Looking at what Asterisk is and is not, the natural question follows: is Asterisk right for me? This is a vitally important question that should be given serious consideration. Let’s take a moment and look at some of the considerations we must explore before we commit to using Asterisk.
Asterisk is a very powerful framework into which we can install almost anything. We can configure each piece of Asterisk to the minutest detail. This gives us an amazing amount of flexibility. This flexibility does not come without a price. Each of these details must be researched, understood, and tried. Each change we make affects other parts of the phone system, whether for good or for bad. Asterisk is not an easy-to-use platform, especially for the beginner.
There is a learning curve, but it is one that can be surmounted. Many developers have become experts in telephony; many telephony experts have mastered server administration. But each of us must decide what we expect from our phone system. I like to think of it in three major categories, as outlined in the following table:
It is important to realize that Asterisk, as great as it is, is not the right solution for everybody. Like any technology we implement, we must consider its impact on the business, and decide whether it will become something useful that enables us to work better, or whether it will require too much maintenance and other work to make it an efficient addition. This depends entirely on our purposes and the other technology we have that requires our attention.
Graphical versus Configuration File Management
Asterisk currently uses plain text files to configure most options. This is a very simple way to create, back up, and modify configurations for those who are comfortable with command-line tools.
Some PBX systems offer a Graphical User Interface (GUI) to update the configurations. Others don’t allow the configuration to be changed except by dialing cryptic codes on telephone handsets. Still others cannot be configured at all, except by certified technicians who receive the required software and cables from the phone system manufacturer.
A few good open-source tools are being created to ease the management of Asterisk. However, to get the full ability to customize Asterisk, editing of text files is still required. To help get used to this method of configuration, this book focuses on the text files and does not rely on any GUI package.
As we evaluate Asterisk, we must ask ourselves if we are happy about working with text configuration files to configure our phone system. If we are unwilling or unable to do so, Asterisk may not be the best choice.