Asterisk PBX solves enterprise's growing communication problem

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Asterisk PBX solves enterprise's growing communication problem

Kate Dostart, Associate Editor

An Asterisk-based PBX proved to be the solution to one company's communications growing pains. For Sean Brown, CEO of One Call Support Services (a division of U.S. Network Management, a managed service provider of IT services), finding a telephony system that could keep up with the company's rapid growth was not only an immediate necessity, it was essential to its continued success.

One Call Support, a full-service computer consulting and repair firm operating under U.S. Network Management , was initially a very small company that needed only a small space and a couple of phones line. But as the company became more successful, the realisation set in that its existing location and communications capabilities would soon be outgrown.

Space at the location became cramped as two people were assigned to each desk. Brown and his team knew that they had to find a better solution. But as the lease for the physical space was airtight and not due to end for some time, it was necessary to look beyond physical barriers and explore the benefits of telecommuting.

Luckily, every aspect of One Call Support's business was Web-based, so if the company had the right equipment, employees would be able to work from home. For that to happen, though, the telephony system would need to be upgraded, and the bottom line for an upgrade to the existing legacy system was going to be well over six figures. It was clear that they needed a less expensive solution.

Online research led Brown's team to a new startup, Fonality, which promised a solution that would grow with the company and cost a fraction of the price of any other systems that Brown had so far found. Thinking it was too good to be true, he was a bit suspicious.

"The price, the features, the customisability -- it was just too good to be true," he said.

The PBXtra from Fonality is an Asterisk-based server system that was developed by Fonality CEO Chris Lyman and his team, who took the Asterisk code as it existed, hardened it and added soft features. Building up Fonality as a business meant they needed to sell the finalised product and the phones and servers to supplement it. Deciding to give the Fonality solution a try, Brown started his own pilot program with one PBXtra server and three or four phones. If the system failed, as Brown envisioned it might, at least his company wouldn't be too badly out of pocket.

But the PBXtra proved him wrong. Installation went smoothly, with the team finishing up late one night about two years ago. Evidence of the late hour and the fatigue of the employees can be found by anyone who dials One Call Support and listens to the entire main menu. Those who take the time will hear a charming parody of "Gilligan's Island" with an IT-based twist that is guaranteed to make any person remotely familiar with networking and IP telephony chuckle.

The PBXtra is what Fonality calls telecommuter-capable, meaning it works on a public data center, so once the PBXtra was fully implemented for the entire company and successfully working, Brown was able to tell his employees that they could "go home" – or, rather, that they could work from home -- and desks in the office no longer needed to be shared. As the new telephony system was up and running, all employees could do their work by remote access -- everything was already on the Internet.

When its lease finally expired, One Call Support was able to find a larger headquarters, allowing more workers to be back in the office and allowing for more growth. The company currently has 60 phones connected to the Asterisk-based PBXtra and only one person assigned to each desk.

Brown said that what keeps him using the PBXtra rather than going with a different or hosted solution is the integration of the system with the company's existing IT infrastructure and the customisability.

Lyman, Fonality's CEO, was astonished at how quickly Brown and his team have adapted the PBXtra to meet One Call Support's needs. And though Lyman and his team have developed the PBXtra to be easy to use and easy to customise by both IT professionals and those not as familiar with IT, he said One Call Support's ability and inventiveness in customising the PBXtra went beyond Fonality's expectations.

One distinct example of how One Call Support customised the PBXtra is its modification of a find me/follow me feature. In order to be better connected to customers and to provide the immediate service customers are now accustomed to, Brown had the find me/follow me feature set up to simultaneously ring all the numbers listed for a specific person rather than ring through following a sequence. For Brown, this means that someone trying to reach him can do so typically in two to three rings rather than having to hang on the phone until the third or fourth device is rung and finally successful.

Brown did note that Fonality's PBXtra might not be an initial consideration for larger enterprises because they typically have their own team dedicated to telephony and often have policies in place to standardise their equipment buying from a limited number of vendors. Yet he said that the PBXtra could more than competently handle a high volume of users, and larger organisations should not hesitate to consider it.

Brown said the one minor problem he encountered with the PBXtra was when the server had a memory chip that went bad. They were able to quickly locate the problem, send a technician out to buy a replacement chip, and install it so the overall downtime was less than an hour.

After implementing and operating the PBXtra for some time now, Brown has called it a "no-brainer."

Looking back on One Call Support's outdated legacy system, Brown said he's been able to free up time by no longer needing a "notepad full of commands to follow before changes could happen."


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This was first published in August 2007

 

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