Looking for new PBX solution - could use some help (LONG)


#1

Hello!

My name is Mark and I work for a small family printing business. I do the IT and other infrastructure type work and software development. If it’s not obvious from my ramblings below :wink: , telephony/communications is new to me. I’m reading up as much as I can, but I may be technically wrong or inaccurate more often than not… so please correct me! Thanks!

First some background on our current telephony system:

We currently have a Toshiba Strata DK40i and Toshiba Stratagy Version 3.2 for our office. Our phones, 8 in total, are Toshiba DKT2020-SD.

We have 6 incoming lines (POTS), two local, two USA toll-free, and two Canada toll-free. We have 8 phones in various locations in the office. This will likely increase to 10 or 12 physical phones in the near future, but unlikely to increase the number of lines beyond our current 6 for the next few years at the least.

We want to replace this system (DK40i) for a number of reasons - features it doesn’t provide ( and we’d like to have in place ) and the cost of having it maintained by a service provider (plus the service has been rather poor).

Asterisk does what we need (and far more), plus it is PC-based and so much information/knowledge available on the web allows us to maintain, administer and upgrade as we need and do so ourselves.

Features we want:

  • music on hold
  • call record
  • call logging
  • call queuing
  • call forward on busy

My assumption is that the lines coming in from our telco are analog and that internally, due to the Toshiba system, we’re digital ???

Also, that the Toshiba phones are proprietary and will only work with our current PBX or other Toshiba PBXs and therefore can’t be used in an Asterisk deployment.

Going forward, we do not plan to move to VoIP any time soon.

So if I were to use Asterisk, I would:

  1. Need 6 or more FXO ports available on the PC to accommodate our existing 6 incoming lines? I’d like room for future expansion as well - if popping in additional cards in the future isn’t problematic great, if buying a modular card with room for growth is better great. I don’t see us moving to more than 10 or 12 lines in the next few years.

If that is correct, hardware suggestions or recommendations would be most welcome. I’ve been looking at Digium products to familiarize myself, but not quite sure what is the right fit.

  1. It’d be great if our current Toshiba phones could be used, at least at first to help keep cost down. Is it a possibility?

  2. If we can’t use the Toshibas or would like to add new phones, it looks to me like we could use IP phones internally and everything would be a-ok, because they’re talking to Asterisk and its taking care of the rest.

If we can use IP phones, suggestions are most welcome. If not, any recommendations?

Each phone needs the ability to pick-up/switch between our 6-incoming lines.

  1. Asterisk and/or hardware crash/failure - we can’t have our phones down for any period of time as it is still the way most of our customers reach us.

What are my options?

I’ve read a bit about using a failover switch which I could (???) interface to our existing Toshiba PBX which would then take over. However, if our Toshiba phones can’t work with Asterisk, this means we’d have to have two phones per office location which is rather clunky. However, please elaborate on this option - as using our existing PBX as backup would be good because at least we’d have line switching and voice mail.

If we have to use analog phones (see question 3) I then need one FXS port per analog phone in the office. However, in the event of failure they would no longer work as well, correct? Or is there someway to configure the interface cards so that the analog line is still directed to the analog phone? Was it the X100P card that would still allow an analog line connected to it to go to the phone connected to it if Asterisk or the server failed?

Would it be possible to setup a bank of analog phones that could be used in the case of server failure? I guess if I split each incoming line between a standard analog phone and an FXO port I could do this - yes/no? Not recommended?

It seems to me that the failover to our existing PBX is our best disaster recovery option - especially if we could make it work with only requiring one phone per office location.

Any other options?

  1. Is Asterisk for us? Or should we still be looking at a proprietary PBX? I’ve been looking at some and most of them allow PC-based maintenance and administration so it would reduce our need to call in a tech. It still may be a more cost-effective solution for us… at least for the next few years.

As you can see, more research on my part is required, but any help to get me up to speed faster is very much appreciated!

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and for the time to offer help and suggestions!!!

Mark


#2

Hi Mark and welcome !

