Server Progress and Plans

We’ve made great progress on the new repository and web site servers and are happy to report that all is going very well! As you may recall, we’ve been having server problems for some time on our 5 year old hardware and have been undergoing the first phase of our modernization process! Time for another update…

We split the FreePBX servers into two virtual systems that represent this website and the Module Admin online repository that has often been referred to as the mirror despite the fact that there was only one such site. We have spent the last couple weeks staging these systems and migrating the environment to create an exact replica of the current FreePBX.org server with a handful of necessary changes to improve it. During the last week, we’ve been syncing the live site to these two virtual systems every two hours to assure a completely up-to-date environment. In addition to the webstite and repository we also have an identical replica of both these systems that will be part of the high availability setup.

Yesterday we took some new steps. We added the live SQL replication between the new website and its backup as well as the same for the repository system. Currently both the primary and backup systems live on the same physical server but that will be changing within the next couple weeks as we are preparing a home in a second facility where these two alternate systems will live. In the case of the repository we have built in an automatic failover ability in FreePBX 2.10 and will be enabling that ability shortly. As always, Schmooze Com Inc. has been invaluable in their technical expertise in helping us prepare for and stage much of this and a special thanks goes to Tony Lewis for much of this!

The second big step we took yesterday was to make the repository live by pointing the DNS record to the new server. We’ve watched the traffic to the old repository die to almost a trickle as badly behaved DNS sources have slowly updated their stale records. (We had set the TTL to 60 in preparation for this). So far we have not seen any concerns raised about this migration.

If all goes well, we plan on bringing the new website online tonight by pointing the DNS record to it. For most of you this should be a seamless transition that goes unnoticed. For those of you who receive stale DNS data that there will be glitches. This is often the case for OpenDNS and Microsoft based DNS servers. If you fall in one of these categories then you will end up on a web page that gives you further instructions on how to get to the site. (If your timing is bad, you may hit a very short window of about 5-10 minutes when we disable apache to get the last sync finished and assure there is no data loss from bad timing.)

OTTS Early Bird Special Ends Friday

Just a quick note on the upcoming FreePBX OTTS Class. The current Early Bird Special expires Friday so if you are thinking of coming, don’t let yourself get surprised. We are also well over half full at this point and are looking forward to seeing some of you next month!

For now we’ll update you as soon as we have more news on all that is going on!

Philippe On behalf of the FreePBX Team!

New Server Coming, FreePBX Training Filling Up, 2.10 Update

With the holidays fast approaching we’re firing on all pistons trying to move everything forward, keep the site healthy and prepare for those of you who will be [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]joining us in Naples, FL for the next Open Telephony Training.![/url] Progress is solid on the new repository site and website that we discussed [url=/news/2011-12-03/server-crashes-up-coming-trainings]in the last blog.[/url] and version 2.10 is close to entering release candidate state.

On [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar] the OTTS training[/url] space is filling quicker than we expected so don’t procrastinate. The current [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar-register]Early Bird Pricing[/url] runs out in just a few days so take advantage of the great discount and book now. We hope to get to meet you next month and get your feedback on 2.10!

Concerning the next release, we are wrapping up many of the loose ends and will be publishing the version 2.9 to version 2.10 upgrade module within the next week or so, which will allow many more users to help test the waters on this great release. If the feedback goes well it will give us the green light to move 2.10 into the release candidate state for the final testing and push to a final release. Please hop on board and tell us what you think so we can assure a great release that meets our user community expectations!

Concerning the [url=/news/2011-12-03/server-crashes-up-coming-trainings] server troubles we mentioned last blog,[/url] great progress is being made. At this point the new server is being delivered to the datacenter tomorrow. We have staged the new virtual machine containers for the main website (this blog and all that surounds it), and for the repository site as well as a backup repository site. We are currently replicating the main site to these virtual machines every 2 hours to assure we are protected were disaster to hit prematurely. Once the server is installed in the data center we will move the virtual instances onto the new hardware and then begin the migration!

