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March 2000


Brian Strachman

This Year�s Comm Server


Last year, the communications server, or comm server, was the most overblown and underutilized product of the year. It was on everyone�s lips, but in hardly anyone�s communications closet. Some even intimated that the communications server was the next unified messaging � lots of hype and little reality. But, in the new year, such doubts will fade away, disappearing along with 1999�s ill-founded Y2K concerns.

A communications server is a product that replaces a PBX, and brings enterprise telecommunications out of the world of Alexander Graham Bell and into the information age. It is, in essence, a single box that includes features such as voice mail, unified messaging, and auto-attendant. (These features are usually separate expenditures.) Moreover, the communications server is often open to third-party developers.

In addition to offering multiple functions and being developer-friendly, the communications server delivers another solid benefit. It is typically an order of magnitude cheaper than its distant cousin � the PBX. Taken together, the benefits add up to a compelling argument towards the purchase of a communications server. This fact did not escape the eyes of CTI industry pundits, and 1999 saw considerable media attention focused on the communications server. However, the revenues have not supported the hype � yet.

In 1998, there were really only three communications server companies: AltiGen, Artisoft, and Picazo. These three pioneers effectively created the industry and garnered approximately $100 million in 1998 end-user revenue. Surprisingly, this measly sum (when compared to the $7 billion PBX market) drew the attention of the large switch manufacturers as well as a flood of startups.

By the end of 1999, there were 25 communications server products available, with more entering the fray every week. The once peaceful playing field is now attracting a crowd that includes oversized bullies and young, agile contenders. The following is a scorecard to familiarize you with the players in the communications server market.

3Com: 3Com purchased NBX, the first vendor to successful produce and ship IP telephones, and has the advantage of being first in this sub-market. The system uses a router for call control and an NT server for applications, thus distributing the points of failure.

AltiGen: One of the original three vendors, AltiGen recently released version 3.5 of their AltiServ OE software. Coupled with a strong multi-site voice over IP application, they have the advantage of a long market history and over 3,000 installations.

Artisoft: As a pure software company, Artisoft markets itself as being a totally open platform and leaves it to the VARs to install the boards and build the system. Artisoft also holds the trump card of being in the communications server business for several years and having gone through multiple generations of products.

Cisco: Determined to leave no market untapped, Cisco acquired Selsius to immediately have an IP handset, thus allowing them to sell more routers into the telephony space. Cisco has since remodeled the old handset, added some features, and is pushing hard to make LAN telephony a reality.

Com2001: As its name suggests, their InternetPBX offers an impressive set of Internet integration features to ease the suffering of remote workers and road warriors. And in an interesting development, Com2001 has partnered with Dell to distribute their products, thus assuring an entrance into the more mainstream data markets.

Flexion: Targeted at small businesses, Flexion offers an impressive product for under $10,000 that includes unified messaging and auto-attendant. Using an embedded operating system for increased reliability, Flexion should be one to watch as they have just begun shipping in the past six months.

Lucent: Also using LAN telephony, Lucent offers two products, IPExchangeComm and IPExchangeLink (targeted at large and small businesses, respectively). IPExchangeComm uses an application server for all of the CTI functionality, while IPExchangeLink is a router and server in a single box.

Nortel and Hewlett-Packard: Hewlett-Packet, Nortel, Microsoft, and Intel partnered last year to produce the HP Business Communications Server, a robust platform running Windows NT that will continue to operate even if the operating system fails. This big-name group will be distributing their product through Ingram Micro, among others.

Picazo: Also one of the original communications server vendors, Picazo had until recently sold its product only on DOS, due to its stability. However, Picazo is now the first vendor to sell a Windows 2000 communication server, and will likely ride Microsoft�s wave of market hype. In addition, Picazo is now offering an optional product called NetACD, which turns its communication server into a full-featured Internet call center.

Praxon: The ultimate in-one-box solutions, Praxon�s Phone Data Exchange (PDX) is targeted at small offices like realtors and doctors. Although based on an embedded operating system, which makes it prohibitive to third-party applications, their typical clientele will get exactly what they need, a complete yet simple communications solution. Praxon is using a variety of channels including local exchange carriers to distribute their products.

Shoreline: Using an innovative blending of circuit and IP, Shoreline communicates across floors and campuses using IP, yet brings voice to the desktop over circuit to standard analog phones. Shoreline�s product is the CrystaLAN, a device servicing up to twelve analog stations, and all CrystaLAN-to-CrystaLAN communication is done over IP. This approach will greatly appeal to those wanting a gradual migration to IP.

Vertical Networks: The InstantOffice from Vertical Networks is truly a one-box solution. The system includes the switching system for analog phones, auto-attendant, voice mail, unified messaging, remote access server, hub, router, and desktop CTI. For the small to medium-sized office, the InstantOffice should offer almost every feature desired.

This is just a sampling of the vendors who are currently in the communications server market. More and more are entering at a startling pace. I believe this flood of activity will dramatically increase the legitimacy of the product category, and I estimate 2000 sales at almost $800 million. While 1999 was a year of unfounded concerns, 2000 will truly be the year of the communications server.

Brian Strachman is industry analyst, Voice and Data Communications, Cahners In-Stat Group. To correspond with the author, please send your comments to [email protected].

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