Zultys Comes Late But Strong to the IP PBX Party

By Ellen Muraskin  |  Posted 2004-09-27

Zultys Comes Late But Strong to the IP PBX Party

Ive been meaning to bring Zultys Technologies, another IP PBX vendor, to readers attention. Iain Milnes, the president of the Sunnyvale startup, gave me the final push in an interview late last week.

Zultys has been around since 2001. Its flagship Enterprise Media Exchange MX 250, launched July 2003, is an all-in-one IP PBX and data router for the small to midsize business. Its rack-mountable, 3.5-inch-high chassis supports from five to 250 users with voice, data and video, should one add cameras. Its won a lot of industry attention in recent years, as well as a worldwide distributor network.

Purpose-built with IBMs PowerPC 440GP system on-chip processor and running on MontaVista Linux, it also runs Windows GUIs and speaks Microsofts telephony API, so telephony functions can be embedded and activated through the LAN via a click in Windows applications. Like competitor Snom, its extremely faithful to standards: SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) for IP telephony interoperability, 802.11af for Power over Ethernet and DHCP for internal IP addressing, among others.

It comes out of the box with 400 hours of voice mail and basic automatic call distributor functionality for informal call centers. A recent software release adds optional full-scale call center to the mix. Especially nice, ramp-up from five to 250 users is a mere matter of software license purchase; no waiting for hardware upgrades.

Multisite enterprises can link up to 32 locations, Milnes said, comprising (do the math) 8,000 endpoints. And although Zultys tells me that resilience is built into the box, you can also cluster them for automatic fail-over or to scale up to 1,000 users at one location. A survival remote version, the MX25, can serve as a stand-alone system or merely as a gateway in a branch office for fewer than 25 satellite employees.

Zultys MX 250 works with SIP-speaking Cisco, 3Com and other SIP phones and the Windows Messenger VOIP (voice-over-IP) client but has some edges to offer in its own extensions: Zultys phones operate as routers in themselves and have four Ethernet ports. This means that enterprises could give them to their more technophobic employees to take home—even those who have no routers. As long as they have a broadband connection, they can hook these puppies up to their cable or DSL modem, plug their PCs into the phone, and thus add a business phone extension to their Internet access.

Every Zultys phone (also Linux) can also switch personalities and dial out through the Public Switched Telephone Network should the ISP drop dead. And they come with a generous two or four call appearances, meaning their users can conduct two or four simultaneous calls, pressing phone buttons. Zultys "4x5" phone has a built-in IPSec VPN client, so it automatically creates a secure tunnel into the home office. And it conferences up to five callers, Zultys claims, all by itself.

Next Page: Find me, follow me, forget me, depending on who you are and where I am.

Zultys Comes Late But Strong to the IP PBX Party - Page 2

The call-control and call-handling sound current with the art: drag-and-drop calls into conferences. Click to dial out of Outlook or an IM client. Pick up voice mails anywhere through a Web interface. Configure your call treatments using caller ID and presence information, so upon specific incoming caller ID, if your presence says youre out to lunch, you can have the MX transfer the call to your cell phone.

Version 2.2 comes with its own IM server for instant messaging that businesses can archive. Together with voice mail archiving, this is something that can be used to meet Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations for medical applications or Sarbanes-Oxley regulations in the financial sector. The system also comes with an optional digital-signal-processor-based fax server built in, supporting incoming and outgoing fax at the desktop. Faxes can be sent by "printing" any document to the fax driver. They can be received in in-boxes along with e-mail and voice mail and can trip notification calls. Again, any time you want to activate the Zultys PBXs fax potential, its only a matter of a phone call to your reseller, a payment and a software license key code.

Recent upgrades to the MX250 have added its own PoE (Power over Ethernet) switch, the EPS48, supporting the IEEE 802.3af standard, and the BPS12, a 48-volt rack-mounted battery system. This would kick in and power the PBX should AC power fail; PoE powers the phones. "UPS is not really robust enough for telecom," Milnes said. "They typically have a one-year warrantee and are really designed for low cost rather than high quality. Our battery system is designed as a communications device, so it puts out 48 volts. It does not put out AC." The 48 V goes to the MX250, and it can also go to the PoE switch.

"A lot of PoE switches are AC-based," explained Patrick Ferriter, Zultys vice president of marketing. "They raise the temperature and dont survive internally. When you plug all your Ethernet wires into it, the power supply or fan fails eventually, and you have an unscheduled failure. You have to pull out all your wires and replace it with another switch. With our implementation, everything is simplified because you dont have an AC supply in there. When the batteries begin to go, they have an indicator. You simply schedule an outage and replace the batteries. We have no unscheduled outtages."

The system also fully supports SIP calls outside the LAN perimeter, something in the plans of customer WOB Management, which operates a mental-health referral service in Los Angeles. Chris Siciarz, Contract Manager with WOB, was sold on a $15,000 MX 250 system with eight phones and battery backup. The deal closer for him was the embedded fax server, for the thousands of 10-page patient evaluation forms that come into his office each year. Another factor was toll cost savings: Siciarz plans to hook the system up to four accounts of Lingo, the $19.95 all-you-can-dial VOIP service from Primus Telecom, for all the patient follow-up calls his office has to make. At press time, he was waiting for the local Regional Bell Operating Company to provision a T1 line so he can hook up all four phones and data through the convergent system. In the meantime, hes using analog phones and Lingos terminal adapters.

Next Page: What alternatives did the customer consider?

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What alternatives had he considered? A Xerox machine for $8,000 that would have received and disseminated faxes electronically. Half the price of the Zultys, it would have done nothing about voice. Looking a little ahead, Siciarz would also like to use the Zultys to support a dictation line, a sophisticated voice mail application in which doctors could leave notes to be transcribed.

As a startup with no prior IP or telephony brand, Zultys has a hard row to hoe. It shares this row with predecessors Snom, a few others and, with more brand awareness, ShoreTel. But at this point, it does have some arrows not found in ShorTels or Snoms quiver. And it is aiming high and wide: Its site claims representative offices in 24 countries. It has added support for Japanese network interfaces–which differ from Europes and Asia Pacifics—and a wide range of languages for voice mail, auto attendant and client interface. Executives say their Japanese distributor, Nissho Electronics, sells $1 billion of Internet telephony products as the hardware arm of the Fusion and Netwave carriers. Theyre also announcing a resale arrangement with an Internet telephony service provider soon.

Well worth researching and considering, especially after our folks at eWEEK Labs gives them the twice-over, with a thorough report due in coming months.

Technology Editor Ellen Muraskin can be reached at Ellen_Muraskin@ziffdavis.com. She has been observing and illuminating the murky intersection of computer intelligence and telephony since 1993. She reaches for her VOIP line when the rain makes her POTS line buzz.

Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center at http://voip.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.

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