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Which Asterisk Or Other VoIP System To Deploy? 91

Posted by Cliff
from the seeking-advice-and-suggestions dept.
ubercombatwombat is looking for a bit of advice: "On the 9th of November, I have a meeting to discuss an Asterisk based phone system for a new elementary school. I am the network admin for the district. Currently, we are migrating from a T-1 based Nortel (option 61, 2 x option 11 and 7 x Norstar 8x32's, for those who care) to 1GB data fiber and a 2nd pair per site — to allow simple copper-to-fiber for the split T-1/Norstar's. We also just got a 10MB (scalable to 100MB) connect to the Internet. I can keep the VoIP basically on a separate network if need be as well. What do I install? Are there Asterisk vendors that are available and have enough experience?"
"The hardware support we can handle just fine, it's the software that's the big issue. One thing to keep in mind is that E911 is priority one for any brand or type. No exceptions. Other than that one thing, the field is fairly open.

I see two possibilities:

- A Cisco system or Shortel system — education budgets vary wildly from year to year and recurring cost have to be kept down.

- Hybrid of Cisco, Snom, or Polycom handsets with a custom Asterisk box with good third-party support. I see a few options such as Fonality or Digium. If anyone is aware of online options with good service, please suggest them.

Trixbox may or may not be what I use. I have had systems going 24/7 for over a year and am very happy, but the product's future is unclear just now.

So, what and who? I won't go there without third-party support. What suggestions can Slashdot offer me?"
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Which Asterisk Or Other VoIP System To Deploy?

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  • by gregmac (629064) on Friday November 03, 2006 @08:37AM (#16701479) Homepage
    Why not just use freePBX [freepbx.org]? It's the web frontend/configuration that Trixbox uses. It can be installed on basically any distro (I run it on debian), so you can pick the one you're most comfortable with. Having it installed separately also means you can upgrade components separately.

  • Layers (Score:3, Informative)

    by lathama (639499) <lathamaNO@SPAMlathama.com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @08:59AM (#16701599) Homepage Journal
    You will need many layers to this project. As an Asterisk Consultant I can advise you but am far to busy to help.

    Network Layer - Proper planning and routing on paper a month before install.

    Hardware Layer - People care about phones, they may not mention it but they do. For a school where emergancy services are key I would look for a ten year solution. Water cooling, oversized tyan system with raid->lvm->xen->ntp,bind,asterisk,www,tftp,etc.... .

    Software Layer - For optimal performance I would document the current system and call flow. Then redocument it with the receptionist. Submit this to a professional like Digium to work your dialplan and config the needed modules.

    Training Layer - Users will have to see some change or they will start complaining that it is not the old system. Be calm and polite, normal personel rules apply.

    Documentation Layer - Extension Directories, move-add-changes, redundancy systems. You and others need to know how it all works, and the users need to know who to call.
  • Two tips for you. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday November 03, 2006 @09:05AM (#16701623) Homepage
    #1 - do not cheap-out on hardware. your project will fail miserably if you buy all cheap phones and cheap linecards. Echo will live in your nightmares and make you fail. get real digium cards, nothing else. This stuff actually works. Get decent phones. If it says budgetone on it it is absolute crap and you need to stay away from it. Figure $150-$200 per phone for decent quality. Watch it buying used Cisco SIP phones. I have been burnt buying used onesthat are locked and nobody knows the codes, cisco dont care so they will not help.

    #2 - E911 is very easy. you need a real analog line in that area for the e911 outgoing line. set up a dialing rule that routes any 911 calls out that analog line and voila! 911 works perfectly.
  • Re:Two tips for you. (Score:5, Informative)

    by walt-sjc (145127) on Friday November 03, 2006 @09:52AM (#16701961)
    I agree with "don't use cheap hardware," but I would go with Sangoma cards. Digium cards are too finiky with the PCI bus. Sangoma has been doing network cards for MUCH longer, and "just work." Furthermore, they use Octastic echo cancellers which are top in the industry. Sangoma supports Asterisk Very Very well. I've used both, and won't buy digium T1 cards again - been burned too many times.

    Second, he will use T1 lines (PRI) and not a "vonage" like VoIP service. No need for the analog line. One analog line and E911 won't work well for schools anyway. You need to be able to map the exact location in the building for 911. You do this by making sure you have a DID for each phone, and setting the callerID info correctly on outgoing calls. The telco provider will work with you to ensure that the 911 database has the location in the school of each DID number. That way, when the 911 dispacher gets your number, it shows not only the school address, but the exact location in the school of the caller. This system doesn't depend on the phone system at all. What you CAN do is set callerID to the generic main number for all calls EXCEPT 911 (where you send the full DID number) if you normally don't want extensions shown to callee's.

