VoIPowering Your Office: AsteriskNOW vs. Asterisk Biz Edition Deathmatch

by Carla Schroder

AsteriskNOW smooths many of the rough edges of the wild, untamed PBX, but sometimes you really need some support.

In the first two parts of this sub-series we we looked at how to get the open source, free-of-cost AsteriskNOW, how to install and test it, and how to perform essential system administration tasks such as getting administrator and root passwords in order, keeping the system updated, and how to install and remove software. Today we're going to compare AsteriskNOW to the not-free-of-cost Asterisk Business Edition, and take a look at some of Digium's other shiny new offerings.

Does money buy happiness?
Of course it does, and anyone who denies it has never experienced poverty. Or tried to set up an Asterisk server. While I think do-it-yourselfers are the finest folks on Earth, sometimes it's more cost-effective to buy help. When should you consider buying the Business Edition?

  • You want to get up and running as quickly as possible
  • You want ongoing maintenance and support
  • You are not an experienced Linux administrator
  • People on the Asterisk mailing list are telling you "Dude, you really need to buy the supported version"
The last one is a highly reliable indicator. The Asterisk users mailing list is high-volume and very helpful. It's rare that you can't find answers there. So if the nice folks on the list are saying your needs are too great for the free edition, you should probably take them seriously.

So—the Business Edition gives you the official support from smart Digium persons. What else? In my not-at-all-humble opinion, its most important features are priority quality control and bug fixes. According to Bill Miller, ace Digium spokesmodel, the Business Edition receives over 1,500 quality-assurance tests. The current edition is based on the well-pummeled Asterisk 1.2, rather than the newly released 1.4.

It's also a complete software appliance, built on rPath Linux. You get actual printed manuals and several choices for additional custom services, such as hands-on configuration help and custom development.

Free is happy, too!
But AsteriskNOW has its own advantages, as we've seen over the past two episodes (see Resources, below). Top os the list is the nice Web-based interface. It's really good—finally I have something I can recommend to Asterisk noobs. It's well-organized, and you can do both Asterisk and system administration with it. Best of all is its direct relationship to the underlying text configuration files. You can use the Web interface, or edit the files directly as you like and it won't make a mess. This feature alone wins my heart.

Just like Business Edition, AsteriskNOW is a complete software appliance built on rPath Linux.

Secondly, it's more popular than my famous beer-and-chocolate diet. (I never claimed it was a weight-loss diet, just a diet.) The AsteriskNOW forums show over 37,000 registered users. Digium claims that Asterisk is downloaded more than 2,000 times per day, with a user community over 12,000, and over 4,000 users on the development lists. Aside from bragging rights, what does all of this mean? It means good things for users and system administrators, because that's a lot of talent going into testing, deployment, and development. There's no better torture testing than thousands of users under all manner of real-world conditions. That's the power of the open-source development model—you have the potential to harness far more energy and talent than is possible under a closed-source system.

AsteriskNOW is also more bleeding-edge, as it's based on Asterisk 1.4. There are substantial differences between 1.2 and 1.4, some of which we've discussed here. So you're getting all those great new features. You're also getting some potentially great new bugs and security holes.

Finally, Digium is going to provide a direct upgrade path from AsteriskNOW to the Business Edition.

Of appliances and appliances
All of this appliance talk is like a foreign language to me. I'm an old-country geek, not a Pointy-Haired Boss. But the concept makes sense—package up Asterisk in a way that reduces the grunt work and lets you get to the real work. I work with olde tyme UNIX geeks who grow pale at the sight of any executable over 100K and faint in the presence of graphical interfaces. Me, I like it when the computer does the work and makes my life easier.

Digium is rolling out great steaming piles of new things based on the appliance concept. The Asterisk Appliance Developer Kit was released last month; it targets developers and system integrators by bundling all the hardware and software needed to build a sleek embedded PBX that supports up to 50 users. Included in the kit is a two-day training course, which believe me you should do whatever necessary to attend.

Next week we'll take a look at more of the cool new products Digium is releasing. You can get a preview at next week's Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Fort Lauderdale.

VoIP Powering Your Office: AsteriskNOW, the Friendlier Asterisk
VoIP Powering Your Office: AsteriskNOW, the Friendlier Asterisk, Part 2
Digium Names Bill Miller Vice President of Product Management and Marketing
Internet Telephony Conference & Expo East

This article was originally published on Monday Jan 22nd 2007