Recently at WhichVoIP, we have been toiling with various PBX software systems. The intent is to show businesses of all shapes and sizes that it is very possible to create your very own VoIP PBX server with a little guidance, a small investment of time and very little money.
Essentially, this is a “win-win” for everyone involved. Smaller companies employing someone technologically literate and willing to get their hands dirty (so to speak) can build a system with an average computer. Mid-sized businesses and larger corporations can give IT people something to do besides unlock accounts and re-image workstations (just kidding IT folks).
Even those already using a great hosted service may want to experiment with PBX software as some VoIP services are a lot like going to an expensive buffet when you’re not very hungry. However, beware – not all systems are created equal.
The Selection Process
Many different systems fell into our queue for experimentation, one being the Fonality system called Trixbox. We are targeting systems offered as full distributions with an operating system, all the necessary server components and PBX software. Having met all the criteria (and sharing a name with a favorite childhood breakfast cereal) Trixbox appeared to be a good project candidate.
At first glance, it seems like many other systems in the market as it uses Asterisk and runs on top of CentOS. It has a graphical, web-based configuration and shouldn’t require any kind of core console manipulation much less, intensive scripting. Sadly, horrible things surfaced starting shortly after installation.
The Beginning of a Bad Relationship
Normally, provisioning whatever host you chose for such software should be a fairly pain free process without total corruption of all preexisting data on a machine. Similar systems using some form of Asterisk and an underlying Linux OS generally provide several options that allow the user to modify existing partitions on the chosen machine (or virtual machine) so as not to interfere with data.
The threshold of disaster!
The first of the three distributions we tried is the most current version offered on the Fonality website. After acquiring the image and starting the setup process, I chose the first option during installation as RAID, though useful, was not necessary to test the system. What happened next threw me for a loop.
The experience was much like the first bowl of porridge sampled by Goldilocks during her pillage of the Bear family home. Except instead of a scorched mouth, the install wiped out everything on the machine from a Professional XP operating system, occupying one partition on the hard drive as well as the two attached USB drives. Arguably, a worse experience than eating overheated porridge!
Ultimately, I could never finalize the installation much less test the system. Each time after login, the kernel would panic so I decided to start over with a different distro.
The next bout with Trixbox appeared much more promising. Though the damage had already been done, my trust in the Fonality’s hosted files was compromised, so I utilized a distro found on SourceForge. This yielded the best results of my entire trixbox experience, except for one major flaw.
It works ……. kind of.
After the installation completed, I was able to access the configuration console and build a functioning system. I found the layout to be very similar to FreePBX – in fact, some of the areas were exactly the same. Some pages even used the term “FreePBX” where it should have said “trixbox.”
I was able to configure my Yealink T22P phone to make and receive calls to softphones I configured with ZoiPer. My HTC One, the softphone on my Windows 7 machine and Samsung tablet could all communicate with each other whether connected to the same LAN or an outside network.
Then it came time to test the SIP trunk by making calls to the external world. After inputting the settings to connect to VoIP Innovations and configuring an outbound route, I should have been able to call a phone on the PTSN or device on a mobile network. But it never worked, despite showing registration for the configured trunk.
Remembering that there was another configuration area within FreePBX called Asterisk SIP Settings, I searched high and low to find this very important tool (or something comparable) in Trixbox. This particular module enables the admin to configure settings allowing the system to play nice with NAT as well as tweak additional settings such as voice and video codecs. Otherwise, the data stream is treated like a person trying to board an international flight without a passport. Even after scanning every repository available and calling support, the software was never located so the SIP trunks never functioned properly. This is despite showing registration with VoIP Innovations and another account with CallCentric, both of which produced error messages when attempting to complete calls.
The Final Battle
I gave one last attempt to make Trixbox function before finally admitting defeat – hey I’m a fighter if nothing else! This time, I used another distro from the Fonality site. This one almost installed but came to a screeching halt during the final step.
Failure. Every. Single. Time.
The systems expects a username and password but does not provide the option to configure a root user during the installation process. Instead, it expects a name and password generated by Fonality. The previous attempt was like driving a car that won’t shift out of second gear but this experience was like trying to start a vehicle with no ignition system.
Every so often, you will encounter road bumps with software on the marketplace but an easy work around is usually available. However, a patch does not appear to be available for Trixbox. It is very likely this system could have been salvaged if I only had the little patch of missing software.
What is irritating is lack of help from Fonality support. The individual I spoke with was very quick to admit that the product is abandoned and offered little to no help. I simply needed one software package to make the system function. Because I am not an existing customer, they apparently could not provide me with the files required to make the system function.
At WhichVoIP, we agreed that this software seemed like a good product based on material found on the Fonality website. Being a large, respected provider, there is really no reason to keep the pages for Trixbox live. In the very least, text should be altered to inform potential users that Trixbox is basically all out of tricks. The cynic in me thinks that maybe allowing search traffic to continually flow through the Trixbox area of the site will guarantee a small percentage of upsells to Fonality’s paid platform! Well, you’ll find no link on this page for Trixbox!
If you are looking for good free PBX software, go with 3CX, FreePBX or good old Asterisk – they are easy to use and are well supported by their respective companies. Stay tuned as we will be covering more PBX systems in the near future.