  • Re:Two tips for you. (Score:3, Informative)

    by lowlands (463021) on Friday November 03, 2006 @10:12AM (#16702173) Homepage Journal
    "get real digium cards, nothing else."

    I can strongly recommend reviewing Sangoma cards too. Do some googling around and search for the reviews/comparisons of both Digium and Sangoma cards and you will see why you should give the Sangoma cards a good look/test too. Ask around and you will likely hear that Sangoma's support gets a major thumbs up. My personal experience with Digium's support is not good. The proverbial "Mike" in India was totally useless. If I call the Support dept. of a company that makes cards that interface with voice E1/PRI lines, then I should not have to explain to this guy what a g.703/704 interface is, period.

    Do also compare the hardware echo cancellation specs of both the Digium and Sangoma cards. Don't use the marketing specs but review the real nitty gritty stuff like how many tabs the echo cans support at which tail length. Iirc the Sangoma cards have better tail length specs when the max amount of tabs is used. One thing about echo on a phone line: if you have it, you have a problem. If you have it and you can't make it go away, you run the risk of having to look for a new job. So make sure you go with the solution that works best for your infrastructure/financial environment and provides your users with crystal clear phone calls.

    The Asterisk-Sangoma cards combination is a very strong one. That is definitely not to say that deployments based on Asterisk-Digium cards suck. On the contrary. There are many, many installations that work fine. You just have to make sure that if you go the Asterisk route, your decision to go with a certain brand of interface cards is based on some serious testing of *all* combinations on your shortlist.
  • by deque_alpha (257777) <qhartman.gmail@com> on Friday November 03, 2006 @11:03AM (#16702875) Journal
    I am a former tech coordinator for a public school district. One of my last projects before I left was to develop a district-wide communication upgrade plan. Unless you have a lot of time on your hands and/or have a local vendor who can support it an Asterix-based solution is probably not a good idea. There are a lot of vendors out there that are experimenting with it, but I have yet to see one that has a solution I would call "fully baked". Whatever you go with, a proven track record and a local vendor who is certified to support your gear (and also has a good track record) is paramount. Nothing will make you look worse than a phone system that is a pain to use or is flaky. People have very high expectations when it comes to the behavior of phones, and absolutely will not tolerate the kind of BS they up with from their computers.

    - A Cisco system or Shortel system -- Education budgets vary wildly from year to year and reoccurring cost have to be kept down.

    I find it laughable that you mention keeping costs down and Cisco or Shoretel in the same sentence. I have a Shoretel system in my office at my current employer, and it's very nice. However, it is also very expensive, and it's less costly than than Cisco... You are factoring in handset costs and extension licensing when you look at the cost of the system, right? Right? You are, right?

    The best solution I found (and the one I recommended before I left) is the Rauland Telecenter VI. It gives great bang for the buck and is a highly integrated complete comm system designed for schools, so if you have bell, intercom, and clock systems that need to be upgraded as well, you get to do that nearly for free. It also lets you use Voip phones where you need big feature sets and $10 analog phones where you need "just a phone". Handsets are where a huge portion of the expense of a big phone system deployment go, after all. There also is no per-handset licensing, if I remember correctly. http://www.rauland.com/education/tc6/tc6_home.htm [rauland.com]
  • Re:Two tips for you. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Friday November 03, 2006 @12:40PM (#16704159) Homepage
    Second, he will use T1 lines (PRI) and not a "vonage" like VoIP service. No need for the analog line. One analog line and E911 won't work well for schools anyway.

    this is great for normal day to day. but when the whole schjool is in the dark, only the plain old POTS line will work. this gives you a line that will work no matter what, lead the principal to the phone closet and pick up that line, better yet.... Put one red phone in the office labeled "EMERGENCY" and now no worries are needed. Honestly sending E911 exact room numer is way overkill. EMS or police will always come to the office first before responding, and the office will lead them there instead of having them wander looking for room 302. much faster and in an emergency speed is more important.
  • Re:Two tips for you. (Score:2, Informative)

    by ReverendRyan (582497) on Friday November 03, 2006 @10:37PM (#16712131) Homepage
    Honestly sending E911 exact room numer is way overkill. EMS or police will always come to the office first before responding, and the office will lead them there instead of having them wander looking for room 302. much faster and in an emergency speed is more important.

    I work at a school, and am the phone admin. Washington state law requires that room identification is provided with E911 coming from schools, and I would imagine that this is true for other states as well.

    EMS or police will always come to the office first before responding, and the office will lead them there instead of having them wander looking for room 302

    We're required to provide up-to-date campus maps for our fire department.

    E911 is not something to skimp on, even if it isn't required by state and local laws.

    Source [wa.gov] [pdf warning!]

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