back to article Sit back and let someone else manage your telephony

If you are a small company, it takes a certain amount of time and effort to maintain a phone system. This is not a huge problem as the system sits in the corner and gets on with its job most of the time; you have to fiddle with it only to set up new extensions or change the names on items when people leave or join. For a …

  1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    In the case of Mitel we are talking two five-day courses – far from a walk in the park.

    Which surely suggets that the phone system is overcomplicated? At the end of the day it has a simple job to fill, establish a voice circuit between two or more endpoints, with some frills like voicemail tacked on. If it takes 2 weeks training to configure that I'd say it was time to get a simpler system. Sounds like modern smartphones that do everything but make the tea, have no battery life to speak of, and yet most people don't use 90% of the "features" that their designers stuffed in. It's the downside of VoIP, glueing voice comms onto a protocol that was nevere designed for it, instead of using dedicated equipment that "just works".

    The logical next step is to ask yourself whether you want to own the phone system at all. If the service provider is looking after it, why not think about renting it as an ongoing managed service instead of spending upfront on the hardware, software and licences?

    You mean like we did 30 years ago when we just had the local Telco install phones in each office, each with a line back to the exchange where all the fancy stuff was done by experts who knew the kit? Sounds reasonable.

    1. The Crow From Below

      "You mean like we did 30 years ago when we just had the local Telco install phones in each office, each with a line back to the exchange where all the fancy stuff was done by experts who knew the kit? Sounds reasonable."

      HAH!! As if the IT world would go back to old technology! next you'll be telling us we'll all be moving back to having a central mainframe running dumb terminals in some sort of computational cloud based....set.........up........DAMMIT!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Said like someone that doesn't work in telecoms

      "Which surely suggests that the phone system is overcomplicated? At the end of the day it has a simple job to fill, establish a voice circuit between two or more endpoints, with some frills like voicemail tacked on."

      So no hunt groups, pick up groups, voicemail, synchronizing with exchange, presence, follow-me, least cost routing, permissions, time based routing, IVR,redundancy, multi-tenancy, call recording, auditing, multi-lines appreance, barge-in, PA routing, faxing, emergency routing, vpn's...do I need to go on?

      Sure just press a button and all the pixies do the work

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: Said like someone that doesn't work in telecoms

        So no hunt groups, pick up groups, voicemail, synchronizing with exchange, presence, follow-me, least cost routing, permissions, time based routing, IVR,redundancy, multi-tenancy, call recording, auditing, multi-lines appreance, barge-in, PA routing, faxing, emergency routing, vpn's...

        All of which, and more, were being done by the main exchanges long before they became economical enough to be added to PABXs.

        Sure, if you have a private planet-wide phone network you may want that stuff in-house, although since the article suggests outsourcing them to "the cloud" you might as well call the BT network the "phone cloud" and outsource it back to them.

        (oh, and I've worked in telecomms 30+ years, on both customer and supplier sides)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Said like someone that doesn't work in telecoms

        lol.

        If it takes you 2 weeks training to learn about that stuff, then you are thick as pig shit!

        (worked in telcoms, On average the IQ of tech's was low, no problem solving skills, just certificate monkeys!)

    3. Aggrajag

      They are "overcomplicated" for a reason, some users need an "overcomplicated" set up.

      A call centre might have calls routed to different teams of people with different skills, based on the time of day, the caller ID and the actual number dialled. The same system will be handling calls for the rest of the company - different departments, numbers, requirements, working hours, opening times, automated messages. Different handsets might have different features, such as conference calls, remote pickup or Forward in the Event of X, Y or Z. Call stats provide critical management information for some companies, call recording for another. There's no end to the flexibility required and therefore the system needs to be complex.

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        There's no end to the flexibility required and therefore the system needs to be complex.

        There speaks the engineer who designs the systems: "I can put a million knobs on it, so I will, then the customers will love me for making it so flexible."

        Over 25 years our office (full of software design nerds) has gone from a small PABX that the sysadmins knew the password to, and which offered digital and analogue lines, voicemail, transfers, groups, etc. to a VoIP system with all sorts of bells and whistles, but with crappy call quality and where any change requires a service ticket with a 3-day turnaround.

        You know what? Most people stil just use it to make phone calls.

        1. elaar

          If the call quality is crappy, get them to change the codec.

          If you can't handle the service ticket times, then most providers offer an "admin day course".

