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The Best of Both Worlds: Taking Incredible PBX from the Cloud to the Ocean

We’ve spent a good bit of time documenting a dirt cheap way to learn about VoIP in the Cloud with our Incredible PBX offering using a $10.50 virtual machine at CloudAtCost. Is it production ready? Probably not. But we’re reminded of the old saying that pizza is a lot like sex: "When it’s good, it’s really good. And, when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good." That pretty much sums up CloudAtCost. And it’s not like a one-time investment for the cost of a pizza lunch is going to break the bank.

Today we turn our attention to a more reliable, long term Cloud solution with a fresh look at Incredible PBX with Digital Ocean. This setup runs about $5 a month after a free $10 trial using our referral link. If you continue to use the service, it also generates a little revenue for Nerd Vittles to keep the lights on.

It’s been about two years since we first introduced the Digital Ocean platform. Back then, it was the experimental platform. But a lot has changed, and it’s all for the better. First, you get a Cloud Server on which you can create virtually any Linux platform you like including CentOS, Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, and more. Second, you get your choice of seven datacenters all around the world: New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Singapore. Third, you get enormous scalability. You can start with the $5/month flavor with 512MB of RAM and a single CPU, 20GB of SSD storage, and 1TB of bandwidth. As your requirements grow and with a couple clicks, you can scale up through 8 multiples of capacity to a whopping 64GB of RAM with 20 CPUs, 640GB of storage, and 9TB of bandwidth for less than a dollar an hour. Just make a Snapshot of any off-line Droplet, and then use that Snapshot as the image for your new server in lieu of a Linux Distribution.

For our purposes today and for home and SOHO business users, the $5/month Digital Ocean platform is a perfect fit for both the CentOS 6.7 and Ubuntu 14.04 flavors of Incredible PBX. Once you’ve created your Digital Ocean Droplet with your choice of operating system, the Incredible PBX install procedure takes about 25 minutes. This includes the time necessary to compile and install the latest release of Asterisk® 13 from source code. When you’re finished, you’ll have a rock-solid PBX that is fully secured using the Linux firewall. For out-of-the-gate security, no other PBX comes close… at any price. Incredible PBX is and always will be pure open source GPL code and, of course, it’s FREE!

Creating Your First Digital Ocean Droplet

CentOS 6.7 remains our Gold Standard of Linux operating systems. We’ll start there and walk you through the Incredible PBX install procedure. Begin by signing up for a Digital Ocean account and creating a 512MB $5 droplet in your choice of data centers. Choose the CentOS 6.7 x32 platform just to keep things simple, and pick a hostname such as centos.incrediblepbx.com. It doesn’t matter if it is not resolvable, but it does need to be in FQDN format.

By the way, you only pay for the time your droplet actually exists so build several and play for a couple hours. Your total cost will be about 5¢. And, as we noted, your first $10 of server charges are actually free. So you have nothing to lose by experimenting. If you make a mistake, delete your droplet and start over. No big deal. Once your droplet has been created, Digital Ocean will send you an email with your root user credentials and the IP address of your new server. Login with SSH or Putty, and you’ll be prompted to immediately change your root password. Make it secure… as if your bank account depended upon it. 😉

Installing Incredible PBX 13 for CentOS 6.7

Now we’re ready to begin the Incredible PBX install. It’s a two-step procedure. First, we’ll get CentOS up to date and reboot. Then we’ll kick off the actual install. Just cut-and-paste the following commands while logged into your droplet as root:

setenforce 0
yum -y upgrade --skip-broken
yum -y install net-tools nano wget tar

Once your server reboots, login again as root and cut-and-paste the following commands. Take a 30-minute break while the installer does its thing. If you’re one that likes to watch, don’t worry if you see some error messages. They all get sorted out before the installation finishes.

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/incrediblepbx13-12.2-centos.tar.gz
tar zxvf incrediblepbx*

Let’s login to your server one more time to get the latest Incredible PBX updates and set up your passwords and time zone. Then you’ll be ready to handle future server admin using your browser:

Make your root password very secure: passwd
Create admin password for GUI access: /root/admin-pw-change
Create admin password for web apps: htpasswd /etc/pbx/wwwpasswd admin
Set your correct time zone: /root/timezone-setup
Make a copy of your Knock codes: cat /root/knock.FAQ
Review current info about your server: status OR pbxstatus (depends on release)

If you want to add fax support to your PBX, we’ve got one more installer to run, and you’ll be all set. Just run the following command and press the ENTER key each time you are prompted for input (about 21 times):

cd /root


It’s a GUI, GUI World Out There

Most management of Incredible PBX will be handled using your favorite browser and one of two GUIs: the Kennonsoft menu which appears when you access the IP address of your server using a browser AND the Incredible GUI which is available on the Admin page of the Kennonsoft menu.

