Vendor Network Architectures�Part XLIV: 3CX

Cyprus, a Mediterranean island with a 10,000 year history, does not conjure up visions of high technology research and development in most network managers’ minds. Instead, tales of the ancient conquests, like those of Alexander the Great, or stories of timeless beauties, like Cleopatra, are more likely to come to mind. (Or for the overworked among us, perhaps a well-deserved vacation at a quiet seaside resort.)

Yet, as Cyprus has been known throughout the centuries as a trading center between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, it is fitting that this small republic is home to a company—3CX—that is hoping to write a new high tech chapter in the island’s history, and put their country on the converged networking map as well.

3CX, headquartered in Cyprus and with a sales office in London, is focused on the Windows market with its 3CX Phone System for Windows. While there are numerous Linux solutions available, professional Windows-based IP PBX solutions that are easy to configure, yet feature-rich enough to support the small to medium (SMB) business market, are much harder to find. It is in this market that 3CX has focused its efforts.

The 3CX Phone System is entirely based upon the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) standards, and therefore interoperates with most popular SIP phones, SIP VoIP gateways, and SIP VoIP providers. It is intended to completely replace a traditional PBX, be easily manageable by system administrators and to integrate well within a Windows networking infrastructure. The road map for the product development includes a Windows client, the ability to integrate with the voice mail feature of Exchange 2007, and integration with Active Directory.

3CX Phone System comprises a set of Windows Services and a web-based configuration interface. The product is not based upon open source code, but it does leverage open source projects such as Apache (the Apache Software Foundation, devoted to creating open-source software projects), PostgreSQL (an open source relational database), PHP (a scripting language that can be used for web development), and SIPfoundry (open source SIP implementations). The web interface focuses on keeping things easy, allowing even VoIP novices to set up a phone system. The manual includes documentation on how to configure popular phones, VoIP Gateways, and VoIP providers with the system. A status monitor shows line and extension status.

The 3CX Phone System is available in two editions: a Free edition and an Enterprise edition. The Free edition of 3CX Phone System is a fully featured IP PBX, has no time outs, and is supported via the 3CX forums. This version supports an unlimited number of extensions and up to 16 external lines, either connected to a VoIP provider or to a VoIP Gateway. The number of extensions is limited only by the server hardware, although typical servers can handle hundreds of extensions. Other features of the Free edition are a Digital Receptionist and Voice Mail, which includes the ability to record messages and send them to the intended recipient in a wav file.

The Enterprise edition can handle an unlimited number of PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) lines and VoIP service provider connections. It also includes more advanced enterprise features such as integration with Exchange Server 2007, branch office integration (to connect multiple installations), and of course product support.

3CX does not intend to develop or sell any hardware or VoIP services, but rather to establish partnerships with hardware vendors and VoIP providers, with the possibility of bundling its software with other firms’ hardware and services. Further details on the 3CX’s architecture and products can be found at Our next tutorial will continue our examination of vendors’ architectures.

Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2006 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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