What's better than Merlin PBX?
July 17, 2008 1:10 PM   Subscribe

Small business phone system. Surely there must be something better than Merlin/PBX?

I just disconnected the giant mass of dirty old PBX gear (partially) installed by some passive aggressive slob, who seemed to think he was getting a job for life with his probably dumpster-dived putty colored "technology."

I ran four long phone extension cords directly from the four lines in, to four phones, sitting on four desks. So now at least we are not losing business today.

Crisis averted, but where do I go from here? I'd like a system that can scale up to maybe 50 lines, starting with the four I have. Surely there must be some paradigm-redefining solution that doesn't involve ancient putty colored gear with attendant neck beards.
posted by StickyCarpet to Technology (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You're looking for Asterisk


game changing open-source PBX system
posted by Oktober at 1:15 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding Oktober: You're probably going to love asterisk, until you hate it. (Kind of like how web admins feel about apache. :) ) It's exactly the solution that you're describing.

The physical equipment for an asterisk IP-phone setup (besides a solid linux box) is sold by the writers/maintainers of asterisk, Digium.
posted by Citrus at 1:21 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thirding. If you want something that "works out of the box", check out Switchvox. It's Asterisk for people who aren't techies....even simpler than Trixbox.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 1:23 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just keep in mind it's a PBX not a key system so get used to transfers and parking not "pick up line 4"

(it's shared line appearance support is crude at the moment)
posted by evilelvis at 1:23 PM on July 17, 2008

asterisk is what I do for a living at the moment at an institution with 1300 phones, and I highly recommend it.

to support only the four lines you already have, you'd need a TDM404E card ($650 although you probably can find cheaper if you don't buy directly from digium, and digium will still give their same kickass telephone support) and a pc to run it in (it doesn't have to be super-fast e.g. a 1ghz p3 would be enough for 4 lines. BUT it has to be relatively newer motherboard, digium cards require pci2.2 and will act weird or not work at all with pci2.1, trust me)

check out AsteriskNOW, it is a full distro based on rpath linux and comes with the webgui already installed. the install is painless. the asterisk webgui is less featured than e.g. trixbox, but it usually has all the features a regular business wants (and personally I feel that trixbox is bloated and inelegant even though I do have to credit some of the interesting features they got working)

for 50 lines you would want a 4-port T1 card which would be up to 96 lines (24 per port/T1. well 23 really.)
if you don't want to have to order T1 service at your business, you can get 24-port analog cards although I have not tried those personally.
posted by dorian at 1:48 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

oh and you'd need some network phones, probably. hee. I highly recommend snom 360 or aastra 480i. not the cheapest but solid and awesome.
posted by dorian at 1:50 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could also find some used telrad equipment. They can be cheap and telrad equipment can always be upgraded to the newest stuff.
posted by majortom1981 at 2:41 PM on July 17, 2008

We have 5 Avaya IP Office systems deployed across as many offices. We're very happy with them. You can do as little or a much with the system as you want... I agree with the Asterisk suggestions but i've found that Asterisk installations can sometimes turn into science projects. Avaya will work out of the box, and is well supported worldwide.
posted by taubman at 6:28 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'd like to hear more from knowledgable folks here about how well Avaya systems can scale DOWN to the OP's small business environment. How cheap do they go?

I'd be nervous about the Asterisk science project aspect, but if you already know a little Linux (e.g. command line, vim, healthy disdain for proprietary solutions) then I think you can get through it.
posted by intermod at 7:16 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I love my Shoretel IP phone system. Feel free to hit me up for more details. It would run 1 or 1000 phones just fine.
posted by SirStan at 8:15 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Currently IP Office systems come in several "base units", the 406v2 base and the 500 base. The base unit doesn't do a whole lot by itself, so its not really a matter of scaling down as it is how far do you want to scale up from the base. Add an analog "loop start" input module for up to 16 phone lines, and and a few digital extension phones and you're off to the races. From there, perhaps add a T1 card to get all of your extra phone lines, a voice compression module for IP phone extensions located at home offices, voicemail pro to to do all of the "press 1 to be transferred to never-never land" type tricks, etc. etc. I would expect you could configure a very basic system as described by the OP for around $3k.
posted by taubman at 9:52 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another vote for Asterisk here - I'm using FreePBX which also has a great web gui.
posted by DreamerFi at 12:12 AM on July 18, 2008

Nth-ing Asterisk. I haven't tried Switchvox myself, but I have tried the Trixbox version of Asterisk and found it to be very easy to install, compared to the one I did by hand for my company the old fashioned way. I've set Trixbox for a couple of other companies and they love the web interface for it and the Flash Operator Panel, which acts like a big receptionist console in a web browser.
posted by barc0001 at 12:16 AM on July 18, 2008

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