Pondering PC-PBX Permutations
BY CHRIS DONNER
When we first began thinking about running a survey of PC-based PBXs, the editors of CTI
talked quite a bit about how we would define the term PC-PBX and decide which products
should be covered. Perhaps one of the most interesting (and frustrating) aspects of the
changes taking place in voice and data communications is that new technologies tend to
overlap one another in both functionality and intended market. Even the terms become vague
and potentially confusing: vendors and press talk about ATM-based PBXs, IP-based PBXs,
virtual PBXs, PC-based PBXs, communications servers, and un-PBXs. Additionally, while a
traditional PBX allows for switching and some basic calling features such as voice mail
and call waiting, many enhanced features are supplied through software support - often by
way of a proprietary operating system (OS). A PC-PBX also takes advantage of software
support. However, since the PC-PBX runs on a PC, it can take advantage of what are
considered PC operating systems (such as Windows 95/NT or MS DOS). Hence, it is often
convenient to call upon a PC-PBX to provide a wealth of additional functions integrated on
one platform: unified messaging, follow-me applications, voice recognition, and so on.
To put all the PC-PBX permutations in perspective, we sat down with TMC Labs' own
Tom Keating and discussed the differences between and definitions of all of these terms.
Tom quickly laid out a Venn diagram to cover all the possibilities and where they do and
Whatever else it does though, a PC-PBX must perform the basic function of the standard
PBX, and it should do so on standard PC architecture and using a PC OS, rather than
employing the proprietary OS of a particular vendor. Additional features increase the
appeal of a particular product - one might even say that the ease with which such features
are added and developed is a good part of the argument for switching to a PC-PBX in the
first place. Another advantage of PC-PBXs is that they can free users of the obligation to
use an expensive proprietary phone set.
Since definitions of the PC-PBX tend to vary, we decided to keep the survey fairly
broad, as you can see from the list that follows this introduction. And if this list seems
difficult to follow and you're interested in some basic answers, we also asked each of the
vendors who participated to respond to a series of five questions about their products. We
have gathered these together for easy reading in a chart.
As you read, be sure to check the items in the sidebar as well.
While not falling strictly within the definition of a PC-PBX, these products generally
have similar functionality and may present another alternative. And in a way, isn't that
what PC-PBXs are all about? Alternatives.
45635 Northport Loop East
Fremont, CA 94538
Ph: 510-252-9712; Fx: 510-252-9738
AltiGen lauds its AltiServ as the "all-in-one" computer-based phone system.
The system consists of the AltiWare system software and Quantum boards running on Windows
NT. The list of features available for AltiServ is formidable: voice mail, call/voice
processing, auto-attendant, basic ACD, an e-mail server, and a Web-based call manager that
allows users to configure AltiServ from anywhere in the world. Yet with all of these
features, AltiGen allows the user to choose any analog phone, and even to select a variety
of phones, based on the preferences of individual users.
One of the most interesting features of AltiServ is its convenient call management and
administration through a Web browser. Call control for individual user stations are easily
changed from the office or anywhere were a user has access to the Internet. Remote users
can use the Internet to send and receive messages. Finally, if problems do arise, dealers
can access and troubleshoot the system through the Internet as well.
5 Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
Ph: 617-354-0600; Fx: 617-354-7744
Artisoft's TeleVantage is one of the products that TMC Labs has been able to review
recently (see the September issue of CTI),
and it came away with an "A" rating. While this review is certainly a good thing
for Artisoft, it also speaks well for other vendors in this roundup, since it shows that
the functionality of a PBX can be realized independent of vendor-controlled,
TeleVantage provides a multimedia format for call control and for such additional
features as voice mail, call forwarding, and paging. Additionally, the graphical interface
allows for multiple line control and simplifies accessing voice mail messages, which are
stored as .WAV files on the PC's hard drive.
Artisoft also takes full advantage of the PC functionality, integrating TeleVantage
with e-mail, allowing for call logging and reporting, and providing least-cost routing
capabilities for long-distance calls. By synchronizing such phone functions with the
desktop PC, TeleVantage brings more flexibility to phone systems.
COM2001 Technologies, Inc.
2035 Corte Del Nogal, Suite #200
Carlsbad, CA 92009
Ph: 760-431-3133; Fx: 760-431-3141
The COM2001 NTX Enterprise Communications Server (ECS) goes beyond simply replacing the
PBX to offer unified messaging and Internet features as well. NTX ECS operates on Windows
NT and integrates with Microsoft's Exchange Server to provide call control plus additional
services, such as remote access and voice recognition technology. By combining such
features into a single product, COM2001 is simultaneously able to improve call quality and
performance while decreasing costs.
