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Ask Slashdot: Open Communications Set-Up For Small Office?

timothy posted about a year and a half ago | from the raising-your-standards dept.

Communications 224

New submitter earthwormgaz writes "I've started at a small company and our phone system is crusty, old, and awful. We've got email hosted elsewhere on POP/IMAP, and we've got no groupware. The server here is Windows small business whatever-it-is and Exchange isn't set up, but I've put CentOS on it in a VM, and I'd like to do everything using open standards and open source where possible. I've been looking at SOGO, and these phones. What are my chances of getting all this stuff working together? What other suggestions have people got a for a small office and communications?"

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224 comments

Google Apps (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551659)

Not open source but open enough to take the hassle out of it. It works with practically anything you throw at it.

Re:Google Apps (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551895)

...aaaand when Google changes its terms, or discontinues the product, you are well and truly hammered. Which Google definitely does do from time to time, and you can't predict when they'll decide they've had enough of supporting some chunk-o-freeware they cobbled up. Look at the wreckage they made out of Google base -- terrible, terrible support, and now they're converting to a "paid" model, which means that the product data you upload to them that they get to place ads all over... you now get to pay for. And there's plenty more like that. [google.com]

Do NOT put your data "in the cloud." That's the very worst thing you can do. If you have a business, YOU should be in 100% control of your data and your backups.

The tech you use for documents should be chosen (1) so that you own the applications and (2) so that you can interchange any documents with others that you need to (color separations? Probably Photoshop. Writers and editors? Probably Word. Spreadsheets? Probably Excel. etc.)

You need a database? PostgreSQL or MySql (and I'd definitely go with the former... the latter has been, shall we say, "compromised.")

Just keep it to real applications that run under a real OS that you expect to be supported for some time. It will not be the least bit amusing to get that "end of life" notice from Microsoft or Apple or Ubuntu or whomever.

Re:Google Apps (2)

cayenne8 (626475) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552197)

You need a database? PostgreSQL or MySql (and I'd definitely go with the former... the latter has been, shall we say, "compromised.")

I've not touched MySql in a long time...not since Oracle took it over at least.

Can you describe in what ways it has been "compromised" by Oracle?

Has no one forked MySql yet?

I have always preferred postgres for more hard core database stuff, but mysql always had its place....

Re:Google Apps (3, Informative)

ACalcutt (937737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552281)

There's a fork of MySQL called MariaDB (http://mariadb.org/). I've been using MariaDB on my servers since Oracle purchased MySQL

Re:Google Apps (5, Informative)

steveg (55825) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552383)

> Has no one forked MySql yet?

Yes. The original author. Michael "Monty" Widenius. He named his first database after his oldest daughter My, the new one after the second daughter Maria.

http://mariadb.org/ [mariadb.org]

Re:Google Apps (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552251)

Google Apps for Domains is a paid product beyond a handful of users, and the services are Gmail, Calendars, Contacts, etc. Services that aren't going away.

I've spoken with their tech support, it's fine. Their import utility against exchange mailboxes works fine.

And with a huge percentage of small businesses still sending their email from @aol.com, I'm pretty sure the "zomg not the cloud" is falling on deaf ears. Small businesses want stuff that works. Google Apps works better than most local services, it's less expensive, has support, requires no maintenance, and isn't going anywhere.

So no, it's not "the worst mistake you can make." Here in the real world, we do what makes sense.

If you're starting a business... (5, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551695)

if you're starting a business, just about the last thing you should be doing is worrying about is being sysadmin for your phone system - let alone doing so according to the "right" political principles and hoping you can get it to work together. Call your local phone company, get setup with them or some other turnkey provider and turn your attention towards your business.

Re:If you're starting a business... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551739)

if you're starting a business,

Nevermind RTFA, just RTFSummary. He started at a small company, NOT starting a small company.

Re:If you're starting a business... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552057)

Yeah I don't know why that got so confusing for everyone.

I've set up a number of small businesses, including my day job. For mail and collab, I used to use Exchange. For the really small companies, everything goes on paid Google Apps for domains. It will work well with any smartphone the users have and it's easy for them to admin on their own.

For phone systems, there's a lot of noise in the low end. I've done Trixbox appliances... they're just preconfigured asterisk servers with bells and whistles, and support. I'm not sure that Fonality was the right company to deal with on that, but there are others. That gets you on a SIP system, so you'll have your choice of phone makers (we did a lot of polycom).

It's worth noting that going with a system like that might give you pretty good control over your phone system, but they're never as well integrated as buying a closed system. It will get you all basic services and some fancier server-end features.

Hope that helps.

Re:If you're starting a business... (2, Insightful)

alphax45 (675119) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551743)

+1. Wish I had mod points for you. A business needs to ensure people can WORK and make money, not confirm to unrealistic ideals. Yes, sometimes you can make it work and I'm sure someone will cite a few cases but for the majority of people the turnkey is the best solution.

Re:If you're starting a business... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551815)

If you're starting a business, though time will be tight, so will money. Getting on the hook with a phone company for thousands of dollars might not make sense if all you need is one phone line and a few extensions. For that, a motivated student can set something decent up in a weekend using open source pieces (which ensure that the system can grow as needed later).

Though a new business does need to focus on what they do better (or different) than anyone else, that doesn't mean they should just go out and buy every solution when decent free ones are available.

Re:If you're starting a business... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551891)

For fuck sake get someone else to do phones, contract it out. YOU DO NOT WANT THE SHITSTORM THAT WILL HAPPEN AS YOU ARE TUNING SOME ASTERIX DISTRO. Been there, done that because we "inherited" a crap tone of VOIP phones. Real phones sound better, work just as well, and cost less. It works OK now, but a crappy FXO and some VOIP phones are the very last thing you need.

Sent from my Angry Sysadmin v2.0 running 8hours of overtime for a blown up breaker panel

Re:If you're starting a business... (4, Informative)

rickb928 (945187) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552237)

It's not about VOIP or IP phones vs analog/digital phones, it's about focusing limited time and attention on what needs to be.

