Elastix Quickly Taking Center Stage
Three years ago if you asked us what the hottest open source platform was for your IP PBX, we would have said Trixbox CE. It was free, easy to use, and always being
updated. Well the one thing that is certain around here is death, taxes, and CHANGE! With Trixbox CE going the way of the geese up here in Buffalo, NY, we have found that Elastix is quickly becoming the platform of choice when installing a new IP PBX. In fact, Elastix is more than just a phone system… it can be your entire UC strategy!
Elastix as an IP PBX
Elastix is an open source, Asterisk based UC system which can be downloaded and run on any PC, server, or laptop. I mentioned above that Elastix can be your entire UC strategy. This is because the Elastix platform includes a VoIP phone system, an E-mail server, Instant Messaging, a fax server, and a video conferencing system. If you are coming to VoIP Supply, chances are you are looking for an IP phone system. However if you are just starting out, Elastix is a great way to integrate all your communication methods into one platform for ease of use and unified functionality… hence the buzzword UC (Unified Communications).
As an IP phone system, elastix offers all the great features that we have come to expect in a phone system these days. Such features include voicemail, configurable IVR, support for softphones, caller ID, call hold, transfer, forward, do-not-disturb, and least cost call routing. Some unexpected features that Elastix also has is presence, call recording, voicemail to email, fax to email, virtual conference rooms, and integration with some CRM programs such as TigerCRM and SugarCRM. Similar to some paid distributions of Asterisk, Elastix offers a PBX integrated calendar with support for voice notifications along with a phonebook with click-to-dial capabilities. Just like many other high profile phone systems, Elastix offers a large selection of call reports right out of the box. If your company is a call center centric business, you may benefit from Elastix’s Call Center module, which is an extra, but it’s a FREE extra! (I love free extras!)
The Call Center module offers a host of advanced capabilities and reports for companies whose livelihood depends on effective call management. It includes an open sourced predictive dialer (as an ex-bill collector, I hated that predictive dialer, but I know you managers out there love it!) That predictive dialer is pretty smart, too, as it recognizes your Do-Not-Call list, saving you from costly Can-SPAM and FDCPA lawsuits. The CCM can connect and integrate with your database, too, if you are using Oracle, SQL, Mysql, or Postgreql. Reporting is key when it comes to monitoring worker productivity. Stay on top of it with break reports, call detail reports, calls by hour, agent availability, login/logout, and trunk usage by time and day reporting… and a whole lot more.
Elastix as an Email Server
When used as an email server, Elastix has a lot to offer. It will support multiple domains, so if your company has multiple subdomains, it will support each of them. Management of the email server, along with all the features of Elastix, is in a Web-based GUI, making it a point and click management process. No complicated CLI’s to maneuver. The mail client your users will navigate is web-based as well, allowing them to access their inbox from any internet-enabled endpoint. With the Elastix email server, you can set up limits based on size quotas and create filters and security for incoming spam. If your business is primarily email based, you can use this system with confidence. The system is based in Postfix, so it will support high email volume.
Elastix as an IM Platform
Most businesses use Instant Messaging in some fashion to get tasks done via collaboration. I know personally, I use MSN messenger, Google, Yahoo, AIM, and Facebook every day to get things done with different people. The Elastix IM platform, based on Openfire, is a great way to unite your other IM clients into one UI. You can use Elastix IM on its own internally with coworkers, or unify the interface by bringing in your MSN messenger, Yahoo messenger, Google talk, and ICQ all in one place. Unlike some other providers, administrators can pull reports of user sessions to keep accurate business records.
Most people are finding that in today’s fast paced environment, the written word just isn’t good enough. Get tasks done faster and with less misunderstandings using video collaboration. Elastix embeds support for Jabber, a leading web-based video client. In addition, Elastix will support any SIP device that communicates with H.264 and MPEG codecs, and that includes many video endpoints. Enjoy point to point video conferencing using your Elastix system and avoid more costly, yet more robust, video conferencing infrastructures. This is idea for in house, simple point to point conferencing. Collaboration functionality such as multipoint, data within video, and split screen sharing are features you could enjoy if you were to upgrade to a Cisco Telepresence, Lifesize, Polycom, or Aver unit.
