Big-Time Phone Gear Targets Small Businesses

LAS VEGAS--You no longer need an IT staff or even a paid consultant to set up a sophisticated phone system for your small business. A slew of new networking products use Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to deliver features that once required enterprise-class gear.

Products such as D-Link's Voice Center or Netgear's announced offerings incorporating Avaya's Quick Edition technology are being showcased at the Interop trade show here this week. These products let businesses use traditional analog lines as well as VoIP services, which reduce long-distance call charges by sending them over the Internet and provide features typical of expensive PBX systems, such as the capability to automatically route calls to the appropriate extension, or to access voice mail remotely.

D-Link Teams With Outlook

D-Link's Voice Center, intended for up to 50 users, is based on Microsoft's new Response Point technology. Its easy-to-use configuration wizards simplify setup and integration with Outlook and Windows Address Book contacts as well as Windows Live VoIP services. The Voice Center also supports voice-activated call management features.

Voice Center hardware consists of an IP telephony box, which manages the PBX features and connects to a broadband router; a Field Exchange Office (FXO) Gateway, which connects up to four traditional analog phone lines to the IP telephony box; and IP phones that plug into your network and are automatically recognized by the system. D-Link says its Voice Center will ship by September.

Netgear did not announce a name for its planned offering using Avaya Quick Edition, but says it will support up to 20 users. Avaya Quick Edition takes a distributed peer-to-peer approach to managing VoIP services: The software resides in Avaya's phones (which run about $400 apiece) rather than a specialized IP telephony box (so that the failure of one phone does not bring down the entire system).

Netgear will provide network infrastructure hardware designed to work with Avaya phones, such as smart switches with power-over-ethernet support (so that the Avaya phones need only connect to the network and do not need their own power source). Like D-Link's offering, the system will support existing POTS (plain old telephone service) lines.

SMC is also showing an existing line of VoIP products for small businesses, including a desktop phone that supports the popular SIP protocol, and both wired and wireless gateways that work with the company's PBX boxes.

New SMB Focus

These Internet telephony products for small- to medium-sized businesses exemplify a general trend here: Interop, formerly Networld + Interop, once focused almost exclusively on products for enterprise networks and IT professionals, but increasingly the vendors who serve these markets are developing products for a large and growing group of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that manage their own technology needs or work with part-time consultant.

Observers say this is an underserved technology market, with requirements that are more robust than those offered by most home-networking products, but budgets that fall well short of big-business IT allotments.

Nortel and Alcatel-Lucent are examples of companies that once built only infrastructure products and have now turned to products offering converged voice and data services (as well as other networking gear) for SMBs. While both companies will continue to distribute their products through resellers such as IT consultants, Nortel says it plans to also work with phone companies to make these products directly available to tech-savvy small business owners and managers as part of an overall phone/Internet service bundle. These customers should be able to set up these systems on their own--no carrier truck roll would be required.

Nortel's Business Services Gateway BSGX4E, for example, is a router/gateway that will support up to 10 users and also functions as a VoIP gateway (based on the popular SIP standard). It would be sold with a communications manager to supply the PBX functionality. Total hardware investment (exclusive of phones) would run about $1200 for the two boxes.

Not All About Voice

Not all new SMB products are about phone management. Security is another major concern. Zyxel's 24-port Web-Managed Ethernet Switch has technology to combat Denial of Service attacks, optimize performance by merging various 10/100 and GB ethernet ports into a high-bandwidth single logical channel, and prioritize VoIP packets to improve quality of service.

ZyXel also showed off the Zywall 2WG, a $260 dual-mode wireless router and security appliance with support for both 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi and high-speed data networks in the GSM/GPRS family (including HSDPA, UMTS, or EDGE) via PC Card. The router offers VPN support, both through the wireless hookups, its four ethernet ports, and even a dial-up client. It also offers additional security features that make it suitable for remote offices, including a DMZ Zone with separate DHCP service from that of its secure WLAN connections.

D-Link's NetDefend DFL-S500 also supports remote access via embedded VPN software that downloads on demand to authorized clients--no need to pre-equip workers with the client. The device, which comes with seven 10/100 ethernet and 1DMZ ports, ships with licenses for up to ten clients, but you can buy additional licenses online. It has a backup uplink port so you can hook the router up to two broadband accounts for redundancy (as an insurance against failure of one line).

Network Storage Options

ZyXel is among several companies showing network-attached storage products for small businesses. Its sub-$1000 NSA-2400 can support up to four SATA hard drives, with a capacity of up to 3 terabytes, configured as single drives or as RAID1 or RAID5 arrays. The device also has USB 2.0 support for backup.

SMC's $600 TigerStore SMB NAS Storaga Server has four SATA drive slots that can accommodate up to 3TB of storage; a $1000 version of the device comes preconfigured with four 250GB drives. The device supports RAID 0, 1, 4, and 5, making it a useful backup device. Other features include four gigabit-ethernet ports for speedy data transfers; three USB ports, which support USB-compatible Universal Power Supplies as well as USB 2.0 backup devices.

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