          You can't tarnish all voip solutions just because your set-up is crappy.

          It all works out a hell of a lot cheaper than your PABX and countless ISDNs.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Stop

          "but with crappy call quality..."

          That's because whoever put it in / maintains it is not good enough for the job.

          Stick a VoIP system on a shit network > Shit results

          Trust me, stick a TDM system on an aluminium tail and see even worse results (thank you BT for that bright idea)

    4. Sean Kennedy

      Cisco, overly complex? No way!

      I don't see the point in "TEH CLOUDZ!!!" for voip service when things like asterisk exists. It may not be as featureful as the big names ( and I say that only because I don't have a full understanding of the big name products ), but I have yet to run into something that it can't do in small/medium size businesses.

      Well, aside from draining their wallets of course. Utilize existing hardware? Check. Basic and advanced call duties? Check. Transparent auditing of calls and caller behavior? Check. Unlimited extensions ( up to hardware maximum )? Check. Open standards? Check.

      Licensing fees? *crickets*.

      Nope, I can't in good conscious recommend offsite voip systems.

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Utilize existing hardware? Check.

        Hmm probably not any longer, if you have an existing Cisco Unified phone system (Say 8.5) it appears they no longer want you to run on their appliances but VM's running on Cisco Iron running VMware. Fingers crossed I am wrong as the costs of our next upgrade looks scary!

    5. big_D Silver badge

      We are currently installing a Swyx system, that is fairly straight forward, no training course needed for the setting up of the server, but the hardware, especially the Mediant which takes the VOIP signals and converts them into analogue for legacy devices, like fax machines, and BRIs for connecting to the ISDN trunk, is not so simple, although it still doesn't need a 2 week training course.

      But to know the system inside and out, in the case that there are problems that are not so straight forward, that is why you need some training. We are doing on-the-job training, the telecoms engineers are making the initial install and we are ghosting them. Seems to be working so far and should be sufficient for maintaining the system afterwards.

  2. The Original Steve

    Necessary?

    I was surprised by how easy it was to get Lync setup and working. Have another client who is using a hosted system in the cloud and they have no end of performance issues, as well as lacking some features too.

    Nature of voice needing low latency, and with modern PBX systems having all sorts of extra features I'm skeptical that cloud hosted telephony is suitable for anyone other than sub 30 user environments.

    Larger than that and the use case for the advanced features (exchange integration, call recording, logging etc) makes a good enough case for your own PBX on commodity x86 kit. Linux and now Windows is reliable enough and various systems are easy enough to setup and use compared to traditional analogue / digital systems with all their proprietary guff.

    1. Terry Barnes

      Re: Necessary?

      "Nature of voice needing low latency, and with modern PBX systems having all sorts of extra features I'm skeptical that cloud hosted telephony is suitable for anyone other than sub 30 user environments."

      Typically the cloud just operates on the control/signalling plane and the end-to-end speech is direct IP between endpoints - the calls don't go in and out of the cloud centre.

      The big advantage is that I don't need to tie up capital budget on my phone system. That said, the benefit of dumping the PBX is partly offset by the cost of needing SBCs, though I can lease those if need be.

  3. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Most decent systems are actually easy to set up

    For many it's just entering a username, a password an a server.

    It's just that there are some vendors *coughmitel* *coughcisco* *coughunify* *coughavaya* which have really bad systems that don't work because they don't understand what they are doing.

    The main problems there are that those systems don't speak normal SIP, but some overly exotic variant of it.

    Seriously if you are at a company get something like a Starface or roll out your own Asterisk-based system.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Most decent systems are actually easy to set up

      "It's just that there are some vendors *coughmitel* *coughcisco* *coughunify* *coughavaya* which have really bad systems that don't work because they don't understand what they are doing."

      Hmm. I wonder what Occam's Razor would have to say. Two of those companies have been involved in voice comms for 30+ years. Is it likely that they have really bad systems that don't work because they (the vendor? the system itself?) doesn't know what they're doing - or is it that you don't understand?

      Your comment about 'just entering a username, a password an a server' make me think that it's you. What crazy magic then ensues to set up call routing options, IVR, hunt groups, appropriate call barring levels, CRM tool hooks, call logging, departmental billing, stats, mobile integration - all that stuff?

      "main problems there are that those systems don't speak normal SIP, but some overly exotic variant of it."

