Today we’re paying another visit to our favorite virtual machine platform and introducing four new VoIP images that let you compare features and performance of Asterisk® 11 running atop Ubuntu® 14 or Scientific Linux™ 6.5 with FreePBX® 2.11 or the just-released version 12 release candidate. Think of Incredible PBX™ as the VoIP glue stick that assembles all the necessary VoIP components and holds them together seamlessly. As with all Incredible PBX builds, you also get the full complement of goodies including dozens of text-to-speech apps, voice dialing, SMS messaging, fax support, reminders and wakeup calls, and SECURITY! The difference with the VirtualBox® platform is you get a turnkey install of everything on any desktop computer in less than 5 minutes! That includes Windows PCs, Macs, Linux desktops, and even Solaris machines.

Is VirtualBox merely a sandbox for experimentation? Absolutely not. With any of the beefier desktop computers available today, running Incredible PBX as a 24/7 VirtualBox image is every bit as feature rich with stellar performance that’s equivalent to using dedicated hardware. And there are some added advantages. Obviously, deploying a turnkey VoIP platform in under 5 minutes is a major plus. But, unlike using a dedicated Linux platform, you also get the ability to take snapshots of your system and do full backups in minutes instead of the hours required to bring down dedicated hardware, load a different backup application using a different operating system, perform a backup, and then reboot your VoIP server. And your backups won’t just run on the one server on which the backup was performed. You can restore the backup to any other computer that can run VirtualBox. For any of you that came from a network management background, you know what a big deal that really is. And there’s one more bonus. With Incredible Backup and Restore, you can move your image to dedicated hardware running the same operating system with Asterisk 11 and the same version of FreePBX in minutes.

Need to deploy VoIP servers at dozens of sites around the globe? Not a problem with VirtualBox. Just send a preconfigured VirtualBox image to each site and install VirtualBox on a local desktop computer. In 5 minutes, you have a functional VoIP server including interconnectivity to all of your other VoIP servers with a virtual private network already in place to provide secure VoIP connectivity between all of your sites.

Are there security compromises using the VirtualBox platform? Not at all. Incredible PBX still comes preconfigured with the Linux IPtables firewall that is locked down to a whitelist of local area networks, preferred providers, and your own IP addresses. You can expand the whitelist using the add-ip and add-fqdn scripts or use PortKnocker and Travelin’ Man 4 tools to let remote users gain instant access.

Why four different Incredible PBX images? Glad you asked. Ubuntu and Scientific Linux are a bit like French and Spanish. They’re both languages for communicating, but many of the words are different. Some prefer one or the other so now you have a choice. As for the FreePBX options, let us put in a plug for the FreePBX 12 release candidate. The FreePBX Dev Team has invested thousands of hours in this new software. It shows! Please take it for a spin and give the developers some feedback. To move to Asterisk 12 and 13, you’re going to need FreePBX 12 so you might as well start getting used to it. While there are many similarities in the user interface, the under-the-covers work that the FreePBX team has invested in this new product is nothing short of amazing. There’s very little of the FreePBX 2.11 code that hasn’t been either cleaned up or completely rewritten. We think you’ll like it so give it a try. Those that need a production environment probably should stick with FreePBX 2.11 for the time being. The new Virtual Box images also give you an opportunity to compare performance between the two operating systems and the two FreePBX versions. This isn’t 1999. Take advantage of the opportunity. It only takes a few minutes to spin up a new virtual machine and go for a test drive.

Getting Started. For today, we’ll provide a refresher course on loading VirtualBox and one of the Incredible PBX virtual images. Then we want to spend a little time explaining the secret sauce that goes into building these images so that you can do it yourself either to migrate to a different network or to deploy at multiple sites. When we’re finished, you’ll know everything we’ve learned about deploying VirtualBox machines and, unlike Grandma, we won’t leave an important ingredient out of the recipe just to be sure you never forget how good Grandma’s cookies really were. So let’s get started.

Installing Oracle VM VirtualBox

Oracle’s virtual machine platform inherited from Sun is amazing. It’s not only free, but it’s pure GPL2 code. VirtualBox gives you a virtual machine platform that runs on top of any desktop operating system. In terms of limitations, we haven’t found any. We even tested this on an Atom-based Windows 7 machine with 2GB of RAM, and it worked without a hiccup. So step #1 today is to download one or more of the VirtualBox installers from VirtualBox.org or Oracle.com. Our recommendation is to put all of the 100MB installers on a 4GB thumb drive.1 Then you’ll have everything in one place whenever and wherever you happen to need it. Once you’ve downloaded the software, simply install it onto your favorite desktop machine. Accept all of the default settings, and you’ll be good to go. For more details, here’s a link to the Oracle VM VirtualBox User Manual.