Find a phone service provider, and let them propose what they know and can nail into place. You will be happy.

And do not let the boss rope you into working with the call director or voice response/menu tree. Gaaa!

Re:If you're starting a business... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551919)

+1. It may only cost your phone provider $25/hr and $50/mo for your phone service, but when it goes down at 1pm and you can either make a meeting or get your 3 other co-workers up and running, you're in a tough spot. Keeping costs low my be good for a garage project (in which case a FreePBX VM and wholesale VoIP provider like Vitelity is great), but when your job isn't specifically server admin you'll be taking on a lot of extra work. Same goes for everything else.

Always factor in how much your time's worth if you're serious about growth. Years ago when I started my company I took infrastructure for granted until it ate away any time I had for sales and management. That's not where you should be as an owner, and the sooner you build those costs into your operation the happier your lie and those of your staff will be :)

-Matt

Re:If you're starting a business... (3, Informative)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551955)

Absolutely correct. Alas, outsourcing any kind of IT is anathema to the typical geek.

Once worked at small ISP (started in a guy's garage, and still pretty much his personal operation) where everything was internally developed: phone system, CRM, server status software... Needless to say, using these do-it-yourself tools was a nightmare.

Re:If you're starting a business... (1, Informative)

gQuigs (913879) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552009)

I'm commeting because I just moded you Overrated and it went up to 5... I was trying to demote your post...

You need to reread the summary. He is starting work at a small company, not starting his own business. Who knows he may have been hired to do this as part of his job. Plenty of small business's need to have people with many hats on, so they might not be experts in everything they were hired to do.

In addition, depending on the business optimizing the phone system might be essential to grow the business and in other cases completely irrelevant. Am I the only one who thinks these always need to be more specific? How many people in the organization? How much does your business depend on phones? Email? Mail? IM? Social networking? Fax machines?

Re:If you're starting a business... (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552211)

I'll be honest, I missed the "at" in the first line, too, so I recommended a COTS system for PBX. It's not worth the headaches unless you really have to be custom. And, if he was hired as a pbx roll-your-own guru and is asking here, he's already fucked.

I do agree that more basic info is needed. Small = 8 people or 50? Phone loads? Email volume? Really, until you top 10-20 seats, farming everything out is going to be cheaper.

Re:If you're starting a business... (3, Informative)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552373)

It seems strange that everyone so far in this thread is put off by PBX's. Systems like FreePBX's images are really, really easy and very flexible. As long as you have a decent internet connection the sip service has been great. Tie the voicemail back in to the email, route extensions to cell phones, handle faxes all in one system.

Re:If you're starting a business... (5, Informative)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552335)

I'm commeting because I just moded you Overrated and it went up to 5... I was trying to demote your post...

That's a borderline abusive moderation - there is no "-1 Wrong" for a reason: The correct response to a post that is flat wrong is to reply to it (as you've now done) explaining exactly why the parent poster is wrong, not to try to suppress the incorrect comment. Among other things, this reduces the chance that another moderator comes along and thinks your -1 Overrated was simply unfair and votes up the wrong comment.

Re:If you're starting a business... (1)

gQuigs (913879) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552535)

Well, it looks like some others followed my lead on that (it's currently rated 3)

Overrated
Sometimes comments are disproportionately up-moderated—this probably means several moderators saw it at nearly the same time, and their cumulative scores exaggerated its merit. (Example: A knock-knock joke at +5, Funny.) Such a comment is Overrated.
http://slashdot.org/faq/metamod.shtml [slashdot.org]

I would think it being First Post, and moderators reading it to quickly qualifies as being disproportionately up-moderated.

Also per the same metamod page this is one of the few times I've ever moded down...

NO, it is NOT. (2)

c0l0 (826165) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552259)

That kind of thinking is what leads to the very finest of vendor lock-in you could imagine down the road - and it's total bullshit. Investing a few hours of research and setup effort in a standards-based, transparent and reusable technical foundation for what is going to be the backbone of your company's communication both on the in- and outside for many years is definitely something to worry about - unless you have no problem whatsoever with buying your whole frickin' phone system all over again once you pick up the 11th employee, because the (cheap but proprietary) license and hardware you acquired when you started out "does not support more clients", or some such crap.

We just paid a few grand to extend our phone system from supporting <=50 clients to supporting 54 (and possibly more; even up to 70!!1!) clients. That's what you get from choosing the wrong solution in the first place, and if you let it become a vital component of your infrastructure - you'll have to stick with it and it will cost you dearly, because outright replacing it with a saner choice is always the more expensive one _in the short term_. Typically until the next forced upgrade cycle comes around.

Re:If you're starting a business... (2)

js33 (1077193) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552385)

if you're starting a business, just about the last thing you should be doing is worrying about is being sysadmin for your phone system - let alone doing so according to the "right" political principles and hoping you can get it to work together. Call your local phone company, get setup with them or some other turnkey provider and turn your attention towards your business.

Now that's a kneejerk response if I ever saw one.

The "right" political principles have absolutely nothing to do with a business case for an open-source phone system. Your phone system is probably business-critical, and some "turnkey" providers are not only ridiculously expensive, but truly awful as well. And sooner or later you'll find out it lacks some important feature, which either requires some super-expensive add-on module to implement, or is simply unavailable from that vendor. By that time you are good and well locked in because you've already invested so much time, money, and effort in that vendor's "turnkey" system.

No, open source doesn't always make sense for any particular business need, but the "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" approach isn't always appropriate for a small business which out of necessity has to take care of its own $#!& and take out its own trash in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Re:If you're starting a business... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552549)

You must not use HellSouth. My Asterisk server takes a fraction of the time to maintain as compared to the unholy mess that is the telco monopoly in the Southeastern US. We've had T1's that were down for multiple weeks.

