Monday, September 10, 2007

Recommendations For A Small Office PBX System

Here's the scenario:

You are researching options for a PBX system to cover about 10 lines or so. You PREFER not to rely on VOIP for outbound connections, but VOIP in the office itself is probably ok.. and possibly for office-to-remote office. Your focus (mimicking your bosses orders) is on ease of setup, affordability, and reliability of the system (the usual pretty obvious management direction).

Now...where do you go from here?

To go with a premise based solution for a small outfit might not be the be the best option. The reason I say that is it isn't necessarily an easy system to manage, especially when you are considering linking remote users for an "on net" appearance. There are solutions available for your size venture, but from my experience they aren't the most effective.

An outsourced solution will give you the same look and feel, plus much more, of a very high end PBX type solution. It also makes the connection of remote users much easier. In many hosted, or outsourced solutions, the need for VPN is eliminated, which can be difficult to maintain for voice. Small companies can operate much like large enterprises with a simple, outsourced telecommunication service.

Depending on your level of comfort with network setup and management, if you intend to install and maintain the system yourself, I suggest the vendors discussed below. When in doubt.....get assistance from a professional who has experience with IP/VoIP needs analysis and platform selection for small to midsized businesses.

You can maintain your analog POTS lines or whatever connection to the PSTN you currently utilize, there is no reason to let go of that. Most IP based systems these days let you create a mixed dialplan, where you can supplement your traditional lines with a few VoIP lines (SIP Trunks) that can be leveraged for LD or International calls.

There are many variants of Asterisk that incorporate a graphic user interface that encompasses most administrative tasks like setting up your trunks(lines), creating extensions, registering IP phones, setting up auto attendants and myriad other options.

For Asterisk based systems, I would suggest checking out:

trixbox.com
asterisknow.com
switchvox.com
fonality.com

With any of these, your base needs would be the PBX, which is typically a rackmount or midtower server with fairly modest specs (Intel Xeon CPU, 1GB RAM, single or dual SATA hard drives if you want RAID, and if you have (8) analog phone lines, you would need an 8FXO TDM Card integrated into your PBX chassis.

The only problem with an asterisk based setup is that it requires a lot of work on your part. Definitely do some research on some hosted or managed PBX vendors that service your area. Something on premise will probably not make financial sense.

If you are looking for more of an appliance type solution, I would check out talkswitch.com.

Generally speaking .... expect to pay $400-$600 per seat for the PBX, phones, and perhaps a managed ethernet switch.

Also, having your internal LAN setup for VoIP is important. You want to implement an internal QoS (Quality of Service) mechanism, typically a VLAN that segments your IP Phones from your normal bandwidth, so you allocate suitable bandwidth for the VoIP.

I would not discount voip for outbound connections. So hopefully your "PREFER" is not a rock solid position...and you're open to outbound VoIP. There are a few good managed voip providers out there. Managing your own PBX is not a simple task. You need to understand dial plans, did/dod, voice mail integration. If you want to do it well, you will want to have at least a dedicated person.... if not team. For 10 lines, it would likely be overkill.

Just my opinion, your mileage may vary.

For ten users, I would also consider using Google Apps [google.com/a].

For your companies email and calendaring. Why run your own server and have to deal with backing up your email when you can have Google do it for you. For a real estate business (for example) you wouldn't worry too much about storing your mail on Google's servers. They are not medical records or legal records (at least not so much that I would not trust google). You could likely get away with the free standard version.

Whatever direction you decide to go in you do have options. Do your research ..... decide early on "in house" vs "remotely managed" solution ..... and of course don't forget the boss's direction for "ease of setup, affordability, and reliability of the system".

If you need assistance ..... free too ..... take advantage of these 2 telecommunication consulting services:

Business VoIP Solution

DS3 Bandwidth And More

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