Elastix as a Fax Server
Most commercially sold IP PBXs claim to be a fax server. Faxing and IP are still not where they could be, sad to say. Third party appliances such as the FaxBochs or the Audiocodes MP202/HTTPFAX help in conjunction with an ITSP fax provider, but out of the box, most fax servers embedded into VoIP Systems are less than perfect. Elastix’s fax server is based on HylaFax, an enterprise-class system for sending and receiving facsimiles as well as for sending alpha-numeric pages. Elastix fax server allows you to receive faxes in your email box as incoming pdfs. Faxes that come in over an analog to VoIP line are transcoded to PDF format and delivered to the email address of your choice. For outbound faxes, the fax headers can be programmed into the fax server for ease of use, and the data is compiled and sent realtime over T.38 to its recipient. Even so, transporting faxes any distance over VoIP is still subject to packet loss and degredation. If outbound faxing is critical in your business, I still suggest an analog fax machine and a POTS line.
The biggest benefit of Elastix is monetary. Elastix is a free software. The additional Call Center module is a free download. Whether you are using this for 10 users, or 300 users, the users are free. There is no maintenance contract to buy. Firmware updates are released often, usually twice a year, and they are free. With this sort of financial freedom, you would expect a simple, perhaps even sub-par system, but Elastix is not that. It is quite robust and it rivals more flushed out commercial versions of Asterisk, such as Trixbox Pro and Switchvox. Elastix has all the features most companies would look for in a business IP PBX and then some that most wouldn’t think they would need.
Because Elastix is an open source product, changes can be made to the code to help it conform to just about whatever situation arises. If you are not sure how to read, write, or decode Asterisk code, Elastix Support packages are available at a reasonable price to allow you to get level 1 through level 3 help from the guys who wrote the code.
Why NOT Elastix?
Even though Elastix is a free software download, it is a bit tricky to install and use seamlessly on any machine. It does have some hardware compatibility issues. Technically it will work, but it may take some tweaking here and there with memory and motherboards to make it work as robustly and seamlessly as it is capable of. VoIP Supply offers Elastix branded appliances, such as the Elastix ELX-025 or the Elastix MiniUCS, which comes pre-loaded with telephony ports and Elastix software so it is truly a plug and play phone system. The components used in the Elastix appliance are tested and certified to work with Elastix, from the chipset, to the PCI ports and network interface cards. This keeps you from having to compile hardware drivers via command line to match your custom install environment.
Another drawback of Elastix is that it is not an end-to-end solution. Many other IP PBXs such as Switchvox and Cisco UC system offer a complete branded solution from the trunk to the endpoint. Digium phones, Cisco phones, and Cisco video conferencing endpoints in conjunction with a Switchvox or Cisco UC platform eliminate the guesswork when it comes to troubleshooting problems. Elastix isn’t one of these. So while Elastix is fully compatible with most SIP endpoints, if there is a problem, you need go to one place to check the PBX, another help desk to check the phone, and yet another to check the telephony card. Systems that are branded end-to-end tend to have a more robust help desk because they can’t point the blame at the other components… they ARE the other components.
Lastly, and most importantly, Elastix software is not a purchasable product. This is a plus, but it is also a disadvantage. Sure it’s free, but what happens if it doesn’t work? Who do you call to complain or who are you going to send it back to for a new one? In this consumer age we have all become accustomed to open it, install it, if it doesn’t work, return it. Not happening when you download Elastix! If you can’t get it to work, you can rely on the programmable auto backups, you can get on an Elastix forum and ask your questions, or you can buy Elastix support. If none of these outlets solve your problem, you are back to square one.
As you can see, Elastix is a fantastic IP PBX and more at a great price! Who doesn’t love free? However, if you are not at all technical, you may want to do some research on this system before you install it, or at the very least, purchase a support contract with it. For the easiest, user friendliest installation of Elastix, purchase an Elastix branded appliance which has preloaded software and telephony interfaces.