What You'll Learn
In 1999, an intrepid developer named Mark Spencer created the Asterisk code base as a phone system application that he could use for his Linux support business.
After releasing it under an open source license, the project became something of a juggernaut.
Today hundreds of thousands of Asterisk voice, text, and video apps have been created. Asterisk is downloaded over 2 million times a year. And it's in in wide use by Fortune 1000 companies.
In this article, you'll learn what Asterisk's main features are, how it can benefit your business, and what to look for in an Asterisk host.
I'll share resources, including how to get your technical questions answered and events you can attend to learn more about Asterisk.
And I'll make some personal recommendations for Asterisk hosts to get you started in your search.
What is Asterisk?
Asterisk is an open-source framework used to build a variety of communication applications.
It is a modular system: a wide range of flexible modules can be combined and arranged depending on the needs of the user.
It's helpful to think of Asterisk as a server for communication applications and systems.
Voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), automatic call distributor (ACD), and interactive voice response (IVR) are examples of the type of communications systems you may power using Asterisk.
Who Uses Asterisk?
Millions of organizations use Asterisk-based communication systems including businesses, call centers, and government agencies worldwide.
The list of users includes a majority of the organizations that comprise the Fortune 1000.
Asterisk Screenshot via Whoishostingthis.com
What is Asterisk Used For?
Asterisk is used to power:
- IP PBX systems (Private Branch Exchange with Internet Protocol connectivity)
- VoIP (Voice over internet protocol) gateways
- Conference call servers
- A variety of other custom applications.
Why is Asterisk a Popular Choice?
Due to its modular nature, easy access to the application source code, and resulting flexibility, Asterisk can be used as the basis for an entire business communication system, as an enhancement to existing communication systems, or as a bridge to cover the gap between existing communication systems.
Is Asterisk Free?
Asterisk is free and open source. However, most communication applications built using the Asterisk framework are built by PBX system hosting companies.
Generally speaking, use of the Asterisk source code is limited to application developers.
Most Asterisk installations are developed by an Asterisk Integrator or by purchasing off-the-shelf PBX service from a PBX hosting company that uses Asterisk as the backbone of their PBX service offering.
Have technical questions on Asterisk? There's a helpful Asterisk forum called Discourse that was just launched in 2016. Find out more about it here.
A Brief History of Asterisk
Asterisk is sponsored by Digium.
It started in 1999 as a project by Mark Spencer. Originally Asterisk was released under an open source license, but since that time many developers have created proprietary communications solutions built on the Asterisk framework.
The Key to Asterisk Flexibility: Modules and Components
Asterisk is incredibly flexible. The key to this flexibility is Asterisk's modular design.
There are hundreds of components that can be combined and modified to create amazing communication solutions.
It is possible to combine just a few components or modules to create a custom bridge to cover an existing gap in a communication system.
For example, modules could be combined to create a conference server to supplement your existing communication system.
Asterisk is powerful enough to power your organization's entire communication system.
Is Asterisk Open Source?
Yes, Asterisk is open source. This means that if you are so inclined you can get into the source code, learn to manipulate the different modules, and build the communication system you always wanted.
This flexibility is balanced by the large user base and extensive developer network that have crafted Asterisk into a stable and reliable framework that thousand of organizations worldwide depend on.
Originally the project of open source developer Mark Spencer, Asterisk is now a global phenomenon thanks to contributions from programmers around the world. The Asterisk framework's provision of Lego-like components that can be used to build communications applications quickly has contributed to its popularity.
What are the Differences Between Asterisk and Apache?
Asterisk can be compared to Apache in that both are the connection between application and method of communication.
➝ With Apache, that would be a connection between an application and the Internet.
➝ With Asterisk, the connection is between an application and a communication service, like VoIP.
|Asterisk||Open-source communications framework for building communications applications||Connects an application with a communication service such as VoIP|
|Apache||Open-source web server creation, deployment, and management software||Connects an application with the wider internet rather than a communications network|
What is a Dialplan Script?
Dialplan scripts tell a system how to interpret responses from a caller. For example, when you call your bank and press 0 for customer service, the Dialplan script tells the system to connect to customer service.
Applications built for Asterisk are created from Dialplan scripts, as well as configuration files, databases, audio recordings, and other necessary files.
Here's What Your Asterisk Hosting Needs To Offer
Asterisk is a programming framework for creating communications systems like private (office) telephone, voice mail, and VoIP. It is generally used in two ways. First, developers use it to create general purpose applications. Second, companies hire consultants to create applications specifically for them. Asterisk runs on most Unix platforms. A recommended Asterisk hosting provider is A2 Hosting.
Find The Best Asterisk Hosting For You
What are Asterisk's Main Features?
Asterisk is quite feature-rich and allows you to accomplish a lot. It blends both classic PBX functionality with advanced VoIP service features. Plus, it's a very flexible call solution as you'll see from the feature list below.
- Call features like monitoring, forwarding, marketing, recording, waiting, transfer, and more.
- Caller ID, caller blocking, and call waiting, and hold music variants.
- Offers in-call features like text-to-speech, transacting, VoIP gateways, supervised transfers, and SMS functionality.
- Easily scalable and offers you direct connection over the Asterisk PBX, can use traditional ethernet hardware, and can be integrated and used across multiple different locations.
- Supports most existing VoIP, traditional telephony, and ISDN protocols.
Asterisk will also readily integrate with existing SIP phones and offer you traditional VoIP features like SIP trunks, and the bundled calling features.
You can also use open source software like the FreePBX distribution to better manage Asterisk and enhance the graphical interface.