The NTX ECS does more than simply move the PBX onto a PC - the real benefit here is
that PC call control also allows enhanced functionality that challenges or surpasses
traditional PBX functionality. A good example of this can be seen in NTX's personal
assistant, called Alexis. This feature allows voice control of message retrieval and
response, allowing even remote users to stay in touch with customers and perform as if
they were in the office. Additionally, employees access messages and create replies in
formats that are already familiar to them: Exchange and Outlook, Internet Explorer or
Netscape Navigator, and through simple voice recognition on the telephone.
While it's always fun to experiment with new technology, the phone system is not
something most people want to "dabble" with. By adding features and taking
advantage of the possibilities of a PC-based PBX, COM 2001 has developed a product that
gives a clear reason for moving forward with call control and switching.
EasyRun Communication Software Systems
456 Sylvan Avenue
Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632
Ph: 201-541-1855; Fx: 201-541-8333
[email protected] is the name of Easyrun's software-based telephony switching system, which
uses open computing platforms and standard Dialogic computer telephony components to
provide full PBX-like functionality. [email protected] runs on the Windows NT operating system and
complies with the ECTF's specifications for open telephony, such as the H.100/H.110,
S.100, and S.900 standards.
EasyRun currently supports up to 2,000 ports from a single box, supports digital
telephone sets, and enables system redundancy for mission-critical and 24-hour
applications. EasyRun's goal with [email protected] is to bridge the gap between the ease of
traditional GUI programming and the relative difficulty of developing telephony
applications. [email protected]'s open platform allows for a higher level of control and
programming of telephony complexity, simplifying the process of application development
for systems integrators and developers.
12800 Middlebrook Road, Suite #200
Germantown, MD 20874
Ph: 888-FON-ENET; Fx: 301-601-8777
e-Net's Telecom 2000 combines voice and data over a single network, whether that be
Ethernet, ATM, frame relay, or IP. Telecom 2000 provides full PBX functionality, including
such features as call forwarding, call waiting, and voice mail, while only requiring the
installation and maintenance of one network.
At the heart of the Telecom 2000 is e-Net's TelSet PC Card (T2000-TS), which can run
inside a PC (requires a 16-bit ISA slot) or as a standalone unit. The TelSet PC Cards are
also compatible with existing equipment, which means that they can be combined with trunk
interface cards so that users can phase in Telecom 2000 gradually.
On the user end, the TelSet card supports a standard analog telephone set, which plugs
into an RJ-11 jack. Telecom 2000 also runs on Windows 95/NT, and a TAPI-compliant
interface, e-Net Telephone Assistant Software, provides a GUI for call control from the
1250 Oakwood Parkway, Suite #312
Sunny Vale, CA 94544
Ph: 408-991-6988; Fx: 408-991-9630
Web site: evoicecomm.com
e-Voice's new evoice3000 Communication Server expands on EV2000 while still including
all of the functionality of the previous release. This means that the newest version
includes such features as caller-ID, voice mail, e-mail integration, and auto-attendant.
In many ways, EV3000 resembles a unified messaging application that is fully integrated
with your phone system: voice mail messages can be forwarded to an e-mail address, users
can control voice mail playback through the PC screen, and audio text and fax-on-demand
are also included. By combining features from voice mail and e-mail, EV3000 makes it
possible to create group mailbox lists for sending voice mail to multiple recipients.
In addition to these features, EV3000 is able to expand from 24 to 144 ports, and it
remains easy to install and maintain through either the browser-based Configuration
Manager or through a digital phone set. EV3000 supports 40 hours of voice message storage,
expandable to 110 hours, and also includes an event log file to help in tracking expenses
by location, department, or other criteria.
3039 Cornwallis Road
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709
Ph: 919-254-8618; Fx: 919-543-4580
In the product literature for the IBM Small Business Computer Telephony Solution, there
are two illustrations: one is labeled "the old way" and shows a standalone PBX
system hooked up to phones, while PCs are connected to the LAN for Internet access; the
other is labeled "the new way" and shows how IBM's Telephony Server integrates
these two into one system. Terms like "old" and "new" can often bring
connotative meanings that diminish their effect - for example, you might think of the
"new lamps for old" trade, where an eagerness for something new lost something
of considerably more value. However, IBM's Small Business Computer Telephony Solution (IBM
CT) is designed to replace the old with something that is both new and provides more
functionality - one important measure of value in the telecommunications world.
The IBM CT is designed to provide a multitude of functions - caller-ID, call
forwarding, online phone directories, visual access to voice mail - but a significant
portion of the product literature focuses on the service aspects of the product. With IBM
CT, users gain a single point of contact for their telecommunications needs. This, in
addition to the product's open, standards-based technology (intended to ease upgrading and
customization), should make the IBM CT an appealing solution for the small business
Interactive Intelligence, Inc.
