Commercial and Proprietary PBX Systems

June 30, 2010 by Garrett Smith

In our first segment, we spoke mainly of the benefits of using an open source based VoIP solution as compared to the commercial applications and even proprietary applications.

Obviously open source has its pros, but like my previous post stated, it’s not for everyone. Companies and Businesses that are new to VoIP may opt out of an open-source based solution for a commercial or proprietary for a number of reasons.

In my mind, the biggest benefit you see from commercial VoIP solution is that it is a complete solution that is fully documented and usually comes with some type of technical support or support option. With commercialized solutions, it’s a more complete solution where features such as unified messaging, integration with data applications, and full-blown functionality including call recording, reporting, fully customizable IVR’s, and much more have been fully tested and are very easily setup and administered.

Now I am not saying you don’t get all of these features with open-sourced solutions because this is not true. You do get most of these features but it does take more work “under the hood” and through the Asterisk CLI to incorporate some of this functionality and if you are new to VoIP or not technically inclined to make these changes, the solution could get very frustrating for you and your business.

Below, we will detail out some of benefits and drawbacks to commercial VoIP solutions as they are compared to open-sourced solutions.

Benefits of Commercial PBX Systems

Like I mentioned earlier, commercial VoIP solutions are still (usually) based upon source Asterisk source code so all of the functionality of Asterisk is enjoyed with these systems. There are also windows-based commercialized solutions if you wish to stay away from Asterisk and Linux and the functionality is every close to asterisk’s feature support.

The biggest difference as it pertains to configuration and functionality is that most commercialized solutions are administered through an easy and intuitive Web GUI interface which makes understand the solution a little bit easier for the administrator and doesn’t necessarily require them to be a Linux and asterisk Guru. The two most common commercialized VoIP solutions that are offered through VoIP Supply are Digium’s Switchvox and 3CX which is the windows based solution.

With commercialized solutions, there is more built-in functionality. Take Digium’s Switchvox SMB platform for example, the solution is jam packed with all of the features listed here.

Accordingly, the solution is coupled with the Switchvox Switchboard which adds functionality such as phone presence, chat applications, integration with Google MAP’s, CRM Applications, and customizable phone books for each user. A great look at the Switchboard can be seen here.

Along with the switchboard, users can also customize their call routing plans for times when they are not in the office or away from the desk and are presented with options such as find me follow me, forwarding, and call cascading. Other features that are enjoyed include VM and FAX to email, fully customizable IVR’s which can interact with database applications to present the user caller data. Now take 3CX for example, this solution also carries the same functionality and full list if feature support can be found here.

3CX is also coupled with the 3CX assistant for call presence which enables users to drag and drop callers to other users, park callers, and transfer callers to VM. Presence applications such as these are also used by supervisors to easily record, barge, monitor, and whisper into calls.

In most commercialized solutions, server hardware is most likely pre-loaded with software that has been fully tested for compatibility as it relates to software and other hardware including PCI Telephony interface cards, SIP IP endpoints which include gateways, phones, WiFI Phones, DECT Phones, etc.

Just because these solutions are considered commercialized doesn’t mean their proprietary. Most commercialized solutions including Switchvox and 3CX are based on open SIP standards which gives administrators and users the freedom to literally use any SIP endpoint they want.

With 3CX, since the solution is windows based, the executable can easily be installed on a pre-existing Windows machine running any of the following supported Windows OS. If you don’t have a windows machine, VoIPSupply offers 3CX preloaded on a Rockbochs Mini, 1u, and 3U server chassis.

Keep in mind with 3CX, there is both a Free version and Licensed versions. For our discussion, we will be referring to the licensed versions of 3CX which can be found here. As compared to open-source solutions, having known tested hardware takes away the time it takes to properly put together and assemble your own asterisk server and cuts down on the risk of incompatibility between the software and the hardware components you may be using.

The next topic could be considered a benefit or a disadvantage depending on how you look at.

Personally, I look at it as a benefit. I’m talking about paid licensing for users, concurrent calls, software, and recurring costs whether they be monthly or annually.

Take Switchvox for example, SMB software requires a user licenses for each user on the system. A user is considered an extension or SIP endpoint. Each license is required but they do satisfy a direct support contract with Switchvox for any future questions, issues, or requests you may have. Their licensing is offered at 3 different levels, Silver, Gold, and Platinum, and each level respectively gets you better levels of support going from email to phone and then emergency hour’s phone.

Also, the upfront costs of this solution always look a little high, thanks in part to these licenses, but keep in mind, while Switchvox requires you to renew your licenses each year, the renewal upgrades are 1/3 of the cost of the upfront 1st year licensing fees. Ex. A $50 per user license fee upfront would be renewed for $15 then next year and following years. You still get the same level of support you were always getting and you can always upgrade your licensing level in the future.

Now, with 3CX, you don’t necessarily have to upgrade to commercialized licensed based software but you do miss out on some features. See the comparison linked above for more details. 3CX offers its paid licensing software based upon the maximum number of concurrent calls on the system. The license, once purchased is lifetime and you can always upgrade in the future to a higher concurrent call license. No matter which paid version you have, you get the same functionality throughout.

On top of the concurrent call license, you can opt for a 1yr maintenance upgrade package and 1yr direct support package.

Now If you look at a comparison between open-source and commercial VoIP solutions, obviously if you are looking at price, open source always wins cause there is no licensing involved, however even with solutions such as Switchvox, if you compare the upfront and recurring costs to solutions from Cisco, Avaya, and Trixbox Pro, you’ll notice huge cost savings with 3CX or Switchvox as it relates to these solutions with the same, if not better feature set.

Disadvantages of Commercial PBX Systems

There are a few disadvantages when it comes to commercialized solutions.

Since the software is designed and maintained whole-heartedly from the manufacturer, your unique third party applications may have now way of integrating with the solution. Without the help of the manufacturer, this could be an impossible task, and if your business solely relies on unique applications as such, open source may be a better solution for you. Like stated, with most commercialized solutions, even though they may be asterisk based, the management and asterisk CLI is closed to the administrator and this access may be needed to integrate these applications or systems to make you more productive and efficient.

As you can see, there are VoIP solutions to fit everyone’s needs.

Over this past month of blogging, I hope that the content I have provided you have been helpful enough for you to get out there and build your own asterisk server or make the change to a commercialized VoIP solution.


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