San Diego, Calif.-based IP PBX vendor Switchvox (a Digium company) recently announced a major upgrade to its SMB product—version 4.0.
Enterprise VoIPplanet.com spoke with Tristan Deganhardt, Switchvox’s director of product marketing, who commented that while there’s lots of new stuff in SMB 4.0, “the overarching theme is Web-aware unified communications features.”
“One of the things we wanted to make sure we went after was this concept of unified communications. Smaller and smaller companies are looking for UC style features,” she said, pointing out that until recently, unified communications was pretty much restricted to large enterprises—largely due to implementation cost.
Major new capabilities that transform Switchvox into a unified communications system include an integrated chat server, unified presence, fax, and video telephony—plus “quite a nice suite of desktop tools for Windows users, ” according to Degenhardt.
So, what are ‘Web-aware’ communications features? Fundamentally, it means that the PBX is able to interact with applications—both local systems and entities out on the Web—to collect and exchange information.
“Switchvox has always been great at integrating with other Web applications,” Degenhardt said. “Even in the first version of Switchvox, you could push call data out to your own application that could then return back a web address that would then do a little screen pop inside Switchboard” [Switchvox’s on-screen user interface (see below)]. “No one else is really doing that in the SMB sector.”
This has been greatly expanded in SMB 4.0. “For example, when you call me,” Degenhardt said, “it sticks a pin in the map, where you’re calling me from. It Googles your name; it pulls up all the articles you’re written recently. And it’s doing all that as my phone’s ringing. So I know when I pick up the phone who I’m talking to.”
Through Notifier, one of the new Windows integration tools in 4.0, Switchvox can track contact data, calendar information, and e-mail—and integrate this information into alerts. “It will tell me, ‘Hey, we have an appointment scheduled, and I’ve got two e-mails from you I haven’t read yet, and I have a task assigned—to send you the slide show for this briefing.’ ”
“That’s what it would show me off my internal systems. But the stuff we’ve always done well is what we can pull out of the Web [such as the mapping and news searches, mentioned above]. It’s an extra component of unified communications I don’t think anyone does nearly as well as we do,” Degenhardt concluded.
|One panel of the Switchvox Switchboard
Click image for full Switchboard view
As to the technical prowess required to set up these custom functions, Degenhardt asserted, “It doesn’t require someone who has training in Switchvox, first of all, and secondly it doesn’t require complex programming. It uses Web services, so the same type of developer that can build your Contact Us form on your Web page—something very simple Web interaction-wise—can write these custom panels—using whatever language they like.”
Switchvox’s new fax capabilities are highly integrated into the overall system. For one thing, you can fax a document directly from any application: Just ‘print’ to the Switchvox PBX, and off it goes. And Switchvox receives faxes at your normal phone number.
“If you send a fax to my phone number,” Degenhardt said, “Switchvox would detect that and send me a notification saying ‘Tristan, you just got a fax.’ When I’ve opened it, it will be centrally marked as Read. I can also get that notification on the Web, and of course I can receive notifications on any device that’s capable of receiving e-mail. Voicemail works in very much the same way.”
Switchvox sets up special Outlook folders for incoming faxes and voicemails. Voicemails come through as .WAV files.
Also new with SMB 4.0 is secure instant messaging using the open XMPP standard. “Switchvox serves not only as your voice server, but as a private chat server as well,” Degenhardt said.
“Users can use the normal chat client that they’re using for their Yahoo IM or their AOL IM or whatever else. As long as that client speaks Jabber, you can hook it up to the Switchvox as your chat server instead of to Yahoo or AOL—or in addition to—and chat with your coworkers privately through the Switchvox.
Part of the IM system is presence information, and the Switchvox chat server passes this data along to third party Jabber-based clients—as well as the Switchvox-supplied client. This is one component of SMB 4.0’s new ‘unified presence’ capability. It complements the new feature that conveys phone presence across peered Switchvox installations.
In earlier versions of Switchvox, users could view phone status of all the other users on the local PBX via the Switchboard interface. But while they could do four-digit extension dialing to users on ‘peered’ or connected Switchvox servers (in other locations), presence was not shared. Now, in 4.0 users can see whether the co-worker they need to call at corporate headquarters is on the phone or not. Correlated with the IM presence info, this gives a pretty complete picture of colleagues’ availability.
As mentioned, SMB 4.0 now supports video telephony. “If you have two video phones, they will speak video to each other through the Switchvox,” Degenhardt told VoIPplanet.com. The video capability supports the H.263 and H.264 codecs. It will work with a variety of softphones as well as hardware video-telephones. Essentially it will work with any device that supports SIP.
Another new feature that isn’t necessarily of much interest within the U.S., but is highly significant across most of the rest of the world is support for BRI (basic rate interface) trunking.
The target date for the release of 4.0 is March 3, though, as Degenhardt puts it, “It will ship when it’s ready.”
And what is the price of all this new feature richness? Nothing. “When 4.0 comes out in March, it will be exactly the same price as the currently shipping version (3.6),” Degenhardt said.
Moreover, customers who have current support contracts in place will receive a free—and pretty much automated—upgrade. “An upgrade button will appear in their Switchvox [admin interface], and if they click that, it’ll download the new version and turn it on for them.”