If all goes well you may be already reading this blog on the new site! We are shooting for a cut-over this weekend barring any unexpected glitches. if that is a bit aggressive, since we do like to set lofty goals, we should at least be able to get the repository mirrors up this weekend. Concerning the repository site replication for availability, we’ve decided to update FreePBX to handle multiple mirror sites. It will always try the primary site but fail over to any alternate sites that are configured. We will implement this in 2.10 and beyond, and for 2.9 and earlier releases we will handle failures by pointing the DNS record to the mirrored server in the case of failures which will address most systems.

For now that’s what we have going, we’ll keep you up-to-date on the server plans as we move forward!

[b]Philippe[/b] – On behalf of the FreePBX Team!

Server Crashes, Up Coming Trainings

If you spend much time here or if you have a lot of FreePBX servers that you look after then you are probably aware of the troubles we have been haunted with over the last months. We want to let you know more about this and what we are doing to address these issues and assure there is a robust infrastructure going forward. In the mean time, let me remind those of you about our [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]Fast Approaching FreePBX Training[/url] that we told you about in our [url=/news/2011-11-07/2-10-beta2-and-come-see-us-in-naples-florida]last blog[/url]. There’s still time to take advantage of the [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar-register]Early Bird Discount[/url] that won’t be around much longer so act fast. Also keep in mind we had to turn away multiple attendees in our last training so register before it fills up! For those of you that take the expense off in your taxes, act quick to get a 2011 deduction!

The last time we gave our infrastructure a boost was almost 5 years ago in early 2007 when we were having problems with the old hosting facility and underpowered hardware. We’ve been chugging on that same piece of iron now and it’s starting to show. The site was down for several hours the day after Thanksgiving which was eventually diagnosed to a bad NIC (network interface). It went down again a few days ago for what looked like a disk starting to go bad. Beyond these, we’ve had problems for months, often with the system thrashing on swap space. Despite reasonable efforts trying to locate a root cause we eventually resorted to a nightly restart of apache to help temper the system, a real [i]”ghetto”[/i] bandaid we are not proud of.

The time has come to deal with our infrastructure head on so here’s a little information about what makes up the FreePBX site and the steps we are taking to assure a solid future. We will approach this in two phases, the first and most urgent being to take the current environment and move it to new hardware and facilities along with some additional changes to make it more robust. The second and longer term step being to investigate the modernization of the core underlying applications that make up the FreePBX site.

At a macro level the FreePBX site is made up of two primary components. There is this website you are currently reading which uses a dated version of the [i]Drupal Content Management System (CMS)[/i] in conjunction with a dated version of the [i]Trac[/i] ticketing/project management system paired with the [i]Subversion (SVN)[/i] repository. There are a handful of other components and some custom modules as well that glue everything together and provide the single sign-on ability between Drupal, Trac and the underlying SVN access. The second component is the FreePBX [i]mirror[/i] site which provides the backend infrastructure for the online Module Admin repository and server side publishing tools as well as the general repository for all other FreePBX tarballs and downloads. This software is almost all custom and is used to manage the environment in conjunction with a little MySQL There is actually a third component that we have not touched on, which is all the parts involved in the FreePBX Distro. This was developed from inception on a new infrastructure so does not need to be addressed here. In essence the old FreePBX infrastructure is now catching up with the lead that the Distro has taken.

With a lot of help from Schmoozecom.com, we have taken some initial steps already which include securing new and much beefier hardware at a new hosting facility, and staging the the [i]Site[/i] and [i]Mirror[/i] into two virtual instances that will be placed on the new hardware. Our intention is to replicate the Mirror site to a second hosting facility and enhance the backend environment to keep both of these up-to-date at all times. We are currently considering either roundrobin DNS records for some level of high availability and load balancing on the Mirror sites, or updating FreePBX to do it directly. Both have their advantages and flaws. For the Site configuration, we plan on having a duplicate virtual instance which will be constantly replicated from the main Site using a master-slave MySQL replication in conjunction with [i]rsync[/i] and other custom scripts to assure an up-to-date copy at all times. We will also be employing other levels of traditional backup for both to assure that everything is robust. We want to re-iterate the gratitude to Schmooze, and in particular to Bryan Walters (GameGamer43) and Tony Lewis for their dedication as well as expertise in helping with this transition.

