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Excellent Open Source Telephony Application

From the AsteriskNOW Web site:

Asterisk is the world’s leading open source telephony engine and tool kit. Offering flexibility unheard of in the world of proprietary communications, Asterisk empowers developers and integrators to create advanced communication solutions…for free.

What this means is that small (and large) businesses can reduce their telephone PBX (Private Branch eXchange) costs significantly by implementing the AsteriskNOW software appliance instead of investing in a proprietary PBX. In practical terms, a small business can set up a software PBX using an old PC as the server and by making use of IP telephone handsets (i.e. the handsets connect to your data network), can have a working telephone system for a small investment.

The PBX can be connected to the regular telephone network (often referred to as “POTS”, for Plain Old Telephone System) by the installation of a card in one of the PC’s expansion slots. These cards support multiple phone lines, so that, if you have a large amount of telephone traffic, it can be managed smoothly. Another option is to use your existing Internet connection and contract with a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service provider, thus bypassing the telephone company entirely.

All this is well and good – but what about managing people and extensions, external phone lines and voicemail (yes, it comes with voicemail, too)? I have been running an Asterisk server for a couple of years now – in fact, my office number is a VoIP line (or “trunk” in telephony jargon) that connects to the Asterisk box and then over my office network to my telephone handset. To be blunt, the original set up process was quite a challenge – it is a complex and very flexible environment, so can be difficult to configure. Enter AsteriskNOW – this is known as a software appliance, a specialized configuration that is burned to CD and then loaded on to the PC or server that will host the appliance. AsteriskNOW has a Web-based configuration interface:

FreePBX screenshot
Screenshot of the AsteriskNOW graphical interface, FreePBX.

In this partial screen image, you can see on the left side the various menu options that are configured to the requirements of your office – Extensions, Trunks and Outbound Routes, IVR, Voicemail (part of the Extensions configuration) and so on. IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is the feature which allows an Automated Attendant to be set up (as in “Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Support”). Other features of note include the ability to have an interactive voicemail message – if someone needs to get hold of you urgently, you can set up the voicemail so that when your “Away from my desk” message is played, pressing “1” can forward the call to your cell phone (or home office, or wherever you might be). This feature can be set up, too, in such a way that it’s hidden from general callers and only those you inform can use it.

AsteriskNOW also supports Queues (e.g. to a support line), Ring Groups (sometimes called hunt groups), the recording of Announcements and the ability to handle out-of-hours calls differently than calls received during business hours.

In other words, AsteriskNOW does pretty much everything a costly proprietary phone system will do – at a fraction of the cost


October 30, 2009 Posted by | Business Development, Information Technology (I.T.), Open Source | , , | Leave a comment