Category Archives: Asterisk

Upcoming Presentation

I’ll be giving a presentation about Asterisk tomorrow afternoon (Friday, April 24) at 2:00 PM to a group of Atlanta area IT Professionals. I was approached by Tony Dye and Jeffrey Thompson shortly after my visit to Perimeter Church several weeks back about coming back to give the talk and I’m definitely looking forward to it. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll post my slides as well as a neat little configurator thing I’m working on to help you get a rough idea of what it would cost to implement Asterisk.

More than likely, we’ll get a good audio recording to be posted online, but in addition to that, I hope to be able to stream the video live. So keep a check on my uStream channel tomorrow around 2:00 EST if you’re interested.

IT Mission Team

I was perusing some of the blogs on Church IT Planet feed this morning and through Jason Lee’s blog, I landed on this post from Mike Gold about Willow Creek’s IT staff going on a technology-centered mission trip to the Dominican Republic. One of the things they did was install an Asterisk-based phone system! Too cool!

This has my wheels turning now – would it be possible for a bunch of Church IT RoundTable folks to get together and form a team that could go and do something like this? If so, how would we find a place to go and meet a need? I know our friend Andrew Mitry is in some remote place in Africa as we speak on a two-month trip where he is doing some technical things for a Coptic mission there, but how cool would it be to go on trip where we can flex our IT muscle and impact the kingdom?

I do have a heart for missions and I have loved every minute of the past trips I’ve been on, but to have my passion for missions and love for technology to meet in the mission field would just be absolutely amazing.

RoundTable Asterisk

One of the hottest topics at the whole RoundTable was Asterisk. I lucked out and ended up sitting right next to Andrew Mitry in my room, who also runs Asterisk. We were able to offer some good info to our session I believe and were able to talk to a number of interested individuals during the Topic Bazaar this afternoon. There’s definitely a huge interest for it in the non-profit/charity arena and I think that a consultant could do extremely well catering to this niche market. I probably talked to enough folks today alone to keep me busy for the next six months or longer if I was taking on that kind of work.

So, aside from the interest from all the participants, what does Asterisk have to do with the RoundTable in general?

In my opinion, I think that what may have been the biggest flaw of the entire RoundTable was that we weren’t able to capture all the “run-off” from each of the breakout rooms so that guys from the other rooms can absorb it later. This isn’t a complaint aimed at Clif and his team from COR (who did an AMAZING job at planning this), but it is something that was talked a lot about and I hope that it’s something we can work out technically before the next one. This could actually be a good place to use Asterisk and allow participants to see it in action! Assuming the network infrastructure would support this scenario (really needs to have wired drops), one could run an Asterisk install in a virtual machine from a laptop and connect a couple of good quality SIP phones to it – one in each room. The Aastra’s I use at ESI have a great speakerphone and could do this easily I believe. Then, just run the Monitor() app and they’re recording! This could actually be extended even further. Some random ideas:

  • Folks from outside the physical space can dial in
  • One-way only streaming
  • Inter-room conferencing[1]

I really do have a lot more ideas, but it’s now 12:15 AM here in Central Time and I have to be ready for the shuttle to the airport at 5:30. Who else has thoughts on what we might could do? Let your imagination go wild and leave a comment – chances are, “the answer is yes.”
[1] For the “touch points” that didn’t work at all this time. This would be audio only unless we got some H.323 phones.

Work Updates

Well, in a few hours, it will have been a full seven days since my switchover to Asterisk and it’s all gone pretty smoothly. There were a few bumps here and there, mostly in regards to my failure to properly train end-users. It’s so hard for me as a techie to put myself in their shoes and think about their work flows and how they use certain pieces of hardware (and software for that matter) differently than I do as the IT department. We’ve also had some small echo issues with our Sangoma A101 and the PRI from US LEC/Paetec, with echo varying at times from “barely noticeable” to “hang up and call me back so I can hear you” at other times. I quickly learned something that I never ran across prior to troubleshooting the echo: echo training in Asterisk doesn’t work on T-1/PRI! The software echo cancel does work, but there’s no training, so it stays at a constant level all the time. Most all of our echo problems have been cured by setting “rxgain = -5″ and “txgain = -10″ in /etc/asterisk/zapata.conf. I’m still working on some key features that folks are wanting, such as BLF, but overall, everyone is REALLY happy and that makes me REALLY happy.

