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D.I.Y. Asterisk Appliances: A Question Of Scale

1. Gumstix

If you set the WABAC machine back a few years we can get to what is likely the smallest DIY Asterisk appliance ever undertaken, based upon the appropriately name little Gumstix family of boards. To my knowledge Kristian Kielhofner of Astlinux and Star2Star fame was the first to port Asterisk to these teeny little boards. He showed it at Astricon in 2005.

At the time featuring a 400 MHz Xscale processor the wee Gumstix may not be the least powerful host ever selected for use with Asterisk, but measuring only 20 x 80 mm it surely must be the smallest.

Despite it’s small size the board was surprisingly powerful, especially if not pressed hard for floating point operations. Kristian’s port of Asterisk was very experimental. I don’t believe that it ever reach a release candidate.

Nonetheless, the concept of Asterisk on Gumstix ignited a lot of ideas about embedding Asterisk into other devices. For example, you could embed an Asterisk system into an existing SIP desk phone without requiring the complicity of the manufacturer. In so doing you would have the ability to give the phone sophisticated internal dial plan capability with support for multiple accounts and protocols.

Even just embedding a SIP-to-IAX2 protocol translator would provide a definitive NAT traversal solution without resorting to using cheap Chinese IAX2 phones. The ability to run effectively run IAX2 on a premium SIP desk phone would certainly be handy for anyone with an Asterisk or Freeswitch based back-end and remote home office workers.

Over time Gumstix have evolved to use ever fast processors, and offer a wide range of interface boards. They’ve become wildly popular with the amateur robotics crowd.

The one issue for this hardware is the lack of readily available cases.The various CPU and interface boards clip together in a fashion that, while not unattractive, isn’t physically robust. To be used beyond experimental applications they should be securely mounted into another device or a some kind of case.

This Post Has 6 Comments
    1. boerner,

      I’m aware of these devices. However, at the start I made the conscious decision not include commercially available Asterisk appliances. There are many such devices available. I wanted to keep a decidedly D.I.Y. approach in mind. Further, I suspect that all of the commercial offerings are more costly than the platforms I wished to consider.

      I must admit that part of the appeal of the thin clients is that I was recycling hardware that was headed to the dumpster. It was at least a little green-ish.

      I do agree that David Rowe‘s work is awesome. We even had Steven Song from the Shuttleworth Foundation / Village Telco as a guest on a VUC call late last year.

  1. Another plug for the IP0X series, especially the very low cost IP01s & IP02s.
    They are so cheap that they are a good choice for the hobbyist / home enthusiast that wants to try out Asterisk.
    Here in New Zealand, we pay less than NZ$300 for an IP01.
    One nice thing about them is they include everything you need.

    On a related note, I once tried getting Asterisk working on a Linksys SLUG (the NSLU2) It was a royal pain.

    I love the idea of an appliance to run Asterisk – no hard drive and no PC power supply to fail. And no noise and very low power consumption.

    My challenge is that I really like “HD Voice” (G.722) so want to run Asterisk 1.6 on an appliance – that has enough grunt to trasnscode G.722 to G.711 etc. Only need to support 3 or 4 concurrent calls at max though.

    1. Andrew,

      Almost all of the platforms that I described will run Asterisk v1.6 and support the use of G.722. Certainly the last three types described (thin clients, SBCs and net-tops) all have more than enough power to handle such matters.

      I know that the latest release of Astlinux uses Asterisk v1.6 and runs happily on the Fit-PC or and older Soekris Net4801. I’ve done both myself.

  2. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he really bought me lunch simply because I discovered it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  3. Hey Michael,
    Excellent writeup. As I said, your site’s almost as addictive as Wikipedia. A note on REVO 3610.. I am using it as a media center, running regular Ubuntu Lucid with XBMC, playing Hi-Def content with barely getting into 20% CPU usage (720p). It’s a very powerful platform, that runs very little juice. For a proper office setup, you can easily use the Sangoma USBfxo unit, which (according to a quick ebay check) runs for about $125. The manufacturer offers driver source code for download. I haven’t tried working with it yet, but it’s a very interesting option for a hybrid setup.

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