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The IP PBX is in the Building: On-Premises Solutions Have Their Benefits, But Challenges Loom

By: Paula Bernier

We’re told that large companies are growing more comfortable with cloud-based computing, and in some cases even embracing it. Still, keeping the PBX (News - Alert) on premises does provide a business with a certain level of flexibility and peace of mind.

At least that’s the opinion of Bob Duggan, director of the sales telephony division at B2B Computer Products, a value-added reseller.

Duggan says most of the businesses B2B works with have multiple sites with hundreds (or more) users. He says he’s not seeing hosted solutions playing in that environment. Instead, he says, medium and large businesses want on-premises VoIP. An IP PBX on site enables IT teams to make moves, adds and changes how and when they want. While some hosted PBX providers offer portals that let companies make such changes, Duggan says they typically offer only limited functionality.

However, companies with up to 50 employees and one office are the ones often considering hosted VoIP and for which that cloud-based solution is probably a better match, according to Duggan.

Whatever the case, Eric Knaus, president of RonEK Communications, says hosted and premises-based IP PBX solutions are starting to look a lot more alike. Manufacturers like Cisco, NEC (News - Alert) and Toshiba, he says, are doing this in response to deflation in the price of PBXs. To make on-premises solutions more appealing, he explains, IP PBX companies are offering gear that can be remotely accessed without VPNs. Knaus of RonEK, an interconnect company that sells voice-related products and services for SMBs, says that VPNs require a lot of IT resources to set up and maintain. So instead, he says, IP PBX companies are building solutions that employ NAT traversal to public IP addresses that then loop back to the PBX.

While the hosted VoIP service providers are pushing the angle that their solutions require fewer on-premises IT gear and resources, and can allow employees to more easily work remotely, Knaus adds that on-premises IP PBXs are in a favorable position given the acceptance of premises-based solutions and the fact that IP PBX manufacturers can develop their own hardware faster.

Another recent development that could have an impact on the PBX space is the recent introduction of the Microsoft (News - Alert) Communications Server 14, which is expected to be available in the second half of 2010.

The unified communications solution, which was first introduced in 2007, brings click-to-dial functionality, ad-hoc conferencing and presence to Microsoft Office, SharePoint and Exchange. It can be used with existing PBXs and IP phones – but the PBX is no longer required, as IP phones can now be integrated directly with the software to arrive at a complete unified communications system supporting voice, e-mail, chat and conferencing.

The new version of OCS gives companies a more complete communications solution, including enterprise telephony, that works with what customers already have and allows them to embed communications in any application.

Office Communications Server has grown by double digits every year for the last three years, and is one of the fastest growing servers at Microsoft, according to the software giant. More than 70 percent of the Fortune 100 companies have OCS as well as seven of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, eight of the top 10 aerospace companies, and nine of the top 10 banks.

Initially, Microsoft marketed OCS not as a replacement for legacy PBXs but as a way of enhancing an existing PBX’s functionality. Essentially OCS brought unified communications features such as presence to legacy, TDM-based PBXs. However, Microsoft ended up changing its strategy and messaging around OCS: You could continue to use your existing PBX, if you wanted to, but it was essentially obsolete. IT

Patrick Barnard, senior Web editor at TMCnet, the online entity of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine’s parent company, TMC (News - Alert), contributed to this story.

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