At this point we are already in process of creating these two environments and we hope to do an actual switch over in the next two weeks. If all goes well it should be almost transparent though we will update you when this will be happening and of any planned outages we may need just prior to assure a clean transition with no data loss. Once we are up on the new infrastructure we will be well positioned to start planning the second phase which is the modernization of the Drupal and Trac environments. Since the new Site will now live within a virtual container, it will be very easy to replicate into a development environment that will allow us to work on a migration plan to updated the software, which has not been something we have had available up to now. We will provide more news on this process once we get through the first phase as well as let you know where community help might be desired in doing such.

A quick note on the 2.10 release. We continue to work strong on this with a handful of last minutes additions we have put into it. Juggling between the site issues and the beta release have drawn it out some though there are dozens of production sites that are running solidly on the 2.10 beta with Asterisk 1.8 so we are feeling very strongly about this. We plan on teaching the next [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]FreePBX Open Telephony Training Seminar[/url] on 2.10 in sunny Naples, Florida next month so rest assured we have strong motivation to get things wrapped up with this release. We hope to see many of you next month so don’t procrastinate and end up having the class filled up on you! Get registered now, get your 2011 tax deduction and know you will have some sun in the middle of the winter next month!

[b]Philippe[/b] – On Behalf of the FreePBX Team

2.10 Beta2 and Come see us in Naples, Florida!

Back from Astricon a week ago and catching up … for those of you who made it out to Denver last week, it was great to see you! If you weren’t able to make it, maybe we’ll see you in a MUCH SUNNIER PLACE in [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]NAPLES, FLORIDA[/url] at our next [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]Open Telephony Training Seminar[/url] quickly coming up in January! To be fair, Denver is usually very sunny but we happened to get one of those [i]”once every 5 year”[/i] late October snow storms that can hit the front range.

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[/float] For starters, we told you about an [url=/news/2011-10-10/2-10-update-and-come-say-hi-at-astricon-this-year]awesome FreePBX Appliance raffle[/url] we were going to hold at our booth and we are very happy to see that the winner is a well known member of the FreePBX and greater Asterisk community, Nir Simionovich pictured here laden with boxes that were his responsibility to get back to Israel upon his return! We again thank Schmoozecom.com as well as the other suppliers listed on the previous blog post for their extreme generosity on this super giveaway! The event was a great networking opportunity as usual and we were glad to see many of you during the course of the 3 days. I gave a talk on what we have been up to with FreePBX 2.10 though if you’ve been following this blog then you’re already on board.

If you did not make it out, or are simply looking for more FreePBX specific opportunities where I think we can GUARANTEE it won’t snow, come join us at the next [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]Open Telephony Training Seminar[/url] in SUNNY Naple, Florida January 24-26th. Our last event in Cleveland was a huge success to the point that we had to turn away several late comers because lack of capacity. So get your registration in early to make sure you not only get a seat in the training, but you also take advantage of the Early Bird pricing currently available and if you purchase it this year, you will get a tax deductible business expense for this calendar year as well! We continue to make substantial improvements to the class increasing the lab content and updating the curriculum to track the rapid pace of FreePBX so come be part of this great opportunity!

On the 2.10 front (which will be featured in Naples, FL), we silently rolled beta2 before Astricon through the online module repository. If you are currently on the distro and have been doing updates you should be there already, or you can [url=/download-freepbx]grab the Distro[/url] to install it or pull the FreePBX tarballs from there as well to upgrade. We’ve talked about many of the changes going on in both the [url=/news/2011-10-10/2-10-update-and-come-say-hi-at-astricon-this-year]previous blog[/url] and an [url=/news/2011-09-22/freepbx-2-10-beta-lots-of-credit-to-the-schmoozecom-com-team]earlier blog post[/url] so I’ll skip to a few points that need mentioning.

