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PBX: Switching Loyalties?

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Every year, hundreds of new businesses buy PBXs. Many existing

businesses replace the old ones or buy one for their newly set up branch office.

For a large number of those who have been using it or those who are

contemplating to buy a new one, PBX is no more then a voice switch, whose one

and only function is to switch calls to various extensions within the office.

Five years ago, this attitude would not have been a matter of unusual attention,

after all, what could have one expected a PBX to do for his or her business

except for switching calls? As Niru Mehta, vice chairman, Tata Telecom, puts it,

"Earlier PBX would not have been so-critical for most businesses. But now,

it is and many competitive advantages of an enterprise, center around it".

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Mehta isn’t off the mark. Today, PBX is not only doing much

more than switching voice calls; it is also being looked at differently. PBX is

no more a box–it is today, a solution, it is a network. In an enterprise, it

is the center of convergence of voice, data and video, on one network. And in many businesses

like, for instance, contact centers, it is the



very edifice on which the business survives. And this change is largely being
driven by what is called IP. This change is as



significant as the change from analog to digital, in the 1980s.

The Choice

Today a PBX is doing much

more than switching voice calls.

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In a market that is still predominantly traditional, at least

here in India, choosing an IP-based PBX is not going to be an easy task for an

enterprise. The first thing that it would encounter is pathological hatred among

the pure IP vendors like Cisco on one hand, and those like Ericsson and Siemens,

on the other hand. While big data networking solution vendors like Cisco and

3Com have complete faith in the capability of their IP solutions to make

business more efficient, others believe in the traditional PBX systems with

built-in IP interface. They rubbish all questions raised on the reliability of

IP solutions as attempts by the traditional vendors (who do not have IP-ready

solutions) to keep their circuit-switched customers from defecting to the IP

platform.

Who is Doing What

Vendor Information on the Web

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www.ascom.com

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www.cisco.com

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www.3com.com

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www.ericsson.com/enterprise/

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www.nortelnetworks.com

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www.ushainformatics.com

On the other hand, primarily, voice solutions vendors, who

still religiously defend the legacy systems, continue to raise questions of

reliability and other defects in IP solutions. "The fact is that the

server-based systems are not reliable. The issue is of reliability and the pure

IP-based PBXs are not optimized for voice", claims Anurag Kumar, product

manager, HCL Infosystem, OA division. HCL Infosystem sells Ericsson’s

Webswitch2000 and MD110 that provide IP capability on traditional PBX platforms.

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Vendors like Avaya (though admitting resource integration

over one network is a challenge over one network in an IP-enabled PBX

environment) do not think reliability or maturity of technology, is an issue.

All of them, however, do not dispute the central role of IP

in the new systems. And as Chetan Turakhia of Intellicon, agrees, it is

definitely the future. "It is a matter of time before all PBXs would

necessarily have IP gateways", says Rajesh Tuli, director, Usha Informatics

and Usha Electronics, two successful homegrown vendors. "IP PBX will be

definitely better than tradional systems," says Sunil Hakhu of National

Panasonic. The vendors plans to launch its IP PBX soon.

Applications are the Key

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New PBX soultions help efficient use of system sources

IP or no IP, the essential fact is that today, PBX is much

more powerful and cost-efficient than what it was, a few years ago. And that

they have applications that many organizations surely need for increasing their

business goals more efficiently and cost-effectively. Take for instance, an

IP-based PBX would allow a company to do such things as video conferencing and

unified messaging from a single platform. Avaya’s IP 600 and Nortel’s

Succession Server 1000 support such and many more diverse functions. Another

vendor, Cisco, has an IP-based PBX solution that supports a diverse range of

functions from directory integration to record of missed and dialed calls. While

these are the solutions from global brands, homegrown vendors, too, have begun

offering PBXs that can be IP-enabled if needed. Intellicon’s TD1648 and DS200

are both IP-enabled and offer features, such as voice, data and image

integration. Coral Telecom’s IRIS–Ivdx or integrated voice and data server–is

capable of switching data channels as swiftly as any PBX would switch voice

channels.

Among other significant benefits of an IP-based PBX is that

unlike the traditional PBX, they are based on a non-proprietary, open-standard

platform. This essentially means that if an enterprise wants to integrate new

applications to the solution, it can always look for any of the vendors. On the

other hand, the traditional PBX, with their closed and proprietary architecture,

bind the user to one vendor for all adds and changes.