Low Maintenance (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551731)

If you started the company, your time should be spent running the company, not messing around with IT.

Let everybody use their own cell phones with a reasonable monthly expense allocation.

For mail/groupware/whatever, outsource. I know this is slashdot, but Microsoft Office 365 is really, really good and IMO very reasonably priced. If not, try google apps.

If everybody *has* to have a desk phone, I think Office 365 even has some plans that include unified voice messaging. I've never looked at those, though.

Been there, done that. Good luck.

Zimbra? (4, Informative)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551741)

If you don't mind paying for a product (and don't want to use Google Apps), take a look at Zimbra:

http://www.zimbra.com/products/index.html [zimbra.com]

It has an Outlook plugin so your Windows users will be happy, and it speaks Activesync, so any smartphone should be able to sync email contacts and calendar with it.

I haven't used Zimbra for a few years, but last time I used it it worked quite well -- much easier to set up and administer than Exchange, and cheaper too.

Re:Zimbra? (0)

sh3rp4 (73755) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551775)

hell yeah. Zimbra is great. also has built in chat. a very complete product.

and no need to integrate with outlook. the Zimbra interface is superior.

Re:Zimbra? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551885)

The built in chat is no longer supported, and it is very clunky to administer. Overall, Zimbra just barely meets the "MS Exchange" threshold for expected behavior. There are enough quirks, and oddities, that you'll often sit back and wish you just went with exchange. After using it for 2 years, the time, effort, frustrations, and cost all pointed towards a different solution.

Our office ended up getting a cheaper solution by using Microsoft's hosted exchange product. Integrated chat options weren't great for us (we have some Apple workstations), but we ended up with a much better solution by firing up OpenFire ourselves.

Things Zimbra doesn't do well:
-Work well with other Outlook based plugins
-allow for centrally managed contact lists (easily maintained, auto pushed, etc)
-Resource scheduling was often buggy or unpredictable
-support it's own product .. we had a ticket open for 9 months, and repeated attempts to get ANYTHING back from it were ignored, even with the "upsold" support option
-Documentation is mostly right, but where it's wrong its frustratingly wrong, (finding information is a bear, it's often that you'll stumble on to very old information when trying to find out details on a current version)

On top of all that, it's a resource pig - it takes almost a full minute to restart mail service (which unfortunately, we had to do quite often due to one issue or another).

Personally, I would not recommend it if you are just trying to save money over using Exchange. If you don't really NEED Exchange, but some of the features might be nice, then maybe Zimbra will be good for you. If your office needs full Exchange features, and you don't want to constantly tinker, or work around various niggles that aren't quite right.

Re:Zimbra? (5, Insightful)

the_B0fh (208483) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551951)

Figure out what you need first. If you need Exchange, go with Exchange. Anything "exchange-like" will just cause you heartburn.

OTOH, if you *DON'T* need exchange, *DON'T* get that fpos.

PBX In a Flash (4, Informative)

jerpyro (926071) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551751)

I've had good luck with PBX in a flash. You can run it on a small atom server for small numbers of people: http://pbxinaflash.net/ [pbxinaflash.net]
It works well with the Cisco SPA series phones: http://www.cedarpc.com/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi?preadd=action&key=24600 [cedarpc.com]

You can use things like SugarCRM and OpenFire with it. Share documents with MSOffice and a Subversion repository (you can probably even install SVN on the phone server). That's really all you should need to start a small company -- you don't have to think big yet, and when you do you should pay someone else to worry about it so that you can do the important stuff that goes with running a company.

Re:PBX In a Flash (1)

sebtoast (883768) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551855)

I've used OpenFire in the past and really liked it. I would also setup that Exchange server and install something like Sharepoint Express, it's free.

Re:PBX In a Flash (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552479)

Or run PBXinaFlash on a raspberry pi for the cheapest phone system you will ever have. The Nerd Vittles blog has tons of relevant information, but I wouldn't recommend the "free" google voice with asterisk solution as your only connection to outside telephone systems

Asterisk (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551761)

http://www.asterisk.org

Please look around there if you haven't already before buying a multi-thousand dollar PBX or contract.

Re:Asterisk (3, Informative)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551777)

Came here to say this. Use those phones with Asterisk, easy peasy. There's also Trixbox for the textophobic Windows admin.

Re:Asterisk (1)

bobetov (448774) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552505)

If you're interested in using Asterisk (or FreeSWITCH) to do your phone work, check out Adhearsion: http://adhearsion.com/ [adhearsion.com]

Ruby-based MVC-ish asterisk framework that gives you the power without the pain.

Re:Asterisk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552543)

I recently setup a trixbox server in the last year with their commercial support. It is hopelessly out of date and the support response to my queries was lousy (slow to reply and not technically adept).

Re:Asterisk (1)

TemporalBeing (803363) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551835)

http://www.asterisk.org

Please look around there if you haven't already before buying a multi-thousand dollar PBX or contract.

And you can always contract with Digium to support it too.

Outsource email/groupware, trixbox for phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551771)

I'd outsource my email and groupware - google provides cheap (sometimes free) calendaring, email, outlook connectors, etc. Email is so critical these days, and it's getting complicated (think backups, network outages at your office, spam, security, etc.) Better just use thunderbird and google (or some other outsourced solution.)

As far as phone goes, I'm a big fan of SIP and TrixBox - it's easy to administer, much cheaper than your CLEC, and will provide you with most of what you need to get started. If you're not technical enough for something like trixbox/FreePBX/Asterisk (for FreeSwitch), go with a packet8, vonage, or other type of solution where they provide the SIP Termination and a nifty little box to use.

I have a small business, and use flowroute - it scales well, is cheaper (for us) than asterisk, and with trixbox/FreePBX/Asterisk (for FreeSwitch) you can have all the fancy features that you get for thousands with other companies, but for much less (and the performance is great so long as you have a robust network.)

