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March 2000


Chris Donner PC-PBX In The Mix


Maybe its just me, but it seems like almost every week theres a new PBX alternative, or at least a new name for last weeks PBX alternative. We even have trouble when were looking to cover a particular industry segment in the news one persons PC-PBX is another persons IP-PBX is another persons voice/data switch. A little more than a year ago (in the December 1998 issue of CTI), I wrote a piece titled Pondering PC-PBX Permutations that provided an overview of the PC-PBX market. Tom Keating and I also tried to sort out some of the confusion over terms in this space. With this article, Id like to revisit some of those products catch up with them, so to speak, and see what theyve experienced and how theyve changed in the past year.

AltiGen has recently made its AltiServ OE 3.5 edition available, and the new version with its advanced feature set is available as a free upgrade to current AltiServ OE customers. Pricing will be the same as the 3.0 edition for new customers.

The 3.5 edition adds enhanced functionality to the AltiServ product line in three key areas: toll-quality VoIP, ACD, and Web-based call integration. AltiServ OE 3.5 is based on AltiGens Intersect Strategic Vision announcement, providing small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) with a migration path to move towards an IP-based voice network in their own timeframe. Companies interested in VoIP purely for its money-saving attribute now can rest assured that they will be making available a whole raft of new features at the same time.

Artisofts TeleVantage was upgraded at the end of 1999 to the 3.0 version. The new version adds support for VoIP, ISDN, and a Web browser interface allowing users to check voice mail or manage their personal account via the Internet independent of browser or platform. ISDN support is now available for up to 96 trunks and 264 extensions, allowing SMBs tremendous scalability as they expand. TeleVantage 3.0 now supports digital T/E-1 over a variety of protocols, including ISDN.

Additionally, the 3.0 version synchronizes with Microsoft Exchange to provide unified messaging capabilities, and it integrates with Artisofts Visual Voice app-gen so that users can extend and customize the capabilities of their phone system.
More recently, Artisoft has announced an alliance with GoldMine Software which provides an integrated CRM solution. The coupling of these two products provides users with the appropriate GoldMine information on incoming phone calls, as well as allowing phone calls to be made directly from within GoldMine.

Buffalo International
In late 1999, Buffalo International announced the availability of JavaBeans as part of their SDK for their Object Telephony Server (OTS-NT). This allows developers to easily develop Java client applications for OTS-NT. Previously Buffalos API could only be accessed directly through TCP/IP or from Windows applications using COM/ActiveX controls.

Since Java runs on multiple platforms, the support of JavaBeans and Java development opens a new realm of opportunity for third-party developers looking to build telephony-enabled applications on the OTS platform. Also, JavaBeans and Java applications dont require applications to work from the same physical location as the telephony server, which is especially important for those considering deploying a distributed contact center model.

Earlier in 1999, Buffalo International also announced that the OTS platform would support IP telephony, making it easier for call centers to link up remote sites with each other.

COM2001.com's Internet PBX has been growing as well over the past year, and two recent additions to its feature set are a new call center ACD module and an operators console. Both of these enhancements to the InternetPBX were announced at the Fall 1999 CTI EXPO (now Communications Solutions EXPO). The call center ACD module is designed for small to medium-sized call centers and allows agents to see who is waiting in their queue, while also allowing supervisors to listen in, whisper, and barge in during conversations. The module also handles all logging and monitoring of incoming calls.

The operators console allows a single user to manage, monitor, and answer calls from anywhere in the virtual organization. Additionally, real-time call control and caller identification-related tasks can be handled regardless of the specific phone set being used.

e-Voice has been very busy this past year, with numerous announcements regarding both their evoice3000 and evoice2000 platforms. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on the evoice3000.

At our fall show, e-Voice announced the release of a new VoIP board and VoIP capability in the evoice3000. The board, the evoip48, supports up to 48 ports in a single PCI card, plus it allows support of PC-to-phone calls over IP using NetMeeting. The board supports the compression algorithms ITU.723.1 and G.729A.

