Version 7.0 Upgrade Makes 3CX's IP PBX More Complete, Easier to Use

Lengthy list of improvements includes more granular call control and tighter integration with the Windows platform.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Dec 9, 2008
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3CX, the Windows IP PBX vendor, based on the island of Cyprus, today announced the release of the latest upgrade of its 3CX Phone System for Windows, version 7.0.

"3CX Phone System is now more complete, and easier to use," said CEO Nick Galea. "We've made the platform more extensible, improved the interface, made it more integrated with Windows, capitalized on HyperV, added support for Sangoma cards, and made our user experience better," he elaborated.

Interface improvements

For starters, just about every aspect of the interface was revamped—including the Management Console and the end-user interface.

For the Console, "what we've done is created an interface that looks more like an MMC, Windows-style, interface—with nodes grouping the core configuration functions on the left and the configuration of those functions on the right," Galea said. "This should prove much more intuitive for the administrator." (see image)

The Myphone user portal has also gotten a facelift. Not only is the page better looking (in Galea's humble opinion), but developers have added new functionality—with more on the way any day now. "We are adding the ability to manage voicemail messages from this page," Galea said. "Also in the works—it should be delivered as a free upgrade in about a month's time—is a completely new operator panel." The panel will provide presence/availability of other users on the PBX, as well as some call-center features like call queues. (see image)

Also new to 3CX's interface family is a Configuration Wizard, that helps to get the system up and running as quickly as possible by stepping the operator through key steps of the install process. "In future versions we are going to walk the user through the entire configuration, including VoIP provider configuration," Galea said.

APIs

And then there's the interface ordinary users won't see. 3CX has added two APIs for different programmability scenarios.

There's one for larger projects—such as system integrators who want to meld 3CX Phone System with custom applications. It works with all configurations of the PBX. Then there's a call-control API, that will let applications see call status and take control of calls.

Speaking of programmability, the new version of the 3CX VoIP client (softphone application) is TAPI enabled: It can work with a CRM application—including Microsoft Outlook—to respond to incoming calls by popping up a caller's details. Very useful for sales and customers service departments.

More granular call control

"One of the key features of a VoIP PBX is to offer users more mobility and better control over their extension," Galea asserted. In aid of this, 3CX has, in version 7.0, added more advanced call-forwarding rules, allowing end-users to more precisely control the behavior of their extension.

For example, users can route calls based on the caller's user ID, on the time of day the call came in, and whether it was an internal or external call.

"You could, for example, configure that calls from certain important customers could be routed to your mobile phone after office hours and other calls to your voicemail," Galea said. "You could do the same with internal calls, and create, for example, an exception for you boss."

Technology under the hood

To better support the features and operation of the PBX, 3CX has made some significant changes to the underlying platform—integrating it more tightly with Windows server technology.

"We adopted the use of .NET instead of PHP," Galea explained, "and we replaced Apache [Web server] with an in-built, Microsoft-provided lightweight Web server. It's also possible to use IIS [Microsoft Internet Information Server] instead, so as to achieve virtually unlimited scalability."

"On a concrete level, 3CX sees these tools as boosting the speed and efficiency of ongoing software development. By utilizing these modern development technologies—which are much more advanced than their Linux counterparts—we will have a tremendous advantage over our Asterisk-based competition," Galea explained.

Virtualization on steroids

According to Galea, its ability to support virtualization has always been an advantage enjoyed by 3CX Phone System. "For version seven, we have done extensive testing and optimization for [Windows] Hyper V." He considers the new Hyper V, which is built into Windows Server.2008—or available as a free download—to be a great virtualization platform for 3CX. "Because it uses hyper-visor technology, it has much improved I/O performance, which is crucial for a PBX," he said.

This allows virtualization of much larger environments. "We have tested up to 64 calls on a relatively modest server," Galea said.

Alluding to the competitive PBX marketplace, Galea asserted that virtualization support gives the 3CX line an advantage against PBX 'appliances.'

"Appliance vendors might point out that our software requires a server; however 3CX does not require a separate server. As a virtual instance, it also offers more control, better scalability, and better reliability than an appliance."

To underscore the reliability issue, Galea pointed out that with virtualization, you can back up your entire IP PBX. "You can use the Hyper V backup function to save a complete copy of your IP PBX, and if it's small enough, you can even burn it on a DVD," he said. That means that, in the event of a hardware failure, a customer can have their phone system back up and running on another machine within a matter of minutes.

The Sangoma connection

Another significant upgrade for 3CX version 7.0 is support for Sangoma Technologies' NetBorder Express Gateway Cards, computer-bus, plug-in telephony interface cards. The latest version of the NetBorder Express software "lets you access the card as if it were a gateway, so you can install the same on the Windows system on which 3CX is running or on another system," Galea explained. "In the last case, you can still virtualize 3CX."

The salient point is that, at around $1,200, the NetBorder card is substantially cheaper than a SIP/TDM gateway.

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