Re:Outsource email/groupware, trixbox for phone (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551935)

I'd outsource my email and groupware - google provides cheap (sometimes free) calendaring, email, outlook connectors, etc. Email is so critical these days, and it's getting complicated (think backups, network outages at your office, spam, security, etc.) Better just use thunderbird and google (or some other outsourced solution.)

As far as phone goes, I'm a big fan of SIP and TrixBox - it's easy to administer, much cheaper than your CLEC, and will provide you with most of what you need to get started. If you're not technical enough for something like trixbox/FreePBX/Asterisk (for FreeSwitch), go with a packet8, vonage, or other type of solution where they provide the SIP Termination and a nifty little box to use.

I have a small business, and use flowroute - it scales well, is cheaper (for us) than asterisk, and with trixbox/FreePBX/Asterisk (for FreeSwitch) you can have all the fancy features that you get for thousands with other companies, but for much less (and the performance is great so long as you have a robust network.)

Sorry, that should have read "cheaper than vonage" , not asterisk..

Asterisk (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551787)

I would use Asterisk. Its open source and works awesome. You could also use Trixbox which is Asterisk with a nice UI frontend.

Asterisk (2)

Eleint (1250116) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551789)

Asterisk may not solve all your problems, but if you are using VoIP phones and know Linux this might be an option. Plus it is open and fully customizable. Might be worth a look. http://www.asterisk.org/ [asterisk.org]

freepbx (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551799)

freepbx

Your chances aren't great if... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551813)

Your chances aren't great if you're describing software products that do exist with terms like "whatever-it-is" and your concentration is to go with open source whenever possible.

Open source is great, but software that works and has support is a lot better for a small business. Sometimes it's easier to get a paid software package that comes with basic phone support than be neck deep in outdated man pages when the entire company is breathing down your neck to get something working because everyone's trying to meet a deadline.

There are lots of Open Source packages that are great for small business, but from the sounds of what you're asking to do, a paid, proprietary solution might be a better shot.

Here's how it works (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551821)

If you do it at no cost, the boss doesn't view that as a win for the company. He views it as suspicious, because where he comes from, spending is the key to getting somewhere, and everything costs something. In fact, he judges employees on how much they make (especially if he is new to the company), not how much they get done. It makes perfect sense to him, no matter what you think. To the boss, money is the bottom line to everything.

Let's put it this way. If your startup finds themselves hard on cash and needing someone to "temporarily answer phones", they will choose the person who makes the LEAST. (I speak from personal experience on this.) Why? Because his budget is tiny, and therefore "whatever it is he does" must not be as important as the person with the larger budget, or the person with the larger salary.

If a new IT guy comes along and spends twice as much as you, then the new IT guy is MORE valuable than you, not less. You will be considered the amateur, and he will be considered the professional, no matter how much actual "work" you get done.

So in conclusion, spend as much as you can, keep on spending as much as you can, and to hell with what actually happens to the company.

Re:Here's how it works (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552539)

This is basically true, if you live in a plutocracy where the inept sons of the wealthy get to run everything regardless of results.

But eventually the revolution always comes. Maybe it's a nice, relatively bloodless revolutionary social change (like Roosevelt's New Deal) or maybe the incompetent will need to be carried out in boxes (like the French Revolution).

Dovecot/Postfix (1)

ickleberry (864871) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551823)

Not terribly hard to set up and maintain. For phones not so sure, asterix and openSER are very heavy pieces of software don't know of any minimalist SIP server

How do you even have the job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551831)

The server here is Windows small business whatever-it-is
 
Where do you see yourself going with this kind of attitude? Have you even talked to anyone about the kind of decisions you're making on their dime?

Re:How do you even have the job? (3, Insightful)

autocannon (2494106) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552501)

This is the attitude I took away from the post as well. He immediately sees Windows whatever it is, and installs his preferred flavor of Linux and still doesn't express any idea of what he's supposed to do other than something with the phones and maybe email something or other. If Windows is there, someone's already paid for it. Use it unless they don't want it or it's a woefully old version.

I for one do not believe he should touch the phone system, that one is best left to a specialist company or package. As soon as there are issues with them he's going to have everyone in that office up his ass to get them fixed and to make sure they work right all the time.

And for god's sake, lose the attitude. You're generally going to get responses from people here with the same attitude, but don't take it for granted because no one else outside the IT realm gives a flying fuck about your disdain for windows.

Cisco UC for small business (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551851)

The last thing you want to be doing is babysitting dial-tone. The Cisco SMB Voip stuff works great.

if you are on a super tight budget take a look at 8x8

http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps11388/index.html

the Cisco Small Business Unified Communications 300 Series (UC300)

Several Suggestions... (3, Informative)

TemporalBeing (803363) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551861)

1. Keep POP3/SMTP access; if necessary enable LDAP.
2. Use something like Google Apps for Business - includes e-mail (POP3/SMTP/LDAP) and Calendaring; $50/user/year.
3. Stay away from Outlook if you can help it; if you can't then at least stay as far away from Exchange as you possibly can. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches in the process. And if you can, enable your users to use Thunderbird (with Lightening if you want Calendaring); it can access LDAP and Directory Services for a unified address book too if you like.

Re:Several Suggestions... (2)

weiserfireman (917228) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551959)

I don't understand this.

He already paid the money for Microsoft Small Business Server. He gets Exchange and an Outlook client for each machine as part of the purchase.

Since you already bought it, why aren't you using it? My company has been using Exchange 2010 for a couple years now. It has been rock solid for 40 users.

There may be reasons to avoid it in a larger organization, but in a small one, why not? Active Sync for getting email on phones and other devices has worked flawlessly for us.

Setup WSUS to keep your security patches up to date and forget about it.

Re:Several Suggestions... (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552159)

How easy is it to migrate elsewhere? With SOGO, the server-side state is all either stored in formats that make it easy to export, or in some other application (e.g. your IMAP server). If you decide in 3 years time to move to something that better suits your business needs then it's easy and cheap. If you want to migrate from Exchange (preserving email history, calendars, and so on) then how easy is it? You should always consider the cost of migrating away from a product when you chose it.