One thing that we recently added to beta2 is an option to include completely anonymous Google Analytics code in FreePBX. We are doing this as a very handy way to collect browser information and various other data such as FreePBX/Asterisk versions. It is not a whole lot different then what we pull in Module Admin but adds the browser side information. Why are we doing this? As we add more ‘Fancy’ GUI features to FreePBX the challenge of cross browser compatibility grows more difficult. By collecting such data, it helps us make informed decisions where to focus energy, or where NOT to focus energy, based on what you are using. If you have an issue with this it can be turned off on the Advanced Settings page but we have turned it on by default in order to get more useful information. We made this choice since people with concerns will clearly turn it off but it’s not very common for people to go seeking out how to turn this on if they even know about it. We have also made sure that FreePBX posts a notification the first time this is turned on so that you are aware of it and to tell you how to turn it off if you don’t wan this. So … if there are concerns about what we have done here, please bring them up for discussion now. We want to develop the best product we can using the most user based information we can and we want to hear from you if you have other suggestions or concerns.

In the meantime, although most of the feature work is done given we are in beta2, there are a few things going on that we want to try and get in before locking down the functionality and entering into a release candidate stage. One late comer is changes to the Paging and Intercom module that will introduce the ability to use app_confbridge as an alternative to the current paging that depends on MeetMe being present. This becomes a big win for those systems that are depending on app_confbridge and consistent with the direction Asterisk is moving towards in 10.0. This is currently being driven by Schmooze where we have a lot of phones to test large page groups, and we’ll be getting that into the 2.10 repository very shortly!

For now, that’s the update. We’ll see about providing a link the the version upgrade module soon for those running 2.9 who want to hop on board and we’ll drive towards getting that module put onto the 2.9 repository which will open the flood gates for more extensive testing by a much larger portion of the community!

[b]Philippe[/b] – On Behalf of the FreePBX Team!

2.10 Update and Come Say Hi at Astricon this Year

We wanted to drop you a quick note on the 2.10 progress and all the great feedback everyone has provided both in our [url=/news/2011-09-22/freepbx-2-10-beta-lots-of-credit-to-the-schmoozecom-com-team]last blog post[/url] as well as the various forum threads and tickets that have been filed! We also want to make sure everyone is aware that we will be at Astricon in Denver this year so come to the Open Source corner and visit us at the booth, you may even have a chance to wind a valuable prize, read on for details!

I’ll get straight to the Astricon logistics for those of you who are just looking for “free stuff.” (since when did anyone in an Open Source community want stuff for free 🙂 …) In addition to a FreePBX update that will be presented during the conference on Wednesday, several members of the FreePBX team and more notably our biggest development contributor Schmooecom.com will be there as well. Even better, we decided to have some fun and Schmooze very generously offered to “raffle” a complete and totally awesome phone system at our booth. So how much will these raffle tickets cost? Well it’s Open Source, so it’s FREE right! (not completely, you will have to part with a business card for the drawing at the end!)

What exactly did Schmooze offer? In a nutshell they worked together with several other great partners and supporters of the project in including Aastra, iSymphony and Sangoma to offer a complete phone system, the server of which is depicted here:

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[/float] The system comprises an Official FreePBX Appliance that is an Atom 525 based dual 160GB mirrored drives, 2GB of RAM and no moving parts outside of the disks. Retail value for the bare appliance (with FreePBX Distro installed) is $925. In addition, they have included 9 commercial module licenses retailing a combined total of $3380. Schmooze worked with Aastra to provide two phones, 6757 and 6731, retailing for $283 combined. They worked with i9 Systems to provide iSymphony Conductor Edition with a 5 users licensed and 1 Queue retailing $695. They worked with Sangoma to provide a B600D with 4FXO and 1FXS with hardware echo cancellation retailing for $912.

This is an awesome looking and functioning system with an overall value of $6195. If you factor in the true value of FreePBX, you’ve got a phone system that would cost you well over $10K from anywhere else! One lucky winner will return from Astricon with this amazing deal so make sure to leave room in your bags if that person is you! We hope to see you there, come by the booth for details!

Ok, on to other important matters, what have we learned and done with FreePBX 2.10?

Going through the feedback we’ve seen so far there are a few areas to touch on. The first one is the overall impression and feedback on the new GUI layout. Overall the message we are hearing about this is that most people like it though there are the obvious rough edges that have been expressed and are being worked. We were honestly and very pleasantly surprised that there has been minimal feedback saying that we really need to have an additional left menu bar version of the GUI. Is that a correct assessment, despite I know there were some comments saying that they think they preferred the old format? It think a hats off to mbrevda from Schmoozecom.com for the awesome work he has done on this. Please keep telling us what you think!

