I've run my own Asterisk system for quite some time. My mom lives in Minneapolis, my dad lives in Chicago and my sister lives in Montreal (stinkin' French Canadians - the worst kind). Just kidding, I love my sister and all of my Quebec friends! At this point in time I lived in Wisconsin. Cell phone plans weren't that cheap yet (especially in Canada) and my family was spread out far enough for every call to be long distance.
I started playing with Asterisk in July of 2004. It turns out that I was flying to Montreal to visit my sister during the US Independence Day Holiday (yeah, that makes sense - go to Canada for the 4th). I bought a cheap X100P clone, installed it in a Linux machine, and connected it to the analog line (SBC) at my house in Wisconsin.
I configured a basic (dangerous) Asterisk install over the course of a few days and packed my things for Montreal. Of course I also brought my laptop. I had also managed to install a softphone on it before I left. I got to my sister's apartment, connected my laptop to her VideoTron cable modem and registered with my softphone. Would it actually work? Could I make a call from this softphone to that Linux server (over the internet) and out the PSTN in Wisconsin to one of my friends - for free?
If you are reading this blog you probably know what happened next. It worked perfectly. I was amazed and my friends were impressed. This was awesome.
Over the next couple of weeks I added what I needed to my (lame) Asterisk configuration. Then disaster struck... My air conditioning broke and with it went the hard drive of the Asterisk play server. It was a play server - no backups.
I hate doing things twice. That's exactly how I felt about this. I wasn't going to work through all of that again - compiling, configuration file mess again. I swore I wasn't going to resurrect Asterisk or that machine again.
Then I heard it. Asterisk was calling. I couldn't get the idea of Asterisk out of my mind. I hit the books (voip-info.org, internet mostly) and I learned more about Asterisk - more than enough to simply rebuild my play server. A couple of days later I had it back up and better than before. In the process I also knew what I was going to do with it. I could ship an ATA to each member of my family and we could all call each other, for free. I could also get an account with an ITSP and provide cheap calling to my family members.
Today some instance of that server is still running and my family members can still call each other with a four digit dial, for free.