Re A former exchange consultant here (4, Informative)

Billly Gates (198444) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552265)

First off Exchange is the most complicated and evil thing ms has ever made next to sharepoint. You dont need it! Here is why?

You dont just install it. The product actually alters AD itself at the schema level! So lets say you forget to raise the forest level in your domain as you just installed Server 2003. I bet you nooobs didnt know Server 2003 runs as Server 2000 forest and domain by default?! Somethin non win admins commonly make.

Oops just reinstall right? Nope AD has now been corrupted at the schema level and all users cant receive email anymore. Not even a tape backup can save you. Now imagine you have it working? How can people send you email? You get a ton of error messages when installing your cas outlook on the web about it not having a certificate?! Oh now you to create a Sans certificate. Now you need to register your web server so people can email you. What? You have to create a freaking IIS server too??

Cell phones (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551869)

Cell phones

Re:Cell phones (5, Funny)

Spy Handler (822350) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552039)

are radio frequency transmitting/receiving communication devices using digitized packet switching, which simulate copper-wire based telephone service but fails due to the lack of true full duplex and high latency.

For those of you who are too young to remember talking on a 20th century circuit-switching copper landline telephone system, I will describe the experience: it was like talking to another person in real life. You talk and they talk, sometimes simultaneously, and both parties could hear and understand everything... in real time.

I also remember gas was 95 cents a gallon back in 1995. Now get off my lawn.

Re:Cell phones (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552143)

Wish I had mod points for the parent. Talking on cell phones sucks compared to land lines. We've changed our speech patterns to cope with the heavy compression, delay, and overall low quality of cell phone audio.

Re:Cell phones (1)

corychristison (951993) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552333)

I use a voip service over wifi on my android phone. I get better quality with that than my cell service, its not so great over 4G but I think that is moreso my provider's proxy they pass everything through.

The main reason for doing so is because my cell service is non-existant in my office of my house. I have my cell set to call forward to my voip DID when my cell is out of range. Works pretty well.

Re:Cell phones (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552425)

For those of you who are too young to remember talking on a 20th century circuit-switching copper landline telephone system, I will describe the experience: it was like talking to another person in real life. You talk and they talk, sometimes simultaneously, and both parties could hear and understand everything... in real time.

Declining standards:

Sprint "Hear a pin drop" commercial, 1986 [youtube.com]

Verizon "can you hear me now?" commercial, 2002. [youtube.com]

Even better are ISDN home phones. These are rare in the US but common in Switzerland. 64kb/s uncompressed digitized voice, in sync end to end.

Office365 and Hosted VOIP (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551877)

Setup an Office 365 Account. Ditch your POP/IMAP because it probably costs you as much as 365. Unless you have a line of business application that requires an on premise server you may find you can do everything you need in Office365.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/all-plans.aspx

Look for a Hosted VOIP solution. Do not spend money on an on premise phone system until you are ready to. Many ISP's will also offer phone systems as well.

Let me be the first to trust you (5, Informative)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551901)

So many people here are assuming they understand your requirements better than you do, and those are the ones who could successfully parse TFS.

I run an opensource stack in-house because I need to customize what it does for my needs. None of the hosted products would work for me, and software freedom isn't something I throw under the bus for short-term gain. Currently it's a postfix/MailScanner/SpamAssassin/sqlgrey/dovecot/sasl/davical/asterisk/freepbx stack, but I've also never seen Sogo before, so thanks for linking that. I've been meaning to integrate Fumambol/SyncML and that does it built-in, so cool.

The other product I've considered is formerly-BBS-software Citadel [freecode.com], but I'm sufficiently suspicious of monolithic software to have not tried it out in production (the Unix way seems better). Sogo does more, though, so that raises the activation energy a bit.

On the phones side, I'm looking to replace the FreePBX system because it's increasingly buggy as new versions come out. There was a good interview with the 2600Hz folks on FLOSS Weekly recently about Kazoo [github.com]. Their docs are very targeted towards a cloud-hosted version, which is fine, but I also haven't put in the energy yet to do a local install without docs. But it's on my very short-term list.

They seem to be headed in the right direction at least. Intergrating Sogo with Kazoo might be a nice direction and it doesn't seem like either community would be adverse.

Grandstream phones have the best bang for the buck, but aren't always quirk-free. That said, with a few tweaks they're very reliable and very cheap compared to Avaya. Their better models also embed linux, so I like to support them with my cash for doing so.

Re:Let me be the first to trust you (1)

the_B0fh (208483) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552077)

It's always a function of how much time/effort it takes to learn to implement the new system, to implement it, to train the others on how to use it, and maintenance/support.

You just gotta make sure your boss and you are in alignment on all of them, or you'd rapidly be out of work.

Opensource is good and all that, but sometimes you can really get tripped up. At one point, OpenOffice was a bigger beast than Microsoft Office, and really slowed shit down. Those people are there to work, not to support your purity of ideals. Slowing them down makes the company less money...

Phones? (4, Interesting)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551907)

The last time i worked in an office, there was no phone on my desk. If my boss wanted me, he IMed me.

Re:Phones? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552227)

In my last small office, I just yelled down the hall, or walked over. Still, clients like to talk to people, and engineers need to call out at times, so we had phones.

Re:Phones? (1)

fm6 (162816) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552603)

When I needed to call out, I used my cell. Sales, marketing, and support did indeed have phones. But this was a small cloud technology company, and they had the notion that internal IT should be as lean as possible.

Desktop phones are one of those things that stay around through bureaucratic and social inertia. On my previous gig, the guy I was working for forgot to order a phone put in my cube. No biggie — the only thing I needed it for was dialing into conference calls, and I could use Skype for that. But upper management decreed that I had to have a phone, so I got a typical desktop setup. Had a complicated, antiquated hand-free device that I never came to terms with. And I kept getting robo debt-collection calls meant for the person who'd had the extension before me.

