A system administrator’s entry to Voice

This is the flip side of the coin–the other half of IP telephony and the systems administration dilemma. It’s for the guys like me who enter the arena knowing how to configure, operate and administer a server, with some server-level operating system on it, and who are handy with the tools of that OS. We are adept at building open-source software from the C source files and issuing commands to run the software. It’s for those of us who arrogantly look at software like Asterisk or FreeSWITCH and think, “Piece of cake. Install the build tools, configure, make, edit a config file and done! I’ve done it a million times!”

Not so fast. What the systems administrator has before him or her at that point is software that may run, but not do anything useful. And to make it work in a sensible way, it seems like you have to understand
  • the whole realm of telephony hardware, including endpoints and interfaces to analog and digital telephone networks; 
  • networking protocols, including some fairly complicated quality-of-service configurations and NAT/firewall workarounds if you’re in such an environment; 
  • phone company lingo, so that you can order the right service from a provider to connect you to the outside world; 
  • technical voice services areas like call routing and dial plans, so that your phone system is actually usable (by your business or family);
  • business functions, so that you can get the call records into the hands of the people who are going to charge the users for their usage.

And, because I am sure I am forgetting a number of other areas, I’ll tack on “and much more.” 

I personally have found these areas much harder to learn than server and operating systems administration. When it comes to voice, I know what I know, and more importantly, I know what I don’t know, which is quite a lot! But the real stumper is when I don’t know what I don’t know. (You know?) In situations like that, Google doesn’t help much because I don’t have the right terminology in the search. It’s time to find the voice gurus out there, the ones who have been through the various iterations of PBXes.
I suspect that it’s easier to add server and OS administration to a full and rich voice services skill set than it is to take a systems administrator and make him/her into a competent voice person. Any commenters care to share opinions on this?

2 thoughts on “A system administrator’s entry to Voice”

  1. Any of the server admin tasks are as difficult as the voice stuff if you start from scratch. It’s just different techniques.

    The key with the voice stuff is that it’s not built yet for average consumption, where someone has started deeply thinking through the steps for configuring and getting a system running fully. How to make it easy. How to error proof the user input steps. How to know there is a mistake in which config file that stops a feature from working. My debian server will tell me ‘I couldn’t find command X, but you can install program X with apt-get’.

    It’s not about having a ‘GUI’ (like FreePBX or FusionPBX), but about the under the hood features.

    Asterisk has a status ‘panel’ when you go to the cli that tells you which services are running or not. FreeSwitch does not. You have to run fs_cli and type in some commands like status and then figure out what might be or not be running from the logs. New FS users end up on the irc and ask beginner questions because there is just enough but not more help on the wiki, and either get ignored because it’s such a common basic question, or get asked to ‘run the logs’ which are difficult for many. FS is newer (and it’s fast in comparison to Asterisk), but it needs to mature a bit .. which Asterisk needs to do as well.

    They will get there.

  2. Bill,

    don’t be so hard on yourself! You don’t need to know the whole realm of telephony hardware, any more than you need to code for a processor in order to use an application on windoze. You just need to interface with it.

    Yeah, knowing the history is useful to get oriented, but if the sunset date for the PSTN is 2018, then that is all it is — history.

    And you are likely to run across folks who are attempting to defend their careers, or whatever, and won’t want to educate an outsider.

    So not knowing Ma Bells’ lingo for provisioning would be a hinderance.

    Call routing and dial plans, yeah that is Asterisks purview, have fun learning! But networking protocols, that is really network administration – are you really that far removed from that – anyone who says they have experience w/ qos and POE and VLANs, well all of that just hasn’t been around that long, so equipment manufacturers are on the bleeding edge, IMHO.

    Anyway, hello.

    I am a controls programmer for proprietary HVAC ASICs (Direct Digital Controls Specialist) with OPP.

    I have installed exactly (1) PBX. I am a wanna be in most of the areas we are talking about, which is why it is a hobby. “If I were an expert, I wouldn’t need the Internet”. But I am moving towards setting up an Asterisk system, with an Amateur Radio bent.

    I am glad to have found your blog!

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