IP PBX: Small-Biz Benefits

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Many large enterprises have been working to converge their voice and data networks for some time now, and according to analyst firm Gartner Inc., IP telephony and Voice over IP (VoIP) is going to drive this convergence activity. Beyond big business, Gartner predicts that 40 percent of companies will integrate all of their voice and data networks into a single, converged network by 2010, with a vast majority (95 percent) of large and midsize businesses starting the convergence process by then. There are many solutions to help businesses of all sizes take advantage of the benefits of convergence. This month, we’ll look at the IP PBX.

An IP PBX is a private branch exchange—a telephone switching system—that can switch calls between VoIP users on local lines, and usually also between VoIP users and traditional telephone users, or even between two traditional users, just like a conventional PBX. If you’re using the traditional PBX, you’ve got separate networks for your voice and data communications. Using an IP PBX allows you to converge these networks, which means you can provide a single line for a user to access the Internet, VoIP communications and traditional telephone services.

According to research firm IDC, the worldwide market for IP PBXs will grow to almost $9 billion by 2009, with a compound annual growth rate of more than 23 percent. In-Stat estimated that around 1.5 million IP-based PBX lines were installed in small businesses in 2004, and that number will continue to increase gradually.

If you’re running or providing your IT expertise to a small business, you’ve likely been daunted by the high prices associated with making the switch to an IP PBX. However, there are relatively reasonable solutions out there for those who can make the investment, and the payoffs are numerous—including scalability, long-term cost savings and the ability to take advantage of cutting-edge communications applications. In addition, the price for these kinds of services is expected to drop as more organizations make the migration.

There are plenty of big-name vendors in the IP PBX market, and some of them provide solutions aimed at the small and medium business (SMB) market. If you’ve got the capital, you can look into solutions from 3Com, Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco Systems and Nortel, all well-known and well-respected vendors.

Several smaller vendors work specifically in this space, offering hardware, software or combinations of the two to provide similar functionality at a lower cost. Snom Technology (www.snom.com), a German company, offers the Snom VoIP Box, which allows organizations to take advantage of VoIP without buying expensive hardware. The box is a complete IP PBX solution in a little box that can be attached to the LAN via an Ethernet cable. It can be configured via Web interfaces, and the software lives on the box’s built-in compact flash. Zultys Technologies (www.zultys.com) offers two products for the SMB market. The MX30 is designed to enable multimedia communications for the small office, and the MX250 is designed for small to medium businesses with five to 250 users. The MX250 combines the functionality of a PBX, voicemail server, voice gateway and Internet gateway. Teltronics’ Cypreson (www.teltronics.com) is an IP-centrix private communications exchange system designed specifically for SMBs. The open hardware and software architecture integrates with existing infrastructure and supports as many as 250 ports. Components include the Cypreon Controller, a server that houses the telephony control functions and administration software; Digital PSTN Gateway; Analog PSTN Gateway; WAN Gateway; Cypreon Console, graphical administration software that resides on the controller and can be downloaded to an administrator terminal; Cypreon IP phones; and the Cypreon Attendant Workstation.

Another German company, Swyx (www.swyx.com), offers SwyxWare, a software-based IP PBX that requires no proprietary hardware and includes all of the typical features like voicemail, call manager, conference manager and intersite coupling, to allow for home/office networking.

There also are open-source software solutions out there, and you can find several vendors whose products are based on these, like Switchbox, a startup whose IP-PBX platform is based on Asterisk. Asterisk (www.asterisk.org) is a software-based PBX that runs on Linux and does VoIP in various protocols and can interoperate with just about any standards-based telephony equipment. Another open-source project is run by SIPfoundry (www.sipfoundry.org). The sipX project is a small to medium-scale enterprise open-source SIP IP PBX.

As always, you can take advantage of plenty of other options out there, provided you do your research and ensure you get the solution that works best for your organization.

Emily Hollis is managing editor for Certification Magazine. She can be reached at ehollis@certmag.com.


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