[kwlug-disc] Asterisk/OpenWrt on router presentation

unsolicited unsolicited at swiz.ca
Mon Mar 2 18:04:51 EST 2009

Oh boy! Now _there's_ an invitation. I hope that you don't regret it.

I'm sorry for this late response. Perhaps it will foster discussion.

It was a passionate time for the list earlier this month - I apologize 
to those over-saturated. I'm making it much worse here - a reflection 
of the vastness, uncertainty, and vagueness, of convergence.

In line.

L.D. Paniak wrote, On 01/23/2009 10:33 AM:
> Hash: SHA1
> Hi all,
> Now that I've got Asterisk/OpenWrt working on an Asus WL500gP router, I
> thought it would be a good time to ask for input from the list on what
> kinds of 'hacked router as telephony/gateway appliance' questions people
> may have - and would like answered.  Yes, I'm looking at you unsolicited.

First, the (my 'VoIP') perspective:

I'm keenly interested in this VoIP 'stuff'. The more I read, the more 
possibilities I see, and the more daunting the topic becomes. One can 
only be keenly interested in so many things at once. With VoIP, 
dipping one toe in the water could suck you under faster than 
expected. On a mission critical thing.

The landscape for phone companies such as Bell or Rogers is changing. 
I would say it has changed - consumers are catching up. Phone service 
has traditionally meant service to a physical location - convergence, 
in two ways here, has happened. Service is now delivered to an entity, 
be it person or business, wherever their location is at that moment. 
Service delivery method, be it by cell, landline, e-mail, instant 
message, or any other way, is irrelevant to the user - someone called 
(communicated with) them, however it arrived. The transport mechanism 
is an invisible barrier to the user that they keep bumping into, when 
it shouldn't exist at all.

'VoIP' becomes not just a phone, or Bell replacement, but an 
opportunity to acquire greater value, and become portable by removing 
vendor dependency. The barriers can be brought down.

The problem is, to do it consumers must take back responsibility and 
ownership of their communications gateway from the vendor into their 
own premises and hands. Communications are mission critical - it 
cannot be unavailable. Given the knowledge and faith required to 
execute, individuals, en masse, are reluctant to take this step.

I can say the same for ISP gateways. They are being asked to deliver 
more and more functionality. From this perspective, I can repeat the 
paragraph above: The problem is, to do it consumers must take back 
responsibility and ownership of their communications gateway from the 
vendor into their own premises and hands. Communications are mission 
critical - it cannot be unavailable. Given the knowledge and faith 
required to execute, individuals, en masse, are reluctant to take this 

Next, some landscape -

K-W Lug Presentations: I suspect the single biggest benefit of LUG 
presentations is: (a) What the heck is this {thunk}, and why do I 
care; (b) the general concepts of the {thunk}, allowing me to judge 
the amount of interest in {thunks} that I may have, and the amount of 
time and effort I'll have to put in. In this age of increasing 
complexity and building blocks, with more {widgets} coming out faster 
than I can keep up with, I can't become an expert on everything. Darn it!
- what is the nature of this world? Both the local (house or 
individual computer) world, and the larger world - where does, or 
where all does, this {thunk} fit in, and the general and adjacent 
{thunks} around it?
- show me how, walk me through, and do, it. Just how easy it is to get 
{thunk} up and running.
   - Cedric's OpenWRT presentation was jaw-dropping in this regard - 5 
minutes of 'doing it' and voila!
- conceptual, not nitty gritty details - I'm not going to remember 
them, I just need to remember to explore {x} further. But don't forget 
to translate what they call {x} from "what we would think of as {y}". 
Help us grok the terminology.
- where to get help - both detailed (now that we know to search for 
{y}), introductory (conceptual framework), and newbie walk through. We 
can all use the internet and get help on our own (once we know where 
to go) - what we need to get out of the presentation is an 
understanding as to what we will need further help and details on. Not 
the details themselves.

