For starters, Critical Links’s edgeBOX rolls a VoIP gateway, an IP PBX, file, Web, and e-mail servers, security firewall, VPN, and QoS into a single, Linux-and-open-source-software-based appliance with a unified user interface. All this and, now, mobility, too?
Apparently so. Today, Critical Links, newly headquartered in the U.S. (Fairfield, New Jersey) announced an entire suite of features and functions it is calling, collectively, edgeMobility.
Enterprise VoIPplanet spoke with the company’s vice president of global marketing and business development, Abdul Kasim, who filled us in on some of the details and generally brought us up to date on the edgeBOX story.
For those unfamiliar with edgeBOX, it integrates some 200 open-source software components into a unified system that provides just about every conceivable networking service a small business could want, as enumerated above. (Oh, yes, we forgot to mention in the laundry list above that the edgeBOX also serves as a Wi-Fi access point.)
Although SMBs are edgeBOX’s primary market, that market isn’t limited to businesses, according to Kasim. For example, the company just finished deploying some 1,200 units in classrooms throughout a fairly extensive European school system, where they serve as dedicated computing/networking appliances.
The overall aim of the edgeBOX is to reduce cost and complexity—making it easier and cheaper for small organizations to leap into full IP networking functionality.
“Because we have consolidated a lot of functionality, you really don’t need multiple products—which also means multiple systems to manage,” Kasim told VoIPplanet. “And other extraneous things that are quite cost consuming, such as air conditioning, in terms of space, in terms of power. These things add up. So with our box you can just cut out all those costs—ongoing costs are reduced.”
So, back to the new mobility features—which, incidentally, are for the most part standard features, not extra-cost options.
Heading the list are find-me/follow-me and ‘twinning.’ In the first, the system will forward an unanswered call to a pre-designated second phone. With twinning, the system simultaneously rings two phones—typically the user’s desk phone at work, and his/her mobile phone. These aren’t cutting edge, but definitely useful.
Much more cutting edge is Direct Inward System Access (DISA), in which the user’s mobile phone—or any remote phone—functions as an extension off the central PBX.
“I’m on the road,” Kasim said in a hypothetical example. “I have my cell phone, and I want to reach out to my colleague, who is, let’s say, in London. Very likely there’s a dialplan for that person on the internal network. What this allows me to do is just dial that extension, and it will be as if I were locally present and dialed using my desk phone. And, from the point of view of mobile usage, I am making a local call also, not in international call.”
Now that’s cutting edge.
Other communications modes have been mobilized as well. For example, the system can transcribe voicemail and send it to a designated e-mail address. Users can then either read or listen to messages. The edgeBOX will now even push e-mail to a BlackBerry or other text-equipped handset.
Fax2mail similarly sends fax messages to users’ e-mail accounts.
Finally there is a particularly rich set of mobility features that are not, per se, part of the basic edgeBOX package, but are connected with edgeExchange, a groupware tool that is one of a number of ‘edgePack’ extensions Critical Links has crafted.
With edgeExchange in place, remote and mobile workers will be able to synchronize their PDAs and smartphones with the central server, sharing contacts, calendar items, resources, and tasks.
“You can back up [or upload] your files remotely,” Kasim pointed out, “as well as share files from a central server. You can send out meeting invites and alerts,” he said.
As an appliance, the edgeBOX is available in three form factors, according to Kasim. “It’s still available as software only,” he said, “but people seem to like to get everything in one package, all tested, and configured.”
The three models support up to 40 users, up to 100 users, and up to 300 users, respectively, “with different degrees of redundancy and different numbers of user interfaces, but fundamentally the functionality of the box is identical, so scaling from one sub-segment to another is quite easy,” Kasim said.
At the low end, pricing for a 10-user system starts at about $2,500—user licenses included—which in the corporate world is remarkably low even for basic IP PBX functionality, aside from all the other network services edgeBOX provides.
“At 300 users we estimate a cost of $40 to $50 per user [for the normal edgeBOX package],” Kasim said. But, at a customer’s request Critical Links will even bundle phones into a system, pre-configuring everything so setup is pretty much automatic and foolproof.