Orleans-area exchanges). Files are stored in compressed WAV format, which also allows users to access voice messages via the Web site.

The Debian/Asterisk servers tie into the public switched telephone network through gateway ports donated by VoIP service providers PalTalk, WorldCall and SIP Media, which terminate the 866 calls, translating the signals into TCP/IP session running the Session Initiation Protocol (Asterisk's native control protocol). Yaakov Menken, CEO of Capalon Internet Solutions, and one of the founders of the project, along with Dan Schoeffle and Asterisk creator Mark Spencer.

"Because asterisk is open source ... programmers can use the language with which they are most fluent to develop the applications," Menken says. This allowed the group to build the system for around $10,000, while it would have cost around six times that if traditional telephony and voicemail platforms were used. 

"Raw power and stability, ease of use and cost," were among the reasons Menken went with Linux, he says. "What, you want me to build this on a Windows box? Yea, Asterisk runs on Windows, but no, I want this service to be up," he says.

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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