Convergence - my problems:
1. Home, sorry, personal / INDIVIDUAL electronic communications, AND 
- communication had expanded from in person landline telephone, and 
physical letter, to include e-mail. And now Instant Messaging and 
VoIP, including video (visual). Oops, let's not forget pagers. For the 
purposes of this note, put aside things such as forums (but alerts are 
included - usually in e-mail), social networking (facebook, youtube?, 
Drupal?), and RSS. Perhaps _include_ podcasts. The Blackberry has 
bastardized e-mail into IM. Perhaps include GPS ("the person you are 
calling is out of town", or "Hi Ward, he's waiting for you at the Tim 
Horton's across the street from your current location.") Along comes 
'Asterisk'. Which, astonishingly, provides an ability to route 
communications, and to filter them along the way. (No telemarketing 
calls forwarded to cell please.) As technowizards, we're supposed to 
be able to instantly grok this all. 
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok). {Brain explodes.} For Monty 
Python fans, think "Finally, after being persuaded by the smooth (and 
possibly vengeful) maître d' to eat a "wafer-thin mint", he explodes" 
- if Asterisk and OpenWRT are two different clouds, 1,000 miles up, 
it's part of something else that's 10,000 miles up. What is the nature 
of the universe? (I know, 42.)
2. We're asking more and more of our gateways - VPN, squid (proxy 
server - e.g. A central hosts file with all the 'bad hosts' out there 
mapped to, VNC, QoS, Asterisk. Net nanny?
(3. 1. and 2. are mission critical - they cannot go down. Even from 
our own mistakes or lack of expertise. Let alone hardware, software, 
or configuration failure. Such as from (security) patches that 
inadvertently knock some other usual behaviour off kilter.)

Black boxes, vs. not, e.g. LinuxMCE vs. OpenWRT:
- black boxes are good. Define what it's supposed to do, set it up and 
forget about that issue. It's solved. Fire and forget. On to the next 
{widget} ...
- capability vs. capacity - We can't know how much capability we need 
until we're done. We can't know what all we can do, let alone would 
like to do, until we do it. By that time, we _may_ have exceeded the 
capacity of the black box - time for a dedicated computer instead. But 
now we have this {boat anchor black box} around. So we re-do 
everything on a computer. Back to square one. Or, we split out the 
functionality between the black box AND a computer. Back to square one 
- twice even.
   - ultimately, I believe my own personal requirements will fit 
within a black box, but I have absolutely no way to know beforehand.
   - BUT, in learning about this {stuff}, I will want to play with all 
the nifty features. To explore then make a determination as to whether 
I care about them.
- yet, if that computer is LinuxMCE, well, it wants to control the 
world. It doesn't have to, but things become non-trivial, or at least 
not immediately intuitive and quick. If OpenWRT, we want it to control 
the world. Yet it must inter-operate with anything else we might come 
up with. Circular.
- Refer back to 'mission critical.' So, we can't play, we cannot lose 
the gateway. (Gateway down, need help from internet documentation ... 
Oops!) Destructive testing on a single unit = BAD IDEA.
- someone said nobody should attempt to implement something on a black 
box without knowing everything about the something. The essence being 
that black box implementations, almost by definition, have subset 
functionalities, perhaps without help, documentation, or GUI's - it is 
harder for a novice to acquire complete satisfaction of the 
application they are trying to implement on a black box, than a full 
scale computer. This becomes chicken and egg - if I've got everything 
on a computer, if I move to a black box I now have a boat anchor 
computer. Without implementing a full-box Asterisk, one cannot know 
what is lost by an OpenWRT implementation, to know whether it matters 
to them or not.
- yet the advantages of the black box beckon - particularly not YAC 
(Yet Another Computer, To Maintain). And all the encumbering baggage 
that goes with it - from physical space (e.g. monitor) and hardware 
requirements, to security and other software updates. [No, monitors 
aren't always, or 24x7, necessary - unless you're a newbie to that 
functionality. And since you don't know how long that period will last 
- finally, here, there is a point where a black box becomes so complex 
that there is value is splitting out the functionality into two black 
boxes. e.g. A Cisco PIX can get such a long configuration, and the 
configuration 'areas' interrelate, that it can become frustrating. 
e.g. VPN, DNS, firewall, access-lists, etc. There is a point where 
splitting out VPN from firewall into two devices becomes warranted - 
if only from a maintenance / downtime / oops point of view. At what 
point does that apply here?

