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

4. Router Platforms

The Linksys WRT-54GL is a consumer router offering that broke out from the crowd at least in part because it was running a Linux based operating system. This meant that it was effectively a cheap hardware platform sufficiently open to allow software developers to enhance its capabilities through aftermarket firmware.

There are a variety of such releases including Open-WRT, DD-WRT and Tomato. Some like, DD-WRT, started out as open source projects but have evolved into commercial activities in their own right. They in turn have worked to support a variety of hardware platforms.

I am amazed at how often I find this type of software being used, even in small business establishments. I often find that IT staff from considerable companies run such wares in their homes. They seek the complexity of control that they have in their working lives, but on smaller and less costly hardware platforms more appropriate for the home.

This trend was so pronounced that in 2009 Netgear, a late comer to this party, introduced products specifically targeted at this open source, 3rd party firmware community.

While all of this is curious and possibly interesting, it’s application to Asterisk might be limited. However, these router platforms are on the $50-100 range and Asterisk has in fact been ported to this hardware. This makes such little routers a very cheap way to get started playing with Asterisk.

However, they are not without their issues. These devices were built to a task and so are inherently resource limited. That means limited memory, lack of persistent storage beyond on-board flash. They often lack the physical ports that other platforms, like the Sheeva Plug, provide to enhance storage and expansion capabilities. These factors tend to complicate the use of Asterisk if you’re not inclined to hack through some solutions on your own.

Yet, those people that I find making use of Asterisk on such hardware are often very committed to what they’re doing. They’ve accomplished something significant getting this little, limited hardware device to run something considerably beyond its original scope. They’ve added a lot of value along the way.

I would be remiss in leaving these little router platforms out of my overview, but I do feel that they are generally in the domain of the hobbyist / experimentalist. Not something that I’d recommend for a home-based small business.

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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