Downloading the Incredible PBX Virtual Machines

A word of warning on the front end. Incredible PBX images featuring Asterisk 11 for VirtualBox are huge! The two Ubuntu images for FreePBX 2.11 and 12 are 1.5GB. The two Scientific Linux 6.5 images for FreePBX 2.11 and 12 are 2.3GB. We’ve added SourceForge hotlinks. So simply click on the desired images and download them to your desktop. Then go to lunch.

Importing & Configuring Incredible PBX Virtual Machines in VirtualBox

You only perform the import step one time. Once imported into VirtualBox, Incredible PBX is ready to use. There’s no further installation required, just like an OpenVZ template… only better. Double-click on the .ova file you downloaded to begin the procedure and load it into VirtualBox. When prompted, be sure to check the Reinitialize the Mac address of all network cards box and then click the Import button. Once the import is finished, you’ll see a new Incredible PBX virtual machine in your VM List on the VirtualBox Manager Window. We need to make a couple of one-time adjustments to the Incredible PBX VM configuration to account for differences in sound and network cards on different host machines.

Click on the Incredible PBX Virtual Machine in the VM List. Then click Settings -> Audio and check the Enable Audio option and choose your sound card. Save your setup by clicking the OK button. Next click Settings -> Network. For Adapter 1, check the Enable Network Adapter option. From the Attached to pull-down menu, choose Bridged Adapter. Then select your network card from the Name list. Then click OK. Finally, click Settings -> System, uncheck Hardware clock in UTC time, and click OK. That’s all the configuration that is necessary for your Incredible PBX Virtual Machine. The rest is automagic.

Running Incredible PBX Virtual Machines in VirtualBox

Once you’ve imported and configured the Incredible PBX Virtual Machine, you’re ready to go. Highlight IncrediblePBX Virtual Machine in the VM List on the VirtualBox Manager Window and click the Start button. The boot procedure with your chosen operating system will begin just as if you had installed Incredible PBX on a standalone machine. You’ll see a couple of dialogue boxes pop up that explain the keystrokes to move back and forth between your host operating system desktop and your virtual machine. Remember, you still have full access to your desktop computer. Incredible PBX is merely running as a task in a VirtualBox window. Always gracefully halt Incredible PBX just as you would on a dedicated computer.

Here’s what you need to know. To work in the Incredible PBX Virtual Machine, just left-click your mouse while it is positioned inside the VM window. To return to your host operating system desktop, press the right Option key on Windows machines or the left Command key on any Mac. For other operating systems, read the dialogue boxes for instructions on moving around. To access the Linux CLI, login as root with the default password: password. To access FreePBX with a browser, point to the IP address of your virtual machine and login as admin with admin password set below. For the security of your server, we recommend that you log in to the Linux CLI at least once a week so that Incredible PBX updates get applied to your server regularly. This is critically important if you care about your phone bill.

When logging in for the first time, Incredible PBX will go through some setup steps and then reboot. Login again to complete the setup. status will always provide a snapshot of your system. To shut down Incredible PBX gracefully, click in the VM window with your mouse, log in as root, and type: halt. Be sure to complete the following setup steps from the Linux CLI:

  • Change your root password: passwd
  • Set your FreePBX admin password: /root/admin-pw-change
  • Set your correct time zone: /root/timezone-setup
  • Add WhiteList entries to firewall if needed: /root/add-ip or /root/add-fqdn
  • Store PortKnocker credentials in a safe place: cat /root/knock.FAQ
  • Enable SAMBA if desired: /root/samba-enable.sh
  • Enable Incredible Fax support if desired: (script in /root)
  • Login to your NeoRouter VPN server if desired: /root/nrclientcmd

Preparing Incredible PBX Virtual Machines for Migration

As the Linux operating systems have become more turnkey, one of the shortcuts that has been implemented on both the RedHat and Debian/Ubuntu platforms is storage of your network setup so that the server reboots more quickly. While that’s fine for rebooting on the same server, it’s a real problem if you attempt to move your setup to different hardware or a new network because eth0 will not load. That means no IP address! Here are two ways to assure that things will actually work after the move. Both assume that you will have a DHCP server at the new location just as you did at your existing site.