By adding the VoIP option to the evoice3000, enterprises can cut their communications costs significantly by routing inter-office calls over the Internet and between local servers. Also, eVoice3000 supports detailed calling logs, allowing a system admin to log, archive, and sort calls as necessary for billing and recording purposes.

More recently, e-Voice has announced that they will be debuting a Linux version of evoice3000. At the time we went to press, the exact versions of Linux that e-Voice would be working with were not fully established, but they did say that they plan to support Red Hats 6.0 and 6.1 versions of the OS. Anyone who read my February Enabling Technologies piece should take note of this announcement as another example of Linux making inroads not just in words alone, but in actual implementation.

Hewlett-Packard is a relatively new player in the PC-PBX market so new that they werent represented in the piece I did in December 1998. But when a company as big as HP gets involved in a market, you know that the market has moved beyond the hobbyist stage and into the mainstream. The HP Business Communications Server (HP BCS) is the result of a collaboration between Nortel, Microsoft, Intel, and HP, and it is aimed at SMBs or larger enterprises looking for alternatives for remote office communications.

Given its relative newness to the market, a brief overview of the HP BCS seems in order. The HP BCS runs on an Intel Pentium II 400 MHz CPU, and the system has 128 MB RAM and a 9.1 GB hard drive. The system runs on Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0, and the basic configuration includes 16 user licenses for basic messaging and telephony, a remote access modem, network management tools, and media services card. Digital phone stations must be purchased separately.

One of the key selling features of the HP BCS is that it will be backed by HPs service and support program, providing experienced support to both customers and resellers. Additionally, in December Hewlett-Packard announced the BCS Solution Partner Program, through which HP can provide customers with additional tools and applications to meet their specific communications needs. And finally, HP recently signed an agreement with Decisif to distribute an SDK for the HP BCS. The SDK allows developers to use familiar programming languages (Visual Basic, C, C++) to create applications that will integrate with the HP BCS.

Interactive Intelligence
Early in 2000, Interactive Intelligence announced their latest upgrade to the ever-popular Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC). This new version EIC 1.3-B specifically addresses the service provider market by extending e-mail support to any platform that supports SMTP and IMAP protocols. Previously EIC had supported Microsoft Exchange Server and Lotus Notes. The upgrade extends support to Novell Groupwise and Sun/Netscape Messaging Server, as well as other platforms. Additionally, EIC servers can be deployed in N+1 configurations for load balancing and fault tolerance again, an important ability for service providers considering deploying EIC in their networks.

EIC 1.3-B also adds support for LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol) for integration with existing and new directories. This move is in keeping with Interactive Intelligences desire to replace closed, proprietary products with open, extensible solutions that dont lock an enterprise or service provider in to a particular vendors products or services.

Picazo Communications has announced the release a fully integrated Linux server-based PBX for the SMB market. Built on the well known reliability of the Linux operating system, the LinBX will be designed to provide users with plug-and-play ease of use in addition to advanced functionality and switching capabilities.

One of the central ideas behind the PC-PBX is that it provides an open platform for developers, and what platform could be more open than one that runs on Linux? Picazo bills the LinBX as a lean, powerful solution, and if it runs on Linux that isnt hard to believe. The LinBX also allows extensive third-party developer support, and can be managed remotely using any standard Web browser.

Mixing It Up
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the news thats taken place in the world of the PC-PBX since last year, but it does give you an idea of how this market segment in growing. Early on, PC-PBXs seemed aimed mainly at providing very basic PBX functions at a drastically lower price and on an open platform. In fact, there was criticism of the PC-PBX as offering too little in the way of options for users. Whether that was ever really true or not, it is certainly not the case any longer, and these announcements and upgrades reveal some of the potential of the PC platform as an alternative to a traditional PBX. They also show that competition between platforms is not happening solely in realm of price, but in the areas of customization, enhanced features, and third-party development as well.

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