      They use a variant of SIP that supports the feature set required by the customers. Signalling is kind of important in telephony.

      1. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Most decent systems are actually easy to set up

        Well designing an ISDN-based system is much simpler as you have much less variation, plus if you did something wrong, your telco monopoly would forbid you from connecting it to their PSTN. So for ISDN systems have been whipped into shape.

        Today those companies read the standard, interpret in in weird ways and don't bother checking with the rest of the industry.

        Of course systems with complex functionalities can be complex, but with those vendors even basic telephony is a nightmare to get working.

  4. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    The hardest part about dealing with the Ciscos, Mitels and Avayas of the PBX world is how they insist on using different terminology for largely the same features and to add to the entertainment also add various artificial restrictions to each of these features. Want an extension / user to be a member of more than one pickup group? Forget it on one system, on another they can be members of four but for no readily apparent reason not more than that. [just mindless examples] Gah!

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      "The hardest part about dealing with the Ciscos, Mitels and Avayas of the PBX world is how they insist on using different terminology for largely the same features and to add to the entertainment also add various artificial restrictions to each of these features."

      If it was like that, I wouldn't complain. The problem I have with those boxes is that they don't speak normal SIP towards the carrier. Adding to is are contractors who have _no_ idea what they are doing. People who cannot use Wireshark to debug a VoIP problem despite of claiming to be experts.

      What we are seeing now is a mirror image of all those "value added" resellers did in the 1990s. Back then you could pay a lot of money for a incompetently set up Windows installation. Today people will sell you a 20k PBX for 5 telephones... and mess up cabling.

  5. dan1980

    In an ideal world - from the users' point of view - the system employed would be exactly as complex as required and no more. In the real world, vendors don't make 20,000 different systems to suit every specific combination of needs. So, you have flexible systems with lots of features that will service large numbers of customers.

    Some work on licensing so using a more basic subset of features doesn't require paying for the whole shebang, but this is usually just a monetary thing and does not reduce the complexity of the system, so you end up with more complexity than you need and therefore some tasks that might be simple with a more basic system are more involved.

    My advice to clients looking at phone options has always been that at the start, they should ignore cost and focus on their needs. Not just the specific functions they want - now and in the future - but the reliability they want from the system. How important is the phone system, really. I have clients who, against my recommendations, focussed on reduced call costs and cheap handsets because they felt they were 'paying too much' for their current system, despite it working perfectly. Some have worked flawlessly. Others have had issues that have seen their phone systems done for a day or more and they have screamed blue murder; their phones are essential and they "can't operate without them" and are losing "tens of thousands of dollars" while it's inoperable. And yet these "tens of thousands of dollars" could have kept their original, reliable system running for rather a long time.

    Figure out your needs and figure out how important your phone system is to you. If losing it for a day will cost your business money then try to quantify that and factor that in.

    In similar vein, I've seen companies move to a cloud-based L.O.B. application but choose not to install a backup Internet connection (again, against strong advice) and then loose their minds when their Internet link goes down because of a stuff up with the provider which takes '5 business days' to rectify. It was, apparently, a 'disaster' but one they were warned about well ahead of time. They just didn't want to pay to have a line sitting there, unused. A thousand dollars a year going to waste, apparently.

    1. Fatman Silver badge
      FAIL

      RE: disasters waiting to happen

      In similar vein, I've seen companies move to a cloud-based L.O.B. application but choose not to install a backup Internet connection (again, against strong advice) and then loose their minds when their Internet link goes down because of a stuff up with the provider which takes '5 business days' to rectify. It was, apparently, a 'disaster' but one they were warned about well ahead of time. They just didn't want to pay to have a line sitting there, unused. A thousand dollars a year going to waste, apparently.

      Typical BEAN COUNTER and MAXIMIZE SHAREHOLDER VALUE mentality.

      The punishment for these ignorant pricks ought to be a Trebuchet ride for the manglers involved (i. e. launching them on a NEW CAREER PATH)

    2. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Well the sad story is that cost is in no way correlated to quality or features. So just selling a more expensive system is not going to guarantee that it's any good.

      If I got an Euro for every time some incompetent PBX jockey calls us because his *insert big brand expensive PBX here* doesn't work, and all we can diagnose is that his PBX/router/firewall setup doesn't work, I wouldn't have to work any more.

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