The PBX istelf is the easy part (5, Informative)

liquidweaver (1988660) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551933)

You need to really be concerned about the following:
1.) Provisioning the equipment. I don't know how "small" a small office is, but this is going to spiral out of control quickly if you don't have an elegant way to setup handsets and make changes.
2.) Your change from circuit switched to packets. There are a lot of discussion points here, but the biggest you need to be aware of is latency is king. You might have a really slick p2p setup with OpenSWAN on 2 high bandwidth, cheap DSL or cable connections, but the jitter will kill you.
3.) How does your voice come in? If you are under contract and you have a PRI or some TDM circuit, you have to consider how you will interface that, and the cards you will need, or the SIP gateway you'll buy are not cheap.
4.) Who is going to manage the call routes, system secuity. I'm well versed with Asterisk, and you'll not find an all inclusive interface unless you go the Digium SwitchVOX route. If you don't pay close attention to security up front, you will experience toll fraud pronto.
5.) Handset support. What are you going to do for replacement parts, who is going to setup all the buttons, etc.
6.) Codecs. Some of the best are not free, i.e. G729. Just about any handset you get will support G711, but 12 bits of fidelity at 64k/sec each way (plur overheard for UDP/RTP) is not that great.
7.) Voice prompts, auto attendants, voicemail, etc.
8.) Status/BLF lights on phones. There isn't really a standardized way to do this, but SIP's Subscribe/Notify is used by some, I think Aastra.
9.) Key system habits. You won't be able to "pick up Line 2".

If I haven't scared you out of it yet, Aastra and Snom make excellent, RFC 3261 compliant handsets, Asterisk is a lot better than it used to be, and there are some alterntives you might find interesting like FreeSwitch or YXA.

Good luck.

At the risk of being flamed... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551949)

If it's a small office, and everybody has computers, I'd be tempted to use something like SoGo for interoperability. But for communications other than email, I'd say screw phones, PBXes, etc. For intra-office comm use a good IM program. If you're on Apples, you have about 3 different ways to do voice or video chat, if typing isn't your style. For outside the office, just put everybody on Skype or one of the open source alternatives. Between Skype and cell phones you probably are covered.

For $50 / year, each person can have a regular telephone number, complete with caller ID and call forwarding, on their Skype account. Skype-Skype calls are always free; calling outside Skype is dirt cheap in most of the world, and unlimited US-Canada calling is only $2.99 / mo.

No administrative hassles... no server setup.

Re:At the risk of being flamed... (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552015)

I should add that at the last (non-home-) office at which I worked, we had those Avaya phones. And almost never used them. Even when communicating with the remote office we used IM most of the time. Between that, cell phones, and Skype, we often ended up forgetting how to even dial out on the Avaya phones.

Hosted Exchange (2)

DogDude (805747) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551961)

Just pay for hosted Exchange. Unless you're running an email company, you should not be worrying about what software your email/groupware is using. Save your high principles for when you're making a profit.

CudaTel (1)

mrmagos (783752) | about a year and a half ago | (#41551963)

CudaTel [cudatel.com] (of Barracuda spam firewall fame) appliances are built on top of Freeswitch [freeswitch.org], an open-source PBX that I've found scales much better than Asterisk. The hardware is sized by number of concurrent calls. If you don't know how many concurrent calls you handle, the accepted convention is to take the number of phones you have and divide by 6 (or 4 if you want to be very conservative).

Phone system (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41551995)

The Avaya system is a good one for small companies. Fairly easy to maintain and program without the need of outsourcing the tech part of it. Just make sure you get a support contract with Avaya to help when needed.
Its easy to learn and simple to program if you are technically inclined.

Shoretel (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552027)

Shoretel [shoretel.com] uses open source and open standards tools. They do hosted or turnkey installs. I've been trying to get our office to upgrade from our existing Nortel Meridian Option 11 system for the last four years and my research into it has found mostly good things about them.

Re:Shoretel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552289)

This is a far better solution than legacy Avaya anything.

Go with hosted telephony (3, Insightful)

vinn (4370) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552035)

My background is telecom and I have a lot of experience in that. My recommendation is to go with a hosted solution.

DO NOT INSTALL ASTERISK YOURSELF AND THINK YOU'RE GETTING A PHONE SYSTEM FOR FREE. You'll just waste time having to configure hardware, software, and dumb things like tuning analog POTS lines or wonking around with dial plans or something that you probably have no idea how to do.

Ok, back to the hosted idea. Let's compare the big costs with a traditional PBX and a hosted PBX:

1. Phones - you're really not going to avoid this cost. Budget $200 per phone set and be happy if you come in less. Remember, cheap phones are cheap for a reason. Spend the money and get a handset with a nice weight to it and a speakerphone that works well. If you get a traditional PBX like the Avaya system you looked at, there's a good chance you're looking at purchasing proprietary phones. If it's hosted, I recommend Polycom. Whether you have hosted or a traditional PBX, this will be one of your biggest costs.

2. The PBX itself will be a big cost. Avoid this by not buying one and going with a hosted solution.

3. The maintenance/service contract is the third huge cost, regardless of whether you go with hosted or traditional PBX. You're really not avoiding it with a hosted solution, in fact it might even be slightly more expensive, but you're paying for it month to month.

Since you can probably start small and grow into most hosted solutions, switch your conference phone over first and make everyone use it. You'll find out quickly if the call quality will work or if people have complaints.

Quality of service will be an issue with a hosted solution, so make sure you have bandwidth and if you need to set up real QoS on your router, know how to do that.

Focus on your business (4, Interesting)

tepi90 (2745495) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552067)

Get everybody a cheap mobile phone with a business plan or agree to pay $50/month if they use their own phone (most people will). Move your email, calendar and documents to Google Apps or similar. And then focus on your real business.