Choose Incredible GUI Administration from the Admin menu of the Kennonsoft GUI (shown above) by clicking on User to switch. The default username is admin and the password is what you set in the preceding step. Now edit extension 701 so you can decipher or change the randomized passwords that was assigned to the 701 extension and its voicemail account: Applications -> Extensions -> 701.

Setting Up a Soft Phone to Use with Incredible PBX

Now you’re ready to set up a telephone so that you can play with Incredible PBX. We recommend YateClient which is free. Download it from here. Run YateClient once you’ve installed it and enter the credentials for the 701 extension on Incredible PBX. You’ll need the IP address of your server plus your extension
701 password. Choose Settings -> Accounts and click the New button. Fill in the blanks using the IP address of your server, 701 for your account name, and whatever password you created for the extension. Click OK.

Once you are registered to extension 701, close the Account window. Then click on YATE’s Telephony Tab and place some test calls to the numerous apps that are preconfigured on Incredible PBX. Dial a few of these to get started:

DEMO - Allison's IVR Demo
947 - Weather by ZIP Code
951 - Yahoo News
*61 - Time of Day
*68 - Wakeup Call
TODAY - Today in History

Now you’re ready to connect to the telephones in the rest of the world. If you live in the U.S., the easiest way (at least for now) is to set up a free Google Voice account. Google has threatened to shut this down but as this is written, it still works. An update supporting Google Voice OAUTH 2 authentication is available here with a complete tutorial. Just start at step #1b. A better long-term solution is to choose several SIP providers and set up redundant trunks for your incoming and outbound calls. The PIAF Forum includes dozens of recommendations to get you started. You’ll also find an incredible deal from our platinum sponsor, Vitelity, at the end of this article.

Configuring Google Voice

If you want to use Google Voice, you’ll need a dedicated Google Voice account to support Incredible PBX. If you want to use the inbound fax capabilities of Incredible Fax, then you’ll need an additional Google Voice line that can be routed to the FAX custom destination using the GUI. The more obscure the username (with some embedded numbers), the better off you will be. This will keep folks from bombarding you with unsolicited Gtalk chat messages, and who knows what nefarious scheme will be discovered using Google messaging six months from now. So keep this account a secret!

We’ve tested this extensively using an existing Gmail account, and inbound calling is just not reliable. The reason seems to be that Google always chooses Gmail chat as the inbound call destination if there are multiple registrations from the same IP address. So, be reasonable. Do it our way! Set up a dedicated Gmail and Google Voice account, and use it exclusively with Incredible PBX. It’s free at least through 2013. Google Voice no longer is by invitation only so, if you’re in the U.S. or have a friend that is, head over to the Google Voice site and register.

You must choose a telephone number (aka DID) for your new account, or Google Voice calling will not work… in either direction. Google used to permit outbound Gtalk calls using a fake CallerID, but that obviously led to abuse so it’s over! You also have to tie your Google Voice account to at least one working phone number as part of the initial setup process. Your cellphone number will work just fine. Don’t skip this step either. Just enter the provided 2-digit confirmation code when you tell Google to place the test call to the phone number you entered. Once the number is registered, you can disable it if you’d like in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. But…

IMPORTANT: Be sure to enable the Google Chat option as one of your phone destinations in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. That’s the destination we need for The Incredible PBX to work its magic! Otherwise, all inbound and outbound calls will fail. If you don’t see this option, you may need to call up Gmail and enable Google Chat there first. Then go back to the Google Voice Settings.

While you’re still in Google Voice Settings, click on the Calls tab. Make sure your settings match these:

  • Call ScreeningOFF
  • Call PresentationOFF
  • Caller ID (In)Display Caller’s Number
  • Caller ID (Out)Don’t Change Anything
  • Do Not DisturbOFF
  • Call Options (Enable Recording)OFF
  • Global Spam FilteringON

Click Save Changes once you adjust your settings. Under the Voicemail tab, plug in your email address so you get notified of new voicemails. Down the road, receipt of a Google Voice voicemail will be a big hint that something has come unglued on your PBX.