I mentioned last week that I was going to try switching to Outlook for my email while in the office. That was a flop. A big stinkin’ flop. I was miserable all day on Friday and was so frustrated when I got to work on Monday that I quickly moved back in to Thunderbird. I’m a creature of habit, and I could not make Outlook 2003 fit my work flow. It was definitely being counterproductive, and theres no room in my schedule lately for that.

Asterisk Anxiety

Approximately 48 hours from now, Asterisk will be in full production usage at work. I have phones deployed to 8 out of 10 desks in my office right now and have instructed those users to be using that Aastra 9133i for all of their outgoing calls. Late Wednesday afternoon, our numbers will be ported from our old POTS lines with BellSouth/AT&T to our new PRI from USLEC/Paetec. I can’t help but be a little nervous about the whole situation. I know I’ve done my homework, crossed most of my t’s and dotted most of my i’s, but I still feel just a little bit anxious about it. Part of me is just scared to death that it’s going to blow up in my face and leave me holding the bag containing about $5,000 worth of VoIP/telephony hardware.

I have little doubt that the system, a Dell PowerEdge 830 with a Dual-Core P4 3.20GHz HT and 2 gigs of RAM, can handle the load, and I have little doubt that we will have any issues with the PRI. I believe most of my concern stems from how my users (aka co-workers) will embrace the new technology. People typically do not like change, and there will be a great deal of change involved here. Yes, it’s still a phone – you pick it up, dial a number, and get the person on the other end, and for my co-workers who only use that, they will care less. However, the voicemail works differently, conferencing works differently, and most importantly, they’re losing the “Line 1, Line 2, Line 3, etc.” functionality that they are all so used to. No longer will they be able to say “You have a call on Line X” but instead, they’ll have to transfer the call directly to that person’s extension. Also, our current “operator” is losing her ability to glance at her phone and see that x20 is on the phone or Line 3 is on hold. I’m planning to eventually bring this functionality back, but it will be a few weeks.

Once thing that I think is super-cool is how you can integrate Asterisk into pretty much anything. I plan to add our phone status on to our company intranet so that anyone can view our corporate phone list online and see if John Doe is on the phone or not before dialing the number.

The final item I’m most concerned about is reliability in regards to system failure/disaster-recovery. I have full faith in Asterisk and my ability to admin it most of the time, but what happens if the system crashes while I’m on vacation? Yikes – that’s what happens. I’m not presently aware of any consultants that have Asterisk experience within at least 50 miles of here – maybe farther than that. I should probably consider keeping a spare T1 interface card on hand, but it’s going to be hard to justify a $450 part sitting on the shelf “just in case” since my budget is already blown.

If you run Asterisk in a production environment, please drop me a note – I’d love to chat with you about it sometime.

Misc Tech Things

I upgraded the site to the WordPress SVN “trunk” today, which is currently labeled 2.1-alpha2. I see quite a few ‘minor’ things shuffled up, such as “Links” in the admin menu is now called “Blogroll” and the “Write” tab, which used to link to wp-admin/post.php now links to wp-admin/post-new.php – not sure why that had to be changed, but anyway.

I swapped out the demo/production Asterisk servers out at work today. The new Dell PowerEdge 830 “BorgCube” is now the Big Kahuna on the block and “Intrepid” will become my sandbox where I test new versions and upgrade paths. I have a few SIP phones (Grandstream Budgetone 101′s) that I need to configure and then send out to the branch offices that I’ve asked to help me test things out.

Name that Server

I just ordered what will soon become our Asterisk server for work, and now we need to name it. Lately, I’ve been giving Star Trek’ish sort of nicknames to the Linux boxen around the workplace, and I think I’m gonna stick with that theme. After a brainstorming session with Matt, I have a short list of possibilities and I’ve created a poll to help decide on the name. The poll can be found at the top-right of any page on wantmoore.com (minus the gallery section), so be sure and vote! If you have a good suggestion that we missed, leave it in the comments here and I’ll get it added to the poll module ASAP.

Dell to offer Opteron Servers

Dell issued Dthis press release yesterday, and for me, the news couldn’t have been any better.

In the enterprise, we will launch new ninth generation servers featuring Intel’s Woodcrest microprocessors. Dell will also introduce new AMD Opteron processors in our multi-processor servers by the end of the year offering a great new technology to our customers at the high-end of our server line.

DailyTech as some commentary in the article Hell Freezes Over.

I think AMD is definitely on the upswing again, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. I previously mentioned my desire for one of these, but I don’t think I can (or want to) put my purchase off that long. It also looks like it’s only going to be upper-end machines, and I’m looking to keep our purchase under $1,500 if at all possible. I guess I’ll just cross my fingers and wait and see what happens in the next month.