VoIPowering your Office with Asterisk - Building a Test Lab, Part 1

by Carla Schroder

Setting up a testing network is step one on the road to your free PBX. This shouldn't take more than an hour of your life.

Deploying a new Asterisk PBX is not a trivial task, so the wise admin first sets up a test lab. This three-part subseries will show you how to be up and running in an hour, and how to spend little or no money in the process. You should have knowledge of basic networking and Linux system administration. If you need some help with these, see Resources, below.

It doesn't take much to set up a test lab. A minimal setup requires:

  • For the Asterisk server: a PC with a Pentium III CPU or equivalent, a ten-gigabyte hard drive, a network interface card, and 256 megabytes of RAM . Do not share this machine; use it only to run Asterisk.
  • Two client PCs equipped with network cards, softphones, soundcards, speakers and microphones, or headsets.
  • A hub or switch to connect the three computers.
Our Asterisk installation will completely overwrite the hard drive, so back up anything you want to save.

Softphones are software VoIP clients, like the excellent SJPhone, which runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.

USB headsets are nice, like this Logitech model. You don't need a sound card if you use one of these.

Of course you may test any hardware you like, such as analog phone adapters, IP phones, and various types of server interfaces. Please see VoIPowering Your Office with Asterisk - Part 2 for a discussion of available hardware. You may also wish to read VoIPowering Your Office with Asterisk - Part 1 for additional background information.

Getting the Software
In this series and in upcoming articles we're going to use Asterisk@Home. Don't let the name mislead you, because Asterisk@Home is not a stripped-down edition for home users. It's a sophisticated, customized Asterisk implementation that is perfect for the enterprise. Some call it "Asterisk on Steroids" because it integrates an array of great add-ons, including the CentOS Linux operating system:

  • Asterisk PBX
  • Asterisk Management Panel, a web-based graphical management interface. Asterisk contains several dozen configuration files, so AMP will save your time and sanity many times over
  • Flash Operator Panel, a Flash-based real-time monitor for watching and managing all PBX activity
  • CentOS Linux CentOS is a free clone of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so it's a stable, mature, heavy-duty server operating system
  • OpenSSH for secure encryption
  • SugarCRM for managing contacts. SugarCRM integrates phone calls, text messages, faxes, emails, and tasks and scheduling
  • Festival Speech Engine, for rendering text-to-speech
A complete list can be found on the excellent Asterisk@Home Wiki.

You may download either an .iso image to create a bootable installation CD, or a compressed tar archive to install on an existing Linux or Unix server. In this series we'll stick with the .iso, since that is the fastest and easiest. It's about a 509-megabyte download. Get the most recent stable version, which as of this writing is asteriskathome-2.7.iso. Don't use the beta versions unless you know what you are doing.

Installing Asterisk@Home
Once you have created your installation CD, use it to boot up your Asterisk server. Remember, this overwrites your entire hard drive. First CentOS will install. The entire installation is automated- you won't partition or select packages. You do need to be present when the CentOS installation is finished, because you'll need to remove the installation CD. After reboot the Asterisk@Home installation will take place. Nothing to do here except have a cup of tea while it works. You'll probably have time for two cups and a biscuit, as the Asterisk installation takes around 30 minutes.

Configuring the Asterisk Server
Your first chore after installation is completed is to change the root password. Login to Asterisk using the default root login, which is the username "root" and the terribly secret password "password." Then use the passwd command to create a new password:

# passwd
Changing password for root
(current) UNIX password:
Enter new UNIX password:
Retype new UNIX password:
passwd: all authentication tokens updated successfully

Next, configure networking. If your Asterisk@Home machine is on a subnet served by a DHCP server, the installer will get its networking configuration from the DHCP server. If you don't have a DHCP server, networking will not be configured. Either way you should give your Asterisk@Home server a static IP. Do this with the netconfig command. This brings up a graphical configuration menu. Make sure that "Use dynamic IP configuration (BOOTP/DHCP)" is not checked. Then enter your chosen IP address, netmask, default gateway, and primary nameserver. You should have Internet access, so the default gateway is the IP of your Internet gateway, and the primary nameserver is either the DNS server of your Internet provider, or a local caching nameserver.

When you're finished, restart networking to apply the changes:

# /etc/init.d/network restart

This is a good time to assign IPs to the client PCs so they are on the same subnet as the Asterisk server, and to connect all the computers to the hub or switch if you haven't already.

Now you want the Asterisk Management Portal. Fire up a Web browser on one of the client PCs and enter http://[asterisk IP address]. This opens the AMP Web management page. Click on "Asterisk Management Portal (AMP)" to log in. The default AMP user is "maint", and the default password is "password".

That's as far as we're going today. Come back next week to learn how to change the AMP password, create extensions, set up basic functions, make some actual phone calls, and how to replace the Asterisk@Home logo with your own logo.

Asterisk: the Open Source PBX
Asterisk has been ported to other operating systems, though keep in mind that it is best-supported on Linux:
Asterisk OS Platforms
My very own Linux Cookbook is designed for beginning-to-intermediate Linux system administrators and users
TCP/IP Network Administration, Third Edition is a great networking reference
Nice installation howto for Linux newbies

This article was originally published on Monday Apr 3rd 2006