One final word of caution is in order regardless of your choice of providers: Do NOT use special characters in any provider passwords, or nothing will work!

Now you’re ready to set up your Google Voice trunk in the GUI. After logging in with your browser, click the Connectivity tab and choose Google Voice/Motif. To Add a new Google Voice account, just fill out the form. Do NOT check the third box or incoming calls will never ring!

IMPORTANT LAST STEP: Google Voice will not work unless you restart Asterisk from the Linux command line at this juncture. Using SSH, log into your server as root and issue the following command: amportal restart.

If you have trouble getting Google Voice to work (especially if you have previously used your Google Voice account from a different IP address), try this Google Voice Reset Procedure. It usually fixes connectivity problems. If it still doesn’t work, enable Less Secure Apps using this Google tool.

Troubleshooting Audio and DTMF Problems

You can avoid one-way audio on calls and touchtones that don’t work with these simple settings in the GUI: Settings -> Asterisk SIP Settings. Just plug in your public IP address and your private IP subnet. Then set ULAW as the only Audio Codec.

A Few Words about the Incredible PBX Security Model for CentOS

Incredible PBX for CentOS joins our previous Ubuntu build as our most secure turnkey PBX implementation. As configured, it is protected by both Fail2Ban and a hardened configuration of the IPtables Linux firewall. The latest release also includes Port Knocker for simple, secure access from any remote computer or smartphone. You can get up to speed on how the technology works by reading the Nerd Vittles tutorial. Your Port Knocker credentials are stored in /root/knock.FAQ together with activation instructions for your server and mobile devices. The NeoRouter VPN client also is included for rock-solid, secure connectivity to remote users. Read our previous tutorial for setup instructions. As configured, nobody can access your PBX without your credentials AND an IP address that is either on your private network or that matches the IP address of your server or the PC from which you installed Incredible PBX. You can whitelist additional IP addresses by running the command-line utility /root/add-ip. You can remove whitelisted IP addresses by running /root/del-acct. Incredible PBX is preconfigured to let you connect to many of the leading SIP hosting providers without additional firewall tweaking. We always recommend you also add an extra layer of protection by running your server behind a hardware-based firewall with no Internet port exposure, but that’s your call. And it’s your phone bill. 😉

The IPtables firewall is a complex piece of software. If you need assistance with configuring it, visit the PIAF Forum for some friendly assistance.

Incredible Backup and Restore

We’re also pleased to offer our latest backup and restore utilities for Incredible PBX. Running /root/incrediblebackup will create a backup image of your server in /tmp. This backup image then can be copied to any other medium desired for storage. To restore it to another Incredible PBX server, simply copy the image to a server running Asterisk 13 and the same version of the Incredible PBX GUI. Then run /root/incrediblerestore. Doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Incredible PBX Automatic Update Utility

Every time you log into your server as root, Incredible PBX will ping the IncrediblePBX.com web site to determine whether one or more updates are available to bring your server up to current specs. We recommend you log in at least once a week just in case some new security vulnerability should come along.

In the meantime, we encourage you to sign up for an account on the PIAF Forum and join the discussion. In addition to providing first-class, free support, we think you’ll enjoy the camaraderie.

Originally published: Thursday, March 17, 2016

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. Unlike some forums, ours is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus and thousands of users just like you. You won’t have to wait long for an answer to your question.

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


Special Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors

FULL DISCLOSURE: ClearlyIP, Skyetel, Vitelity, DigitalOcean, Vultr, VoIP.ms, 3CX, Sangoma, TelecomsXchange and VitalPBX have provided financial support to Nerd Vittles and our open source projects through advertising, referral revenue, and/or merchandise. As an Amazon Associate and Best Buy Affiliate, we also earn from qualifying purchases. We’ve chosen these providers not the other way around. Our decisions are based upon their corporate reputation and the quality of their offerings and pricing. Our recommendations regarding technology are reached without regard to financial compensation except in situations in which comparable products at comparable pricing are available from multiple sources. In this limited case, we support our sponsors because our sponsors support us.

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