Where to Turn

By Andrew Garcia  |  Posted 2006-09-24 Print this article Print

Where to Turn

Small-businesses implementers may find that telephony equipment from large networking companies such as Cisco Systems or Nortel can be purchased either from VARs or large telcos that deploy these products as part of a solution package.
Like Nortel, Cisco has scaled down its telephony solutions for small business—Ciscos new Call Manager Express is focused squarely at the SMB market.
Call Center Manager is built on top of Cisco IOS (Internetwork Operating System) and Ciscos line of small-business-oriented Integrated Services Routers. Read more here from a review of the Cisco routers. Smaller networking companies also are hopping on the SMB bus, looking to capitalize on a market that shows no signs of slowing. Adtran, for example, has followed Ciscos approach, embedding IP PBX functionality in its NetVanta 7000 Series routers.

In addition, more consumer-oriented companies, such as D-Link and Linksys, have added VOIP solutions to their small-business divisions. Click here to read more about D-Link gear. VOIP products from these companies are certainly attractive from a pricing perspective, but IT managers need to determine whether the solutions will provide the necessary features, whether they can be scaled to meet growing needs and whether expertise is available—from either the vendor or resellers—to correctly implement and effectively maintain a voice solution.

eWEEK Labs also has seen a couple of different waves of appliance-based solutions: There are small-business-oriented systems from companies such as ShoreTel and Quintum Technologies, which have been growing their own voice applications for years, and there are appliance solutions based on open-source initiatives. Companies including Four Loop Technologies and Fonality, for example, are now selling Asterisk-based Linux appliances.

Most of these appliances have the same problem we saw with the last generation of PC-based solutions—namely, hardware reliability. PCs, with all their moving parts, are inherently fallible—if a hard drive, a fan or a power supply gets knocked out, voice services will be out, too.

ShoreTel avoids this problem by using a purpose-built switch, and Digium is hoping to avoid such stumbling blocks with its forthcoming Asterisk Appliance Developer Kit. Digium created the kit to provide its OEM partners with a Business Lite version of Asterisk that runs on an appliance with no moving parts, along with training on how to develop and support it all. The Digium appliance is basically a stackable voice switch, with eight analog ports, five Ethernet ports, a built-in router and Compact Flash for voice mail storage. Digium officials estimate that the developers kit will cost about $4,000.

Finally, there are many hosted solutions that can be tapped for small-business VOIP. Aforementioned carriers may offer business-class voice services, but navigating among these companies hosted and premise-based solutions can be daunting, often involving separate noncommunicating sales divisions.

Providers such as Covad Communications Group, on the other hand, have distinct, well-marketed services that offer a wide array of applications over a dedicated Internet connection that allows the company to offer SLAs (service-level agreements). Vonage, on the other hand, offers a core set of services and an all-you-can-eat monthly rate without any kind of SLA.

Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at andrew_garcia@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.

Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at agarcia@eweek.com.

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