3500 DePauw Boulevard, Suite #1060
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Ph: 317-872-3000; Fx: 317-872-3000
Interactive Intelligence's Enterprise Interaction Center (EIC) takes a unique approach
to replacing the traditional PBX. All communications into and out of a business are
handled through the central EIC server. Through this central control architecture, EIC
provides an array of functions, including monitoring and reporting, ACD, and IVR. Other,
less call center-centric functionality includes unified messaging.
While EIC provides centralized call control, it is not just a new proprietary system.
EIC is built using open software standards and even allows the communications system to be
customized using Java language. And the Internet can be used to access and administer EIC,
or even to route calls, as in Internet telephony. All of these features help make EIC more
than just "new boxes that help you talk to the old boxes."
350 Legget Drive
Kanata, ON K2K 1X3
Ph: 613-592-2122; Fx: 613-591-2321
Mitel bills its SX-2000 for Windows NT as "not a PBX, not an un-PBX." SX-2000
for Windows NT offers all of the features and functionality of SX-2000 LIGHT, but it
allows a customer to take advantage of the familiar NT operating system for accessing call
control, messaging, and other features. Some of the features of SX-2000 for Windows NT
are: flexible, modular architecture; centralized management through a GUI; and support of
both TAPI and Mitel's MiTAI APIs.
All of this comes pre-packaged and delivered on a single Intel server. With SX-2000's
modular architecture, organizations are able to add functionality, often through simple
software additions, as their needs grow, or as their budgets allow. Additionally, SX-2000
for Windows NT supports Mitel's Superset 4000 series of digital telephones, as well as a
range of other telephone sets.
313 Boston Post Road
Marlborough, MA 01752
Ph: 508-787-1000; Fx: 508-787-1033
NetPhone's PhoneMaster provides desktop-based call control through Windows 95/98/NT,
and is aimed at small/mid-sized companies, or larger companies with branch operations.
PhoneMaster makes it possible to dial out, answer calls, and use such features as call
hold, transfer, and conference, all with a click of the mouse. Additionally, users have
visual access to their voice mail messages, with caller-ID information, and text comments
can be added to voice mail messages as well.
PhoneMaster is designed to be easily expandable and to interact well with third-party
applications like GoldMine and Outlook. Its compliance with standard APIs should
facilitate application development. Specifically, new telephony applications should be
integratable with the PhoneMaster environment.
4701 Patrick Henry Drive, Suite #701
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Ph: 408-235-8916; Fx: 408-748-0664
The NexPath NTS Telephony Server is an 8-port system, expandable in 8-port increments
up to 136 ports, that includes a switching system, a voice mail system, an auto attendant
- all within a single server that handles up to 31 simultaneous voice connections and a
maximum of 25 hours of voice mail storage per system. Access and control of calls is
provided either through a Web browser or through native Windows tools.
The NTS Telephony Server is designed with small businesses in mind. It allows a small
business to acquire telephony features that previously may only have been available to
larger companies, and many of these functions are available using the keypad of a standard
analog phone instead of expensive proprietary phone sets. Features that are available on
the NTS Server include call routing and switching, caller-ID and name detection, ACD
functionality, and automatic fax detection and routing.
61 Daggett Drive
San Jose, CA 95134
Ph: 408-383-9300; Fx: 408-383-0136
The Picazo VS1 business telephone system consists of two main components: the Picazo
Voice Server and the Picazo Port Expansion Unit. Picazo VS1 is a PC-based expandable PBX
that provides 16 ports initially and up to 192 ports maximum. Additionally, the system
provides up to 24 hours of voice mail. Additional features include an auto-attendant to
greet and route incoming calls, call forwarding, least-cost routing, and caller-ID.
VS1's software-based architecture is designed to adapt quickly, keeping users abreast
of changes in the market, and to allow quick upgrades rather than relying on hardware
changes. Additionally, the SiteLink applications allows VARs to access the system remotely
for configuration changes.
VSN Systemen BV
Venray, the Netherlands
Ph: +31-478-555-000; Fx: +31-478-589-563
VSN's Open TSP provides flexibility in developing a telecommunications system without
having to replace a proprietary PBX every time you want to institute a change. Open TSP,
true to its name, is an open, standards-based system that supports two standard switching
APIs - Dialogic's CT-connect and Microsoft's TAPI - running on Windows NT and Intel-based
servers. Open TSP provides basic PBX functionality, as well as such advanced capabilities
as IVR, ACD, and unified messaging.
Administration and maintenance of Open TSP can be done through any Windows 95/NT client
station. The system is scalable from 10 ports up to 800 ports on a single system. These
single systems can then be joined together via an intelligent private network, with a
maximum of 8192 systems, for a total of over 6 million possible ports. By using an ISDN
connection between disparate sites, a company is able to use high-speed voice and data
transfer and video conferencing. Also, different sites are allowed access to a central
database, regardless of physical location or distance.
Chris Donner is the associate editor for CTI magazine. He can be reached for
comment at email@example.com.