Re:Focus on your business (1)

stephanruby (542433) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552175)

Get everybody a cheap mobile phone with a business plan or agree to pay $50/month if they use their own phone (most people will).

This is not a bad suggestion.

Just make sure the business owns the phone numbers at the very least. If somebody leaves for some reason, you don't want him/her to leave with the phone number that everybody has in their rolodex.

sipecs (1)

ezakimak (160186) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552079)

You may like sipecs. They even have a pre-configured distro cd if you want to get up and running quickly--just install it, plug in your voip phones, and it will discover and configure them.

You hire someone...... (1)

who_stole_my_kidneys (1956012) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552085)

(1) as a contractor to come in and redo your systems to some open standards since you clearly do not even know what version "what-ever-it-is" is running and says your not much of a system admin. A system that is virtually automated and you get two hours of training. Now if you purchase an extremely overpriced support contract you will have 24/7 remote support and a 2 hour onsite visit during business hours. If you opt out you can do emergency support for $15K per incident.

or

(2) Hire an actual Sys Admin to do the work.

Carefull with Avaya (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552087)

I have worked with Avaya and a few other PBX IPs. I always seem to have trouble with Avaya and no trouble with any others. Seems like their implementation of SIP is not quite standard - something iffy about it. I would definately suggest another brand (Cisco never fails).

Use the tools you already purchased first (4, Informative)

harryk (17509) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552107)

If you've already purchased and using (albeit only barely) Microsoft SBS, take advantage of Exchange before you spend any more money on a new system, otherwise you're just wasting money. Exchange works quite well, obvious straight-forward connectivity with the Outlook client. Administering Exchange isn't the end of the world, and is actually quite easy in an SBS environment. I would suggest setting up an alternate internal smart-host (smart-relay) so that you don't have to expose the Exchange server directly to the internet. Courier MTA works VERY well (and is the exact setup we have internet->courier->exchange).

Setting up a Jabber IM server internally is easy as well, otherwise use Google Apps and have your email domain hosted there and just use Google Talk with the various AV plugins.

Setting up Switchvox (Asterisk) is a purchase, but I 2nd the comment by others to find you a local phone service retailer and let them deal with phone integration. If you do decide on a hosted solution for email and voice (voip) then make sure you don't skimp on the internet connectivity. I worked at a place previously convinced VOIP was the way to go, but management would cringe every time you talked about capacity of the external connection and the need to upgrade.

Just my 2cents...

Re:Use the tools you already purchased first (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552465)

Google Apps is the extreme oposite of open source.
Not only is it closed-source, but you actually depend on a particular service provider for both your tools and your data.

MS Shines in this type of situation. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552113)

It is implied exchange is installed (As it is as part of SBS Standard) but just not setup best would be to just configure it. (There is loads of best practice wizard type stuff for SBS to make sure it is setup properly.)

If it isn't (i.e You are using SBS 2011 Essentials) then go with hosted exchange or office365. If it is not your full time job to deal with IT then go for something like intune as well.

If you want to go Linux / UNIX make it old school (Everyone logs in to a terminal and communicate using wall/talk/write etc or irc or news)

Don't use web garbage.

2 Cents (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552125)

This doesn't entirely answer your question, but here's my two cents. I have a small insurance agency. We use Linksys VOIP phones and this company's service (http://www.vocalocity.com/). It works well the vast majority of the time. As you can imagine, our phones are horribly important to our operations. On the rare occasion there's an issue, it's a huge, gigantic headache - but I wouldn't want to switch back to a traditional phone/pbx system. I like that there's people to handle that part of the system. I can't imagine doing any of that myself. I have too many other things to mess with. I have a website hosted by a host I've used for years, and the email for the domain handled by google. Again, it works well. Sure, I could set up a server to host the website and email and blah blah blah - but I've got too many other things to mess with and I'd rather pay someone else for it so I can focus on other things. You don't say what the business is - or maybe you did and my attention span sucks - but my recommendation would be to not take on too much yourself. I'm sure you have the ability to do it. How much are you really saving, especially when there's an issue and you have people dealing with The Problem rather than being productive?

Whatever you do (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552129)

Please make sure the system is well documented, easily maintained, professionally supported, and doesn't require a sysadmin's level of knowledge just to figure out how it works. Maintaining the phone system should only take up a trivial amount of my time.

Signed,

The guy they hired after you moved on

How small are you? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552165)

If you have less than a dozen or so, consider a cheap, closed source, COTS system, like TalkSwitch. It will take you 2 hours to set it up, and you'll spend 2-4 hours a year (yes, a year) managing it. Yes, it's limited, but for $200 a user you can have a real pbx system with no fuss, no muss, and no monthly fees (except the actual phone lines). As a bonus, it can also forward calls to your remote workers.

If you have enough business to have employees, you have enough work that spending nights and weekends chasing an open source system for phone service is NOT WORTH YOUR TIME. Really. When you grow out of your mini-pbx, you'll have the money to buy something real, or hire a full timer who knows how to set this stuff up properly, and to fix it when it breaks.

I think my talkswitch was $800 used and was one of the most efficient purchases I made.

Re:How small are you? (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552449)

He said "open source", not merely "free", so one might assume he wants this because of principles and not out of cheapness.
At my office we have no lack of funds for hardware, but we still use open source software only. This isn't uncommon in places where the high-ups care.

Hosted VOIP with UCC (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552169)

I went through the exact same situation a few years ago. I absolutely LOVE a hosted VOIP PBX combined with an integrated Uniform Communications Center (IM, Group, phone stuff, faxing, etc). Just like your mail, the server is in a data center someplace. The phones hook up via the internet (from anywhere) and the UCC is a web page. There are several companies out there doing this. I am with Panterra Networks Worldsmart system and I love it. I was with a different company for a year or so but REALLY did not like them. Anyone who wants/needs to telework (permanently or temporarily) can simply take their phone home with them (or an ATA can be set up at home like I have). Each seat can have three locations. The UCC includes a softphone for the road warriors. No server for you to deal with. All the sys admin stuff is done on a website. Very cost effective as well. I could go on and on.

done (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552183)

google apps, 37signals, and onsip.

