Thursday, May 5, 2011

VOIP in the Small-Medium Business

Recently, I was faced with our aging legacy digital phone system coming off-lease. Years ago, when it was implemented, we looked at VOIP, but decided that it was too immature at the time. I planned to revisit it again when this system was to be replaced. That time has come and I looked at the major players: Cisco, Avaya, NEC, and Fonality/Trixbox.

After many weeks of evaluation and comparison, I realized they they all provide basically the same functionality. There was no big "killer feature" the differentiated one above the others, so I looked at "openess"and pricing. It seems that the big players like to charge extra for using SIP trunks, presence, and other options of the sort. Some vendors wanted 3 physical appliances or servers. Presence requires a dedicated server? I think that is to push you into spending more and adding more of their hardware into your shop. That's the feeling I got. One of the vendors wanted to charge per SIP trunk added to the system. I had enough of that sort of ridiculousness and looked deeply into the Trixbox/Fonality solution.

Trixbox Pro is basically a customized CentOS Linux 4.4 installation with the Trixbox Pro modules. I simply paid the licensing fees, downloaded the ISO image, burned it to CD, inserted it into my server, and booted from it. It looked like a normal CentOS install and asked for a bit of info such as root password, hostname, IP address, timezone, etc. Easy to follow. Afterwards, the server rebooted and I logged in, activated the server with Fonality, and connected to the management console. To my surprise, the management console is hosted by Fonality and trickles changes down to your server. I wasn't too thrilled with that, but it works. The Community Edition does not work like that. It is all hosted on your end. All clients connect to your local server and remote clients go thru Fonality to connect down to your server, again unlike the Community Edition. It took me about a day to add all 50 of my users and conference bridges. It seems like almost any SIP-compliant handset or softphone will work with it. We are pleased with it so far.

This is what made the decision easy to me:

Cisco Solution: $75,000-$86,000
Avaya Solution: $45,000-$65,000
NEC Solution: $46,000-$64,000
Trixbox Pro Solution: <$18,000

Simply, I got basically the same functionality with MORE flexibility for FAR less money with lifetime updates included. Professional support is only $2,000 per year as well. There really wasn't a decision to make after looking at it from a high-level overview.