VoIPowering Your Office: Fonality Promotes trixbox to the Pro Ranks

Following in the footsteps of its cousin, PBXtra, the new trixbox version adopts the hybrid server model.

By Carla Schroder | Posted Aug 13, 2007
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We're taking a temporary detour from our little series on securing VoIP traffic to take a look at Fonality's new trixbox release, trixbox Pro. The folks at Fonality appear to be on a relentless, unstoppable quest towards ease of use and reliability, and have perpetrated all manner of improvements upon trixbox, so let's open the hood and kick the tires and see how they're doing.

In VoIPowering Your Office: Cashing In on the VoIP Gold Rush we compared Fonality's two iPBX products, PBXtra and trixbox. While both are descended from (heavily tweaked and customized) Asterisk, PBXtra pioneered a hybrid server model. With PBXtra all of the management functions are hosted by Fonality, and all the customer data files are stored on the customer's PBXtra server. This approach solves a number of chronic problems that bedevil iPBX admins: getting through nasty NAT firewalls, managing telecommuters and road warriors, connecting branch offices in a sane manner, scalability, and giving users single, portable extension numbers.

Apparently this hybrid architecture was too much of a temptation for the trixbox maintainers to resist, so they glommed it for trixbox and are launching it as trixbox Pro. Along with trixbox Pro comes trixNet. trixNet is a free in-network calling service that allows any trixbox Pro user to call any other trixbox Pro user for free. (In early 2008, Fonality will extend free trixNet calling to include GoogleTalk customers.)

As if that weren't cool enough, here's the best part: you get to use plain old ordinary phone numbers, instead of having to hassle with SIP URIs. You know what those are:

sip:person@server.domainname.com

And don't forget all the DNS fun that comes with using SIP URIs, and manually configuring trunks, and setting up either ENUM or DUNDI. trixNet handles all the routing-across-different-phone-systems chores and mapping SIP URIs to phone numbers. It works like a traffic cop moving calls between different networks and different types of networks—it defaults first to the IP network, then falls back to the PSTN if that fails. This all happens without drama; it "just works."

trixbox hybridizes and fissions
For those ambitious trixbox developers it wasn't enough to merely hybridize trixbox—trixbox Pro comes in three editions:

  •  Standard
  •  Enterprise
  •  Call Center
The Standard edition is a free download and you still get trixNet for free. The Enterprise edition costs money and comes with more goodies, such as conference calling, unified voicemail and e-mail, employee presence management, embedded chat server, and integration with Microsoft Outlook, Salesforce.com, and SugarCRM. The Call Center edition also costs money, and comes with everything in the Enterprise edition plus everything you need to manage an inbound call center. The Enterprise edition costs $9.95/month per user, and the Call Center edition is $19.95/month per user.

We'll be looking at these in more detail later on, but there is one Call Center feature that caught my attention as being noteworthy: Reporting data are stored in the Fonality data center, rather than on the customer's server. Call centers live and die by reporting, and anything more than a simple query can bring a typical Asterisk-based server to its knees. Splitting the reporting away from your call server means you'll get better performance all around.

Fonality is working hard to attract and support independent resellers, so all of their products are designed with resellers in mind. So there are financial incentives—plus all editions of trixbox can be re-branded and given a customized appearance. trixbox Pro will be available in seven languages: U.S. English, U.K. English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

Hardware
Hardware support for a VoIP vendor can turn into a nightmare if they don't set some limits, what with all the zillions of phones, server hardware, and the many analog and digital interface cards that clog the market. trixbox Pro is available both as software-only or preinstalled on some nice hardware hand-picked by the fine persons at Fonality. If you elect to select your own hardware, you need to know that paid support for trixbox Pro falls into three categories:

  •  Certified Hardware
  •  Non-Certified Hardware that Is Probably OK
  •  Not Supported Hardware
Support costs for Certified Hardware are the lowest, because you are using hardware personally blessed by Fonality. Support for Non-Certified Hardware that Is Probably OK costs 25 percent more than Certified Hardware. Not Supported Hardware qualifies only for paid hourly support, so you're welcome to bang away at weird stuff all you want to, as long you can afford it. (Naturally we'll talk more about these in detail as we pummel and torture-test trixbox Pro.)

Next week we'll return to how to secure your voice traffic, and after that report on our adventures in putting trixbox Pro through its paces.

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