Concerning some of the feedback, let me start with a repeated request that there were too many mouse clicks. Mbrevda met the challenge on this one and has added the ability to hover over the menu items so now no mouse clicking is required to review what is there. Another important theme that was mentioned in the blog is the category names and what gets put where. We previously said this will never be agreed upon by everyone but there may be better ways to do it and are open to your input. There was one suggestion put forward but not much discussion beyond that. We have added back the ability, which you may not have known about in earlier version, to completely modify the menu layout with a freepbx_menu.conf configuration file (in ini format). There is already a sample file that comes with FreePBX. I would suggest we spring up a discussion in the forums if people need help with this and then this can be used as a median to suggest better default layouts. With this file in conjunction with an “on/off” Advanced Setting, it is easy to change the layout and share ideas via a sample configuration file to get some community discussion in a forum thread!

There were also multiple requests for a “home” style button to bring back the System Status screen without having to navigate a menu. This is something that several of us agree on and there are a couple options. One which you can test yourself is to use the freepbx_menu.conf file to create one since a category with a single GUI page within it will automatically get promoted to a top level button. The other option is to use the image of Tango to the left as a link (Tango is the frog). Currently that link can be customized in Advanced Settings and fires off a new window so as it stands now, it is not ideal. We could add an Advanced Setting so the link fires in the current window vs. a new window which would address this. Thoughts on which direction we should go on either or both of these?

Another change that was made was to take off the User Panel menu item that was hard coded. Access to the panel is available from our Distro GUI as well as most other Distros. If you want it back, there is a new module that does nothing more than put the button back into the FreePBX menu structure.

Last thing to discuss in today’s blog is the status of FOP. We have brought up the issue in the past that FOP is not really supported and provides a very difficult challenge for us since we know the functionality is attractive and important to many people. In an [url=/news/2011-06-12/freepbx-2-10-plans-what-we-are-thinking]older blog[/url] we brought this issue up and the fact that we would be forced to remove it from 2.10. We have not yet carried through and which has led to much of the confusion. We will address what the issues are and what we are doing or plan on doing to try and address it.

Currently FOP is not supported and has not been for some time. It also has known issues on Asterisk 1.8 which is the supported Asterisk version for FreePBX 2.10. The plan for the short term is that we are going to try to take all of the FOP functionality and make it into a fully installable module that can be provided as an “unsupported” module for those who wish to try and work with it. The new horizontal GUI layout lends it self well to do this. Since FOP is fully Open Source, we would hope that there may be some volunteer programers from the community who come forward to try and provide some support for FOP once we do this if it remains important to some of the community.

In the interim, we have been working or trying to work with both the FOP2 developer (same original developer of FOP) and i9 with iSymphony. Both of these products provide similar functionality as FOP. On the FreePBX Distro there are RPMs that will help get both of these loaded. FOP2 provides a 15 “element” free license though you have limited control on what you can put in those “elements.” Up to now we have been unsuccessful in trying to find a way that would allow you to seamlessly upgrade to a paid version through the FreePBX site though this can be done on your own directly with the FOP2 developer. There is also a module in FreePBX that helps you manage this available from him.

On the iSymphony front there is a free license available from i9 Technologies that delivers most of the iSymphony Conductor functionality for 5 users and there is also a FreePBX module available to control this. Currently it can be installed with an RPM on the FreePBX Distro and you can buy the full version from the FreePBX store. Also with the Beta Version of the Distro iSymphony will be installed during the install of the ISO by default now and the client can be separate client from a different website like you use to.

We are continuing to investigate on the Operator Panel front how we can improve this situation and experience and if there are other ideas from the community we are always welcome to hear them!

For now, your feedback has been great so keep it coming! We will be putting out some Framework Updates very shortly that delivers much of what is described above. For those of you pulling directly from the 2.9 SVN branch, you already have most of it.

For now, come say hi at Astricon, we are looking forward to seeing some of you there!

[b]Philippe[/b] – on behalf of the FreePBX and Shmoozecom.com Teams for all they have done for us recently!