Expanding IP PBX Choices

AltiGen and Inter-Tel target standards-based systems at small companies.

Ron Nelson sunk roots at Ameron International Corp. as a data communications specialist, but when the manufacturer of industrial pipes eliminated five office management jobs, he was left in charge of voice telephony as well as data. Thats when Nelson decided it was time for convergence.

Nelson confronted the dilemma many IT managers at small and midsize businesses face in migrating to converged communications: His company needed the functions of packet-based communications, but top decision makers werent ready to invest in full IP-based systems.

"Ameron is not a bleeding-edge kind of company," said Nelson, manager of operations and telecommunications at the company, in Pasadena, Calif. "Weve got very old-style management that tends to be very leery of new and innovative telecommunications."

At the same time, Nelson was not interested in the hybrid IP PBX systems offered by legacy telephony vendors because he did not want to be locked into one vendors maintenance fee schedule. "I was quite annoyed by the persistence [of a major vendor] that maintenance was a major issue," he said. "There was this fear factor. I felt I was being dragged into the back room and was going to be pounced on."

Increasingly, users such as Ameron are calling on vendors such as AltiGen Communications Inc., of Fremont, Calif., and Inter-Tel Inc., of Phoenix, which offer smaller enterprises standards-based, IP PBX systems that leverage existing equipment. Most of the legacy vendors require either propriety, end-to-end systems or investment in IP phones, at a minimum. Alcatel S.A., of Paris, offers similar flexibility in the IP PBX arena as AltiGen and Inter-Tel but, to date, targets only the high end of the market. However, Alcatel plans to expand offerings to smaller configurations, according to Sheri Determan, senior director of marketing at Alcatels e-Business Networking Division, in Calabasas, Calif. "Were in the multivendor world. We accept reality," Determan said. "People have legacy equipment."

Ameron uses AltiGens AltiServ PBX system at 13 of its 27 North American sites, including divisional headquarters, sales offices and warehouses. The company purchased servers and software, uses analog telephones and pays no maintenance charges. "Previously, my recurring charges were $8,000 to $9,000 per month," Nelson said. "The main benefit Ive seen is that Im able to put in a system, and the costs of the proprietary purchase are not there."

For Ameron, the AltiGen systems ease of interoperability with Windows is advantageous, allowing IT managers to administer the system remotely and train new users quickly. Nelson said he is particularly pleased with the auto- attendant functions and AltiGens Zoomerang service. The latter allows users, when checking voice mail, to press the 5 key, directing the system to dial back the caller who left a message.

Once the return call is completed, the system brings the user back to the place in voice mail where the user left off.