I try to be short:

Asterisk is a very good idea, giving you the full power to be creative within communication issues.

Very good to hear that the toshs wont work in an asterisk environment, i “hate” this “marry old phones with brand new PBX” - but thats just me.

I would go away from the FXO/FXS line thingie.
I am always “surprised” by the telephone technique in the USA, is it really that “old fashion” ?

What we do here in germany:
One port (=2 lines) = ~18 bucks/month
One PMX (30 lines E1) like 99,-/month

So when you have the need for more then 4 ports, you always order a PMX (primary-multiplex) with 30 lines, which is ISDN E1.
The similar product in the USA is “T1 24 lines ISDN 56K”
(USA has a non standard ISDN protocol).

Advantage:
One TE110P card from digium (499,-) one straight CAT5 cable and there you go: 30 lines in/out going in your asterisk box.
No banks, no multiple ports, no multi card setup nightmares i read all across the boards.

So, my advise would be:

10 X SNOM 360 (199,-)= 2K
2 X Asterisk server (same hardware, same config, one is fallout backup)
= 1500,- for both
Few ATA boxes (for whatever) and 1-3 handys for the peoples constantly running around in the company.

So, lets say (very generous): 5 K

Call a leasing company, thats about 150,- per month for 2 years. Done.
So we have 150,- + 99,- (PM) plus the standard call costs.

Local calls are made by PSTN lines, long distance via VOIP.

Yes, you CAN voip outgoing WITHOUT opening the servers to the public (NAT, ports only initiated from INSIDE).

Thats what i do here.
So i have the usual no-costs via PSTN for citycalls, customer can still call the regular PSTN number, but long distance we make via SIP/Internet - where we use a provider giving you the most “important” long distance targets for FREE (check sipdiscount.com)

Thats it !

That would be the most hasslefree and “clean” setup.
And it makes a good cost situation.

What you spend NOW (on hardware etc) is saved over time by the dropping callcosts.


#3

Mark,

you have a lot of good questions. I don’t have a lot of time to address all of them (but there are plenty others on this forum). I don’ t know anything about the Toshiba to know if anyone has gotten them working with Asterisk or whether or not that is possible.

A good section of your post was concerned about availability. Here is an option that might help. If you were to use something like Sipura SPA 3000 ATA gateways for your FXO ports, you would first be scaleable since for each new pots line you would just need an addtional ATA. You would also have the option of using an analog phone connected to the SPA3000. This could be used either as an extension to Asterisk or as a failover configuration (FXO -> FXS upon various failure modes including power outage). Also, one failed SPA3000 doesn’t take out all your lines and they are cheap enough to have a hot spear on the shelf.

However, here is the beauty of this solution. You have no cards and no physical connections to your Asterisk PC. So … bring up an identical backup pc as your failure strategy. You can get elaborate or simple with this. In the simple mode, you do regular backups to that system such that it is a ‘mirror’ of the primary. Upon failure of the primary, you bring that up on the same IP address as the primary and it takes over the entire business. You simply keep your SIP registrations for the ATAs and IP phones short and your system will be up and running very quickly. With some work you can actually automate this switch over process. An added benefit, you have a secondary box to perform and test upgrades and patches and if the boxes are identical, you can just switch over and have the primary become the backup. And the other box servers as the backup server as well. (Just make sure you test this). The cost for this backup solution is the one server. An you NEED to have a backup plan and server anyhow.

p


#4

i agree with richard on several points - a proprietary PBX, even for a small company like yours, will cost more than a full featured asterisk server, and be much less flexible.

i also agree with looking into utilizing VOIP for your external connectivity to the PSTN - you should be able to port your existing POTS number to a VOIP provider, have as many (or few) lines as needed, and pay a much lower monthly and per-call rate.

let’s put it this way - i haven’t had a landline to my house for almost 5 years now - my wife and i use cellular only, and it has been great. we save about $25 a month by not having a landline, and that is for the most basic line out there. figure $40 a month for something with callerID, call waiting, etc.