Asterisk can be used as a complete business phone system, or just to enhance or extend an existing system.
New to SIP trunking? It refers to using your existing internet connection for phone communications. Here's a short explainer video.
As I mentioned, Asterisk is open source and therefore free.
However, most hosting options for Asterisk offer custom-built proprietary Asterisk deployments.
This means that if you have the technical expertise and staff to support the effort you can build a communication system using the free open source program files.
However, in most instances, it will make more sense to team up with an established company that specializes in Asterisk-based communication systems.
Why Should I Choose Asterisk?
Look no further than the thousand of organizations that already use Asterisk-based communication systems.
Asterisk has a huge user base and there are many qualified firms able to offer and support a custom Asterisk deployment for your firm.
On the other hand, if you plan to build your own Asterisk deployment the large developer network and free open-source license are a good reason to give Asterisk serious consideration.
What are Some Alternatives to Asterisk?
There are other communication system options to consider.
Some of the most popular competitors to Asterisk include KONNECT Office Phone System and CoreDial's VoiceAxis.
In addition, some popular Asterisk distributions that offer ready-built communication systems.
These include the following:
- PBX In a Flash
- Digium AsteriskNOW
Making use of one of these distributions will save a lot of time in getting a communication system up and running.
Hosting Provider Installation of Asterisk
Asterisk hosting plans are tailored to businesses that require a packaged feature-set.
Typically, providers that offer Asterisk hosting install it for you.
The plans often include features such as a firewall to protect your security and server monitoring to help maximize service uptime.
What Do I Need to Know to Develop an Asterisk Application?
Asterisk itself is a framework for developing communication systems.
If you want to build a custom communication system you will need a working knowledge of:
- Script programming
- Telephone systems.
Pre-Packaged and Custom Asterisk Solutions
If you aren't interested in developing a custom communication system you can either look for a pre-packaged solution built on Asterisk, or you can work with an Asterisk developer who can build and deploy a communication system for you.
In either case you will need to consult with the solution provider to determine the best way forward.
How to Choose the Best Asterisk Hosting
When you're choosing the best Asterisk server environment for your needs there are a few things you'll want to take into account.
For starters, you'll need a Linux server environment.
You'll also need sufficient hardware and software to ensure sufficient call quality and access to the features you need.
- Plenty of disk space, RAM, and storage to support your Asterisk system
- A VPS, cloud, or dedicated server environment
- Easy Asterisk installation and configuration
- Easy IP phone and SIP phone system integration
- Scalable server resources as your needs increase
- Integrated backup system to ensure you don't lose any data
- Security measures in place to protect your system
- Support for multiple Asterisk distributions
What are the Server Operating System Requirements for Asterisk?
Asterisk was originally designed to run on Linux.
However, Asterisk now runs on a wide variety of operating systems including:
- Mac OS X
- and Solaris.
Be Sure to Ask Your Candidate Web Host Questions Related to Your Current Communication System
Asterisk hosting is generally undertaken by a provider focused on deploying business communication systems.
Careful collaboration with candidate hosts is necessary to ensure the Asterisk deployment you receive meets your requirements and interfaces correctly with your existing communication system.
My Top 3 Asterisk Hosting Options
Liquid Web is a common Asterisk hosting choice. This hosting package offer by Liquid Web offers you managed VPS hosting solution that runs on Linux or Windows and can be completely customized to your own needs.
With SSD cloud features this hosting environment is not only incredibly fast but can be scaled as your needs grow.
You'll also get easy root server access so you can manage your server as you see fit.
If you prefer to go with a more general host, then consider A2 Hosting. This host offers an incredibly fast Asterisk solution that's configured to your needs.
You can design your own server environment and select the amount of disk space, RAM, and data transfer you require.
Plus, it's easily scalable so you can upgrade your hosting package as your needs increase. Finally, you'll have a top-notch support team behind you in case you run into any technical issues.
Another common choice is PeoplesHost. This provider offers you a variety of accessible hosting packages that cater to a wide variety of Asterisk environments.
With speedy SSD performance and bundled features like unlimited domains, 1-click installations, regular backups, and server monitoring this hosting provider is a great choice.
You'll also get root server access no matter which hosting package you choose.
Points to Remember
- Asterisk is a framework for building communication systems, not an off-the-shelf communication system solution.
- Significant technical knowledge of the Linux operating system, scripting languages, networking, and telephone systems is needed to use Asterisk as a developer.
- If you want to use Asterisk without the hassle of development there are many consultants who can offer custom systems, or hosting companies who can deploy Asterisk-based pre-packaged communication systems.
Asterisk Resources for You
An all-you-can-eat buffet of all things Asterisk: including SIP trunking, custom application how-tos, the use of tools like Docker and Kubernetes, "and everything in between."
Check the Wiki for up-to-date information. Ask questions in the Forum. Browse the marketplace for Asterisk products.
Asterisk Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
Why should our organization consider an IP PBX based on Asterisk rather than a traditional phone system?
The truth is that the two aren’t completely exclusive. If you already have a communication system in place an Asterisk consultant may be able to craft a system to bridge gaps in your existing system.
On the other hand, you may want to consider a VoIP solution such as Asterisk due to the flexibility and customization options as well as the savings on long-distance communications.
What does it mean that Asterisk is a framework to build communication systems?
What this means is that Asterisk does not offer off-the-shelf functionality. You can’t install Asterisk and immediately make a phone call.
Asterisk could be compared to a warehouse with all the material necessary to build a house. All the pieces are there, but you still have to design and build the house.
Asterisk provides all of the pieces necessary to build a complete communication system, but someone still has to assemble those pieces in a way that gets the job done.