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

2. Pogo Plug

The Sheeva Pogo Plug is an embedded Linux based hardware device initially intended for use as an embedded file server. Attach a couple of USB hard drives and it becomes a file server with media handling functionality.

The user community soon realized that it’s also handy as a low-cost embedded Linux system for any application. With support from the manufacturer an open source community has grow up around the device, including an Asterisk distribution known as PlugPBX

You can purchase a developers kit for $99 that includes the basic Plug computer running a 1.2 GHz “Sheeva” CPU, which is based upon an ARM core. The system includes 512 MB of memory and 512 MB of on-board flash for persistent storage. External connectivity includes gigabit ethernet and some USB 2.0 ports.

A recent thread in the VoIP forum over at DSL Reports details one users weekend project getting PlugPBX running on the Sheeva Developers Kit. While this certainly seems like an interesting project there are a couple of things to be considered when choosing a Sheeva Plug as your host platform.

As the plug is based upon something other than x86 processor architecture there are some things that it will not be able to do. Largely this comes down to the inability to recompile some parts of the code that might be involved in an Asterisk installation.

For example, if you are bandwidth constrained you may wish to use  Digium’s G.729a codec. You won’t be able to run that code using the Sheeva Plug. Typical of a proprietary piece of software the G.729a codec is delivered as a binary installation with no source code. Thus you cannot compile it for the ARM processor in the Plug. The same thing is true for Skype-For-Asterisk.

However, these two modules are by no means universally deployed. Many site will not require those capabilities which means that the Plug may be considered. Personally, I find the “wall wart” form factor a bit of a turn off, but it no doubt appeals to some people.

The Sheeva Plug and it’s larger brother the Guru Plug are interesting ideas for hosting embedded Asterisk, but seem to me to be exclusively in the domain of the hobbyist or experimentalist. Fine for home use, but not something that I’d expect to see deployed in a small business setting.

3. Seagate Dockstar

Seagate have licensed the Pogo Plug technology and offer it in the form of a product that they call the Seagate Dockstar. True to the original launch of the Pogo Plug the Seagate Dockstar is intended to be a server accessory for one or more portable hard drives. It effectively turns them into affordable “Network Attached Storage.”

Since Seagate’s target application for the Dockstar is very specific it’s not unreasonable to expect that it’s hardware specs have been trimmed to keep costs in-line. The device is supposed to list at $99 like the Plug, but has been seen on BUY.COM for as little as $25.

No-one has yet confirmed that they have Asterisk successfully running on a Dockstar. However, even as I was working on this post one of the regulars over at DSL Reports VoIP Forum posted a description of getting Open-WRT and Freeswitch running on the Dockstar. That could make the Dockstar the cheapest little experimental embedded PBX platform available at the moment.

6 thoughts on “D.I.Y. Asterisk Appliances: A Question Of Scale”

    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. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSLU2

    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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