now, with asterisk, i can have an internal phone system at my house that terminates to an 800 number (so family from across the country can call me for free) and i pay only $0.02 a minute for ALL my calls. the monthly charge is only $2. so, for an average month, i’d be paying < $10 for an 800 with two incoming lines, caller ID, and be able to route them through what amounts to an enterprise level PBX…the benefits for me aren’t that great, but how cool would it be to have screaming monkeys on the line when my mother calls? asterisk can do that, and more, easily…

sorry to ramble, but i get really excited about what asterisk and VOIP in general has to offer, and the next few years (googlenet, asterisk, FIOS, etc) will be VERY cool.


#5

Richard,

It varies on location, but often in the US the cost cross over point to go from POTS lines to T1 is somewhere above 10 POTS lines. It is always worth investigating and you can sometimes split your T1 and use some of it for data so there are other creative solutions. I didn’t realize the cost of an E1 was so low in Germany, that’s great.

p


#6

[quote=“p_lindheimer”]Richard,

It varies on location, but often in the US the cost cross over point to go from POTS lines to T1 is somewhere above 10 POTS lines. It is always worth investigating and you can sometimes split your T1 and use some of it for data so there are other creative solutions. I didn’t realize the cost of an E1 was so low in Germany, that’s great.

p[/quote]

Ah ok, i see…wow, 10 line crossover, thats expensive.
But i think, our regular provider (Deutsche Telekom) is about the same:
250,- bucks or so !

Yeah, here in germany we have one provider (at least that one i know) which is “Colt”: They give away the PMX for free when you use them for everything (Internet, Communications etc.-they use fiber)


#7

Thanks for all the replies so far!

While I’d like to go VoIP, the boss isn’t quite comfortable with it… yet.

I like p_lindheimer suggestion of the Sipura (I see that Linksys carries the same product just recased - The SPA3000). I like it better than internal cards because, as mentioned, they’re hot-swap and a reseller I deal with a lot carries them for a pretty good price too.

What I need confirmation on is with these SPA3000 and Asterisk setup if we now can use IP phones (e.g. Linksys 942 for instance)?

If so, what phones do you guys recommend checking out? We need phones that allow us to pick up any one of our six lines.

Thank you very much!

Mark


#8

The Linksys 942 has gotten some good feeback on some threads, I haven’t used it. I really like the Polycom 501 - but I spend all my time using the speaker phone (don’t like headsets so much) and you can’t beat it for that (Cisco licenses their spearkerphone technology, or at least did last I knew). The polycom is a pain in some other respects but once it is setup - it is a great phone.

As far as you question about using other IP phones, yest you can. If you plan on connecting anything to the FXS port on the SPA3000 though, that will have to be an analog phone. (Great if you need a few cordless phones in the office - and as mentioned, if you configure for failover if Asterisk is down and the backup, or power outages).

You need to keep something in mind though, the POTS lines will all go into Asterisk. From their you can configure as desired. It’s not like a key system where each phone can see a SLA of each PTS line. You can have specific POTS lines go to specific extensions or call queues if you want, or have everything go to a digital receptionist IVR, or … And you can do things like call pickup, where another phone is ringing and you want to pick it up because the person is not at their desk, etc.

But as far as IP phones, search the forum there are several threads discussing them. There is also a recent one over on the AAH site - gut beware that something seems to have broke on that site yesterday night so it may be a bit of a pain until fixed.

p


#9

One thing I really like about the Sipura 3000 (as well as some other FXO ATA) which I have not seen on any of the hardware cards yet (or I have not seen the correct docs for it) is what is call pass thru

With pass thru if you lose power to your Asterisk box or network connection, the signal is passed directly from one side of the ATA to the other (the relay closes). This means you can still take calls as if you had a phone directly connected to the PSTN directly (sad to say they won’t go through the PBX) while you are without power.

And as we all know in a businnes case not answering the phone can cause a lost of customers which is never a good thing. Being able to answer the phone (even if it is directly and ‘blind’) is better then no answer.