Whaleback Systems: Innovative engineering for superior phone service.

Part 18 of Phone for Rent: Understanding Hosted PBX Services — Whaleback takes a best-of-both-worlds approach, using remotely managed customer-premise-based equipment.

By Mark A. Miller | Posted Jul 14, 2009
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Whaleback Systems, headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is a managed voice provider that claims to be the pioneering developer of the first business phone solution built from the ground up for broadband.

The fifty-person company is venture capital-funded, with investment coming from such heavyweights as Ascent Venture Partners, Castile Ventures, and Egan-Managed Capital.

Whaleback targets the small and medium businesses that need between 5 and 500 end stations. Their service is available nationally through business relationships with channel partners and VARs, serving a wide variety of vertical markets, and customers that include law firms, real estate agencies, financial services firms, homebuilders, restaurants, resorts, advertising, and public relations agencies.

Whaleback Systems has taken a somewhat unusual approach to providing voice services, in that the Whaleback CrystalBlue Voice Service is software-driven using on-premise hardware, unlike the many other providers that house the hardware on a remote server farm. The on-premise equipment, however, is remotely managed and maintained by Whaleback, relieving customers of the need to do any but the normal, day-to-day, adds-moves-and-changes types of administrative tasks.

To quickly review, a premises-based solution is normally one in which the customer purchases an IP PBX, often as a replacement for an existing TDM (analog)-based PBX or key system. The implementation of this type of system involves the installation of a gateway to connect to the PSTN, the provision of trunks (typically SIP-based) to connect remote company locations, and the installation and on-going administration of end user stations (phones). Firms that opt for a premises-based voice solution may also require the services of an on-site network engineer to manage the system and provide for periodic technology updates, thus increasing labor overhead and related expenses, plus an average deployment cost that it typically quoted in the range of $600.00 to $1,000.00 per station.

An alternative is the hosted VoIP solution, in which the service provider supplies the system hardware (typically at a shared server farm), and develops user and management interfaces (typically web-based) that facilitate most administrative tasks. The service provider takes responsibility for system maintenance and upgrades, is available to solve configuration and user challenges, and typically bills the customer on a per-seat basis. However, since the hosted solutions may be Internet-based (instead of a more reliable VPN or managed IP network), the quality of service may be somewhat unpredictable.

Whaleback’s CrystalBlue Voice Service was designed to combine the call quality and advanced calling features of an enterprise-class PBX, with the simplicity and cost-savings of a hosted service. Like an in-house IP-PBX, this service is premises-based, with a PBX server, called the OrcaServer IP PBX installed at the customer’s office, and transporting the voice signals over broadband cable or DSL circuits. The dedicated broadband connection is also provisioned and managed by Whaleback, with the cost of the connection included in the service and backed by a service level agreement.

Whaleback provisions multiple broadband links that are sourced from multiple broadband service providers, and combines them into a high-availability network connection, called the Redundant Array of Independent Links, or RAIL. This concept utilizes standard broadband links to expand the network bandwidth, while optimizing the costs, availability, and performance. The CrystalBlue Voice Service also includes the phones, with choices that include Polycom executive stations, UTStarcom wireless phones, and softphone software.

The network management side of the system is called OrcaVision Voice Quality Management, which allows the Whaleback support engineers to visualize the network and use some sophisticated network mapping tools to trace any VoIP call through any IP network. Many hosted providers do not have these capabilities once their calls enter the infrastructure of the public Internet.

In addition to the standard IP PBX features, Whaleback offers several complementary services. OrcaFax is a secure, high-performance desktop fax service that allows subscribers to send and receive fax messages from Microsoft Outlook or any other POP3 e-mail client. OrcaMeeting is an integrated audio and Web conferencing service that features a unique flat-fee pricing plan for unlimited monthly multi-party conference calls. For remote workers, the Road Warrior feature allows businesses to seamlessly extend their office communications to employees that are on the road or working from home irrespective of their location, underlying access network, or endpoint device. Network security is handled by OrcaSentry, an innovative voice application firewall and SIP Session Border Controller built into the managed premises-based IP PBX appliance that locks down the voice network from security threats such as Spam over Internet Telephony (SPIT) and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.

Service pricing, based upon flexible tiered-minute national and international calling packages, is billed monthly on a per station/user basis. Further information on the Whaleback Systems solutions can be found at www.whalebacksystems.com. Our next tutorial will continue our review of various service providers hosted voice solutions.

Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2009 DigiNet Corporation®, All Rights Reserved


Author's Biography
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation®, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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