Horsepower (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41552249)

Bottom line is that you'll probably need more horsepower to drive a VOIP system for anything more than 2-3 people than you can likely squeeze out of a Linux VM hosted on an old Windows server. Your switching equipment also needs to be voice-rated... many admins can't wrap their heads around how demanding and unforgiving VOIP equipment is in the hardware department. The last thing you want is to put a lot of time and effort into an "open" system that ends up dropping calls, generating echoes, and causing all kinds of jitter when the system is under any kind of load. There's a lot more to consider here than what software package you want to handle the PBX back-end.

SME Server (1)

paperguides (221015) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552263)

You could also look at using SME server (see contribs.org). Open source SBS type system with a large active user community. There is also a selection of user contributions and HowTos including incorporating Asterisk. It will also run much more efficiently on the your existing hardware that Microsoft SBS.

Hosted everything (1)

cestes (303123) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552267)

I switched our company (~20 users) over to www.onsip.com for phones... I'm using all Polycom hardware... works great if you have good bandwidth. All setup and config is web-based and they auto configure the Polycom phones (335's and 550's). Onsip works with ekiga and there's sip clients for iOS and Android that work OK.

Google Apps for everything else!

Things not to do (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552269)

My company recently migrated to a computer-based phone system.

1. Handsets are much preferable to headsets, if you use the phone only occasionally.
I went from *pick up the handset* to
a. don the headset, trying not to snag the cable on the stuff on my desk, notably including a mug of tea.
b. hunt down the pop-up with the Answer button
c. plug in the headset leads because I forgot to do that when I came in
d. hope the other party hasn't given up yet.

2. Don't buy the Counterpath Bria product. It chops up your conversations into little bits, and throws away packets randomly. It's bloody awful. The UI is crap, too.

3. it is possible to do IP telephony right. My home phone connects to a 42Networks DRG device which connects to the fiber interface. Sound quality is as good as POTS, and no problems with lag.

Re:Things not to do (1)

amorsen (7485) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552577)

DECT wireless headsets. They are damn expensive but WONDERFUL. Of course if your computer is also the phone, you still need a wire from the computer to the headset base station, but hopefully that is permanently fixed to the docking station. That gets rid of most of all your concerns except donning the headset, but at least the wire won't snag on anything. You can walk pretty much anywhere you want with the headset, the range is great.

I would never personally do without a hardphone, despite having one of those head sets. Then again I work for a company selling hosted PBX's, so maybe I just like when we sell more phones.

If there is less than about 8 people talking at the same time in the same general area, you can use cheaper Bluetooth headsets. They work fine as long as the 2.5GHz band doesn't get too crowded, and as long as you stay quite close to the base station.

XMPP (1)

hobarrera (2008506) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552409)

Use XMPP for chat, and voice+video.

A big plus is that it's federated, so you can talk to Google Apps users, and other XMPP users out there.
XMPP also has voice+video, so you can actually get rid of those old phones and just voice-chat through it (this is a matter of taste, but I think soft-phones have their pros).

In my experience, several clients will use the LAN to stream (intead of proxy on the internet) if both partys are in the same LAN, so you'll have very low latency and won't use up internet bandwidth.

Focus on your business, not your tools. (2)

tgd (2822) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552429)

Cobbling together things rarely makes sense unless your time is free or you need something the various providers don't support.

IMO, unless you're going 100% open source for some philosophical reason, you can't beat the combination of Office365 and Windows InTune.

~$35 a month (O365 E3+InTune) per user gives you centralized desktop policy management, hosted e-mail, document sharing via Sharepoint, enterprise SA for Windows (so you can use/mandate Bitlocker, DirectAccess, and get free upgrades to Windows 8, etc), desktop software management (pushing out updates, new software, etc), Office Professional Plus, and Lync with telephony support. Another $20-$30 a month per user and you'll have direct dial in and out supported, with automated attendant, voicemail, and everything else, all in the cloud, all managed by one person via a web browser. Pay another $40 for your sales guys and you can flip on CRM. Hell, its worth it just to avoid dealing with all the "I forgot my password to our file sharing service" questions.

IMO, you could run IT comfortably for a knowledge-worker-centric small business with 30-40 people with one guy if you use the right infrastructure. And you won't have your infrastructure fall apart when the guy who cobbled together your stuff quits. A real small business and one person a couple hours a month could probably maintain it if they can follow directions.

Seriously, focus on your business, not this kind of crap.

Awaiting the community fury on this one, but..... (3, Informative)

Kr1ll1n (579971) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552551)

What version of SBS is it running?

SBS 2003/2007/2011 includes the following;

Exchange
Sharepoint

So in all actuality, you should have Groupware and your own E-mail server.

For IM, I would recommend OpenFire, since it integrates with AD.

Using something out of principal when something else has already been purchased means you are setting the company up to fail, unless you can quantify a business need or reason to move away from what they have already purchased, outside of your own principals.

Just because you can... (2)

ApplePy (2703131) | about a year and a half ago | (#41552589)

...doesn't mean you should.

I work for a company that provides VoIP and data services (the kind of company the OP should be calling). We have some damn good sysadmins, who can run everything from Asterisk to Postfix. But we don't. Internally, we use an off-the-shelf Asterisk implementation with a nice interface, and for email, hosted Exchange on one domain and Google stuff on the other. We could write our own ticketing system, but we use a hosted solution. It costs us far less to pay for some of these hosted services than to develop our own.

So, while we could hand-roll everything, we don't. Our whole business is based on Asterisk somehow, but we don't use it raw. Time spent maintaining our own software is time we're denying our customers.

As far as boxed, premise solutions go, I really like the Adtran 7100. Handles all voice and data up to 100 seats, and their phones are very good too.

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