Business Phone Systems

Business Phone Systems

Server-based (also known as IP, or unPBX) phone systems consist of a standard server that's been equipped with telephony software and a special card to receive and route calls just like a traditional phone system. Depending on your needs, these can be small, rack mounted units or huge servers around the size of a small refrigerator. So there's some range you might have to consider.

The primary advantage of a server-based phone system is its ability to provide telephonic extras like voice mail, automated attendants, unified messaging and call-forwarding without the added costs associated with using a virtual PBX or traditional PBX solution. Furthermore, if you're interested in exploring the potential of CTI, or computer telephony integration, a server-based system may be a less costly way to do so.

With CTI, you can automatically integrate information provided by callers with customer-related applications such as contact management software. Skye and Microsoft Outlook, for example, both have telephony interface features that allow for dialing and storing contacts made through email and instant messages.

A server based phone system is also arguably easier to maintain. Administering the phone system, changing passwords and extensions, can be more straightforward if done from a computer keyboard instead of through a phone handset. And if you've got a computer-savvy person on staff, adding additional phone lines can be as easy as popping a new card into the computer.

Buying an IP phone system is much like buying a traditional system. You still need to consider the number of phone lines and extensions you'll need and evaluate how easy the phones and administrative functions are to use. Future expansion capability should also be factored in your decision making. In general, server-based systems are not designed to accommodate more than 250 users, which should be fine for most small and mid-sized businesses.

Quick Tips

The phone system stands alone. Reserve the server solely for your phone system, much as one would any other server. While you theoretically could run other applications at the same time, this will greatly increase the risk of crashes.

Have a power-loss backup plan. As this is the most likely cause of crashes, it will prove worthwhile to have a redundant source of power. Additionally, the modem that is providing internet to your facility should be backed up with a battery solution as well. It does little good to have a server to be running if the modem is down.

Plan for growth.Expect to have the phone system for at least five years, and accommodate for growth accordingly.

The major concern with server phone systems is stability. Having your phone system crash could be even more devastating to your company than a computer crash. To minimize the likelihood of breakdown, pay close attention to the server you select as your server. Some telephony server vendors recommend "industrial grade" servers designed with expansion slots and redundant power supplies to ensure that the system never crashes. However, if your company does not want to front several thousand dollars on an industrial strength server, a "name-brand" server with a performance processor, good cooling fan, and plenty of RAM (the more the better) should actually provide ample stability.

System costs vary, but an IP system with software, server and boards will run at the same cost--around $4,000 for 10-25 people--as a traditional, proprietary system for a similar number of lines and ports. At this cost, it makes sense to buy a server based system only if you were planning on equipping your phone system with extras like voice mail. If your office numbers fewer than 10, an extensive phone system is probably not necessary. Instead, a simple key or even KSU-less system will do, unless your office is very phone intensive or highly dependent on messaging.

Proprietary systems still hold a large market share, so it can be tough to find server-based system vendors.

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