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The significant point is that the enterprises want cost

savings and enhanced productivity. Even though deployment costs have not

stabilized yet with the cost of IP solutions on the higher side as compared to

the traditional systems, operational savings have been reported by many

enterprises in the US. There have also been instances of dramatic reduction in

costs of adds, moves and changes. Couple these with the fact that IP-based PBXs

support thousands of ports, save money by using less expensive standard-based

infrastructure equipment, by lowering administrative costs with easier

management, and simpler user interfaces. They allow voice integration with a

variety of applications and databases that make information retrieval quicker

and easier. As many of these solutions have built-in voice-data compression

mechanism, companies get to utilize bandwidth much more efficiently.

Promise and Challenges

LAN-based Telephony

Promise

Challenges
  • Efficient use of system resources 
  • Dynamic adaptable networking
  • Resource integration over one network
  • Simplified and lower cost management
  • Reliability
  • Applications

    interoperability
  • Technology

    prove-in
  • Feature

    functionality
  • Application preservation
  • Field-proven performance

IP-enabled PBX

Challenges

Promise
  • Efficient use of system resources 
  • Dynamic adaptable networking 
  • Resource integration over one network
  • Simplified and lower cost management
  • Reliability
  • Applications

    interoperability
  • Technology

    prove-in
  • Feature

    functionality
  • Application preservation
  • Field-proven performance

Enterprises save money on cabling, too. In the traditional

PBX environment, they need two separate cabling systems, one for the telephone

system and the other for PC LAN. But deploying IP-based PBX would mean running

both the LAN and the telephone system on a single cable network.

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Options Before Enterprises

The hub of all efficient communication

That is the way technology is moving. So what should an

enterprise do now? Throw away its legacy system? Certainly, not. The truth for

the moment is that most enterprises here, in India, would not have applications

to run which could require or motivate them to invest in the IP-based solutions.

But this does not mean that they should keep investing in the traditional

systems. Those planning to buy new systems, should at least look for a PBX

solution that would offer hassle-free and flexible migration to IP in the

future. Those enterprises intending to ride on the benefits of IP, should now,

look for vendors who offer solutions that protect investments in the legacy

system. This essentially means that enterprises can migrate to IP, riding on

their existing telephone system. In case, this does not works out, only then,

they should think of replacing their legacy system with a packet-based PBX.

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The most important point, here, is that any investment

decision in any PBX, should be application-driven. The enterprise must itself

ask the question as to what applications it wants to run on the system apart

from the usual voice. And then customers should also look for (as many of them

look for), in the words of Harish Khanna, chief technology officer, Tata

Telecom. "Customers should look for critical reliability. Enterprises which

depend on the communications infrastructure for business, there should not be a

single point of failure. It is extremely important that redundancies are built

in", emphasizes Khanna.

Ravi Shekhar Pandey

Buying and Installing a New PBX Solution: Points to Keep in Mind

  • Calculating costs: When arriving at the cost

    of investment, for most enterprises whether a solution is costly or not

    is decided on the basis of an immediate expenditure on buying the

    solution. Do away with that approach and rather take into consideration

    all the future operational costs, and costs of moves, adds and changes.

    Remember a short-term saving today, could prove costly for your business

    tomorrow.

  • Do not look for boxes: Buy a platform, so that

    you can make additions and changes in the communication network built

    around it. This way you can maximize your investment. Buying a box would

    limit your option and could prove to be disruptive tomorrow.

  • Do not buy feature-applications you do not

    need:
    You need not buy applications, which you do not need today. But

    make sure that you can easily add new applications in the future as per

    requirement, without incurring considerable costs. Today, you do not

    need video conferencing, but make sure that when the need is felt, you

    do not need to change the PBX but just add a video conferencing solution

    to it!

  • Ensure interoperability: If you are looking

    for not just voice but many other applications, buy a solution that

    would be interoperable with applications from a diverse set of vendors

    and solution providers.

  • Check for reliability and redundancies: When

    encountered with conflicting versions on issues like reliability and

    redundancies in a solution, check with the existing users.

  • Installing a PBX: Approach installing a PBX

    like installing any new application, such as a new payroll system or a

    new human resource system. Follow the systems implementation approach of

    testing, implementing, running in parallel, and cutting over.

  • In case installing an IP-based PBX: Before you

    plan for an IP-based PBX, make sure that your existing infrastructure

    (like wiring) supports such a solution, and also check for

    interoperability of the new PBX with the existing devices. Also ensure

    that the IP-addressing system can handle the new voice IP application.

  • Service is important: Service level agreements with vendors are

    important. Services are varied in nature, and include both usual

    nut-and-bolt kind of fixing of problems and sophisticated remote

    management. The more complex solution you employ, the better you should

    ask for. Some vendors offer graded services, i.e. different categories of

    services. So ensure what suits you best. The best service is the one that

    pro-actively monitors the system.

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