These are BIG topics:
- wireless
- gateways (in terms of all the home / headend functionality we'd like 
to put in a central spot, be it firewall, Asterisk, or any other 
"let's only do this once per enterprise" item.) One's home is an 
enterprise - even if there's only one computer.
- Asterisk ('VoIP')
- OpenWRT
- let alone moving targets, White Russian, Kamikaze, no wireless yet, 
no 802.11n standard yet ...

Where I'm at with OpenWRT/Asterisk:
- hesitant. There's so much functionality possible. Even though it's a 
black box. As a result, I've done no more than think and read about it
- being reluctant to step into the morass when I expect it to consume 
an infinite amount of time.
- it's too big to chew on. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a 
time. But what if it's a one-bite elephant? See mission-critical - 
both gateway and voice.
- I can't even find a one-stop document for all the things one wants 
in a gateway (DNS, DHCP, firewall, ...). Part of that is because 
functionality crosses over between desktop / server / network admin. 
OpenWRT/Asterisk just expands that geography even further.
- I need to sit down and really think about what all I want to do. 
What I guess I really need first is a checklist of functionality. Am I 
fantasizing to hope that functionality is distinct, or are the 
checklist items going to be inter-related, and there is an order, or 
sub-order, in which to go at things?
- so, back to ... what's OpenWRT/Asterisk's role in the world?

- distinctive ring?
- # of extensions should only really matter (aside from wiring) in 
terms of simultaneous 'extension' use?
- hold music, issues?
- voice mail (capacity?)
- find me functionality:
  - forward to cell if no answer, return home to record a message if 
no further answer.
  - alert upon incoming e-mail, via sms. Heck, send me the e-mail via sms.
  - IM, twitter, jabber, chat, irc, ??? Personal communication! 
Wherever I am, let me know someone's trying to get me.
  - including ... I'm at an internet cafe and have signed on to the 
internet. Forward calls to me. Or, I'm on my laptop and wi-fi, same. 
These will be video calls. Perhaps from Skype. Cafe firewall issues?
  - I may receive notification, let me respond. Keep communications 
through the same pipe, for tracking purposes. Er, Make reversed / 
returned communications, done independently, be noted. I guess I'm 
talking CMS inter-action here.
  - different mailbox redirection depending upon caller id, including 
(a) Hello, you're too much of an idiot for me to take your call, since 
you've masked your caller id, or (b) Hey bro, this is his Asterisk box 
talking, I've tried to reach him for you, including his cell, and 
Skype, to no answer. Would you like to leave a message and I'll txt 
his cell to retrieve your message?, or (c) Hi Mom, if this is an 
emergency press 911 and I'll put out an APB to him and bro using all 
the communication means I know about. Thanks for calling!
- config deletion / recovery? Perhaps to different hardware?
   - bare metal restore computer backups become useless if you're 
restoring to different metal. And by the time you need the backup, you 
will be. As far as I know, wireless is not yet working on Kamikaze. 
When it is, and I have to purchase different hardware, I'll want to 
migrate to it ASAP. See mission-critical.
- I vaguely understand 'dialling plan' - I do not understand the 
possibilities, let alone the implications. I get caller id can show up 
on your TV. That's nice and bound in terms of concept. Beyond that, 
the possibilities seem exciting, but vague. (Lack of knowledge.)
- is OpenWRT/Asterisk even the entire solution here? Let alone, which 
problems can it be a (partial?) solution for?

So, I'm looking for some clarity of thinking and approach, to this 
multi-dimensional {thunk}.

Including, when it is, and when it is not, appropriate. 

What is the nature and compartmentalization of these worlds, which 
pieces are involved, and how do they fit together. Let alone, which 

Convergence - both communication, and gateway.


-- Thrashing

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