The Easy Way. If you have console access after the VM image is restored on the new platform (which means you don’t need a network IP address for the server in order to log in as root), then the easy way to prepare any of the Incredible PBX machines for relocation is to issue the following commands before you halt the system and make a VirtualBox backup:

touch /etc/update_hostconfig
touch /etc/update_serverconfig

Once you have halted the server, edit both the sound card and network card settings and disable both of them in VirtualBox Manager. Then choose File -> Export Appliance from the VirtualBox title bar and create a .ova backup image on your desktop. You now have an image that is similar to the Incredible PBX image that you originally downloaded, except it has all of your data and settings. All you have to do is repeat the install drill above at the new location using the .ova image you created and log in with whatever your current root password happens to be. You’ll get a two-pass automatic setup just as you did when you began today’s adventure.

The only drawback to this procedure is the fact that the extension 701 and default DISA passwords will be initialized when you first boot from your .ova image at the other location. Aside from that, you’ll have a clean platform with new SSH and DUNDI credentials as well as mostly sanitized log files.

The Hard Way. The other alternative is to manually prepare your existing system for migration before you shut it down. The primary reason for doing this would be to assure that you can log in with an SSH client at the other end as soon as the server is booted. The steps differ a bit depending upon whether you’re on the Ubuntu or Scientific Linux platform. But on both platforms you need to enter the IP address from which you will log in at the new site unless it is on one of the private LAN subnets that already is whitelisted in IPtables. Just issue the command /root/add-ip and choose 0 option to enable all services for the new IP address. Then…

On the Ubuntu platform, issue the following commands:

touch /etc/update_hostconfig
touch /etc/update_serverconfig
rm -f /var/lib/dhcp/*
rm -f /etc/udev/rules.d/70*
halt

On the Scientific Linux platform, issue the following commands:

touch /etc/update_hostconfig
touch /etc/update_serverconfig
rm -f /var/lib/dhcpd/*
rm -f /var/lib/dhclient/*
rm -f /etc/udev/rules.d/70*
halt

Once you have halted the server, edit both the sound card and network card settings and disable both of them in VirtualBox Manager. Then choose File -> Export Appliance from the VirtualBox title bar and create a .ova backup image on your desktop. Now you’re an expert. Enjoy!

Originally published: Monday, September 22, 2014


Support Issues. With any application as sophisticated as this one, you’re bound to have questions. Blog comments are a terrible place to handle support issues although we welcome general comments about our articles and software. If you have particular support issues, we encourage you to get actively involved in the PBX in a Flash Forums. It’s the best Asterisk tech support site in the business, and it’s all free! Please have a look and post your support questions there. Our forum is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus.



Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 

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    This article has 4 comments

    1. When using one of these images, I assume you have the RAM for the virtual machine set already. Is the value you have the absolute minimum you would recommend to use or can it be adjusted lower, if needed?

      I haven’t downloaded these images yet, so I don’t know what the amount of RAM is set to, yet.

      [WM: It defaults to 1GB. Feel free to experiment. Should be fine at 512MB with moderate load.]

    2. I created a VMware virtual appliance on my local server. Used the Ubuntu ISO, followed the installation for v12. Worked okay but connectivity problems when I mistyped a user name for an extension. No ping, no access. Rebooted, no luck. Reinstalled from scratch again and same problem – no access from ssh except console out. Wasted 7 days researching and retrying – sorry, not ready for a production environment with these issues. The firewall rules are so strict now there is no access??? very dissapointed …

      [WM: Sorry you’re having issues, Ed. Typos always cause issues, but there’s not much we can do to fix that at our end. Not sure how you "wasted 7 days researching and retrying" when the code was only released yesterday. You can always turn off the firewall temporarily and manually adjust it to meet your needs: service iptables stop. Then restart it: iptables-restart. The IP address of the machine you used to set up the server and the server’s public and private IP addresses are already whitelisted. You can add external IP addresses to the WhiteList with /root/add-ip. All of this is documented in yesterday’s article.]

    3. UPDATE: Thanks for the time to reply to my previous post. I have been working with v11 and as of this week v12 for several weeks. The last week has been (more than 7 days) involved a test system to replace a current production environment, hence the frustration with the deployment. I appreciate the detail and information. I did work more on the problem yesterday evening. Bottom line: The install places a noreply.incrediblepbx.com 127.0.0.1 in the host file. Also, the 172.16.x.x non-routable addresses are commented out in the iptables file. Once I fixed these two problems – viaola – all works well!!! Still having a problem shutting down (shutdown -h now) form root does not work – but reboot does. Thanks again – hope this helps.

      [WM: 172.16 addresses were commented out because of a security issue at Amazon EC2. Address in /etc/hosts is necessary to get SendMail to work for outbound mail. Don’t use shutdown -h now. Use halt.]