Switchvox Scales Products Up�and Down

New SMB software release addresses needs of larger customers; hardware 'appliance' fits in snug SOHO spaces.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Mar 21, 2008
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At the Digium | Asterisk World subset of Spring VON this week, Switchvox—the Asterisk-based PBX for small and medium-size businesses that Digium acquired last fall—announced both a software upgrade and a new hardware form factor.

According to Digium/Switchvox spokesperson Tristan Degenhardt, the software release—Switchvox SMB 3.5—"is targeted at larger, over-50-user customers .  .  . to make their lives a little easier, to streamline their getting set up with Switchvox and maintainting Switchvox."

By contrast, the hardware release, the AA60 Switchvox Appliance, is targeted at smaller customers. "It's designed to be inexpensive, and optimized for a small company," Degenhardt said. "We find they often have space constraints." The compact PC-based platform measures about 2 by 10 by 14 inches, weighs only about 10 pounds, and can be wall mounted, she said.

According to Degenhardt, the AA60 Appliance will replace the tower-format PCs on which Switchvox has previously sold its systems, for both versions of the software—Switchvox SMB and Switchvox SOHO. It is VoIP-ready (requires no additional hardware to connect to SIP or AIX trunks) and supports PSTN connectivity.

As mentioned, the software improvements to the SMB product are designed to facilitate the setup and maintenance of the system. "Probably the two biggest, most impactful, features we're announcing are the concept of integrated phone management, and multi-level administration," Degenhardt told VoIPplanet.com.


 AA60 Switchvox Appliance
The AA60 Switchvox Appliance

"What we've done is created a tool where you plug the phones into the network Switchvox is on and Switchvox will find it," she said. "With a lot of Asterisk-based systems, you'd have to find the MAC address, type the MAC address in, which usually involves a few typos, since they print it in tiny little letters."

With SMB 3.5, the software grabs the MAC address of a new phone and adds that phone to a list of 'Unknown Phones.' An administrator then associates it with an extension number and a phone user and the system reboots the phone and pushes out its configuration file. One of the big time saving features is that this can be done for batches of phones, not simply one at a time, according to Degenhardt.

But there's another way to configure phones with Switchvox SMB 3.5. The administrator checks off a batch of new phones from the 'Unknown Phones' list, and issues the command ' Confirm Checked Phones.' At this point, the first time the user picks up the handset, Switchvox announces "I'm ready to be configured; what is your extension?" The user types in the extension number and confirms it, and the configuration process is completed automatically—without using the GUI administration console.

"This is a great way to configure, say, 200 phones all at once," Degenhardt expalined. "You just leave a phone and a sticky note on everyone's desk. They don't have to dial a number; they don't have to follow any instructions. The first time they pick up the phone, it just does what it should do."

That's 'integrated phone management'—making the process of deploying new phones as simple as possible, without giving total control to the system. *

'Multi-level administration,' refers to the arrangement whereby end users have some ability to control things that affect their own extension, such as find-me/follow-me, voicemail, call reporting—without being able to configure other parts of the system. That is, the system administrator can grant selective control to end users.

Each section or grouping of system controls can be hidden altogether, presented as read-only, or given read-write status, and, again, these configurations are tailored by the overseeing administrator to the needs (and status) of individual users. Each user has a login and password to access his/her own settings.

"In addition to having inter-organization usefulness, this is also great for our resellers, who often want to take away [control over] certain sections from their end users—in a batch" Degenhardt said.

Beyond the two big management updates, Switchvox SMB 3.5 brings a number of other streamlining features.

For example, incoming phone numbers (DIDs) can now be mapped to internal extensions both individually and in ranges or batches.

Similar flexibility has been added with respect to mapping caller IDs. For example, for support technicians, you'd want the caller ID to show the designated direct tech support DID. "If I wanted all my tech support guys set up this way in the past, I'd have to do it one by one," Degenhardt explained. "But now I can do a range—take a whole group of people and have their caller ID show a particular extension."

A type-to-find search function and other added flexibility in the setup and display of Switchvox's Switchboard GUI phonebook application round out the improvements in SMB 3.5.

* Editor's Note: For the present, Switchvox's integrated phone management capability is limited to Polycom phones.

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