Tired of getting up from your desk to fax a document? Have you ever wondered why your company’s call center maintains wall-sized desks of fax machines? Employees at many large organizations are asking the same questions. Fortunately, so is Biscom, Inc. While there are a few companies providing enterprise fax solutions, Biscom, in this author’s opinion, stands out as the market leader.
Biscom is a small company headquartered in Chelmsford Massachusetts. The company was founded in 1986 and soon became a market leader releasing quality and innovative products year-after-year. A quick peek at their impressive customer list reflects many big names such as Federal Express, Hewlett-Packard, and Nike. Equally impressive as the customer list is the product list.
Biscom offers many fax solutions including turn-key fax servers, custom APIs, desktop fax clients, email integration, and directory integration. At the heart of product list is FAXCOM Server and FAXCOM Suite for Windows. The combination of these two products can provide most organizations with true enterprise-class faxing.
FAXCOM Server & FAXCOM Suite for Windows
So enterprise faxing sounds appealing? Enter Biscom’s flagship products FAXCOM Server and FAXCOM Suite for Windows. FAXCOM Server is the center of the fax environment. This combination of software and hardware allows for the sending and receiving of faxes by integrating with the telephony network. The product can be purchased as turn-key or built on your company’s standard server hardware.
Complementing FAXCOM Server is FAXCOM Suite for Windows. FAXCOM Suite, which is comprised of many individual products, provides inbound and outbound fax routing for E-mail environments such as Exchange and SMTP. In addition, FAXCOM Suite can configure a web server (IIS) to act as a portal for faxing.
The components of a typical FAXCOM server
Server hardware – As mentioned above, FAXCOM Server can be purchased as a turn-key solution, or you can provide your own hardware. A typical customer provided solution would consist of an HP Proliant DL380 server along with minimal disk and memory requirements.
Fax board – Biscom has standardized on Brooktrout as the fax board manufacturer. The fax boards come in different flavors and port configurations.
Server operating system – FAXOM Server comes in both a Windows and Linux version.
Application software for translation – FAXCOM Server can translate many different file types for outbound faxing (more on this later).
Fax software – FAXCOM Server is the product name for the application that provides the faxing capabilities. At the time of this writing, FAXCOM Server is at version 5.05.0100.
FAXCOM Server Administrator
FAXCOM Server can be configured to provide different levels of functionality depending on the business requirements. The basic functions provided by FAXCOM Server are as follows:
* Routing of inbound faxes based on caller ID, TSID (Transmitting Station ID), fax port, or dialed digits.
* Delivery of inbound faxes to SMTP E-mail, Windows share (UNC), printer, FTP, or quarantine.
* Quarantining of inbound junk faxes.
* Least-cost routing (LCR) of faxes.
* Translation of outbound fax attachments into faxable format.
* Integration with email servers for outbound faxing using FAXCOM Suite for Windows.
FAXCOM Server provides many possibilities for inbound routing of faxes. In a typical configuration, the inbound fax is received by FAXCOM Server. Based on either the caller ID, TSID, fax port, or dialed digits, FAXCOM delivers the fax to the recipient. To illustrate, the flow of an inbound fax coming to 9085551212, using dialed digits as the routing method could be:
Sender transmits fax to 9085551212 > FAXCOM Server receives transmission > FAXCOM Server looks through its route list for a match to 9085551212 > FAXCOM Server delivers the fax to email@example.com as SMTP E-mail.
Note: you can choose to deliver inbound faxes using any of the methods mentioned in the prior section. These include SMTP E-mail, UNC, printer, FTP, or quarantine.
OK so we are all sick of that dinnertime call from some salesperson trying to sell you car insurance. Here in the U.S., consumers have a choice and can be put on a list preventing such calls. However, the same is not true of faxes. Have you ever come into the office to find a tray full of faxes offering to sell you the dream vacation or some incredible interest rate if you refinance your mortgage? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could prevent these somehow? FAXCOM Server provides this ability using FAXCOM Quarantine Doctor.
The way FAXCOM Quarantine Doctor works is fairly simple. Let’s say you keep getting those dream vacation junk faxes. While you would love to take your wife on a trip to Hawaii, you despise these sales tactics. You note that the fax has a TSID of Dream Vacations, Inc. In FAXCOM Server, you simply setup an inbound route that in plain English translates to “when a fax comes in from TSID Dream Vacations, Inc., quarantine the fax.” The FAXCOM Quarantine Doctor application can then be used to view the contents of the quarantine repository. You can then choose to delete or save the faxes.
The Quarantining process has a major limitation though. Similar to how spammers change the message to defeat anti-spam software, those sending junk faxes change the TSID. Since quarantining can only be based on TSID, Caller ID, fax port, or dialed digits, and doesn’t actually scan the content of the fax, its use is limited. The addition of a fax content scanning engine, similar to that of anti-spam filtering software, would be a welcomed improvement.
Least Cost Routing (LCR) & Attachment Translation
For those larger organizations, which might be looking to implement multiple fax servers in multiple locations, the use of LCR can reduce long distance costs. LCR is functionality provided by FAXCOM Server that allows for outbound faxes to be routed to an alternate fax server right over your own network. The alternate fax server then transmits the fax. This is useful in the situation where you have servers in different geographic areas. For example, you wouldn’t want your server in New Jersey to transmit a fax to a California number when the server in California could have done it. Simply stated, LCR saves you money! But LCR isn’t the only feature which deserves recognition, let’s look at Translation Server.
Think about what the traditional fax sender transmits. Typically, the content of a fax is a based on a printed document. The sender composes a fax in a word processing application, prints it out, and then walks it over to the fax machine and faxes it. This entire process is streamlined with FAXCOM Server’s child component, Translation Server. Translation Server allows for the outbound faxing of typical file types such as doc, ppt, xls, and pdf. Provided the associated application is installed on the fax server, Translation Server will translate the attachment converting it to a faxable format.
Up until now, only an overview of outbound faxing was discussed. You are probably wondering how outbound faxing actually works. There are several offerings from Biscom that can manage outbound faxing. These range from custom APIs to E-mail integration. For purposes of this discussion, the focus will be on the functionality provided by FAXCOM Suite for Windows.
FAXCOM Suite for Windows is a combination of products marketed in a single package. FAXCOM Suite provides many methods for enabling outbound faxing. Faxes can be sent using a web portal, Microsoft Exchange connector, Win32 fax client, or SMTP Gateways. A brief overview of each can be found below:
Web portal – Using the FAXCOM Suite for Windows MMC console, you can automatically create and configure an IIS website which will serve as a web portal for sending outbound faxes.
Microsoft Exchange Connector – Using the MMC, a connector can automatically be installed in Exchange 2000 or 2003 enabling faxing right from the Microsoft Outlook client. The user simply formats the To: field of the message properly, and the Exchange connector automatically handles the fax message.
Outbound Fax Sent from Outlook with Attachment
Win32 Fax Client – If you are not looking to integrate with your mail environment, the Windows client is the way to go. Using the MMC, custom configured desktop setup packages can be created. Once installed on the client PC, a user can launch the fax client and send faxes directly from it.
SMTP Gateways – Lastly, FAXCOM Suite for Windows can configure a SMTP Gateway. This allows for faxing from any mail client provided the recipient address is formatted properly.
While the FAXCOM solution is easy to implement and feature rich, the functionality doesn’t come cheap. The Brooktrout fax board alone can run upwards of $20,000. Add to that the software and server hardware cost, and you could be looking at 40-50K for a typical 24 port solution. However, for most organizations, this is small change. The benefits of retiring traditional fax machines and replacing them with a server-based solution will far outweigh the initial cost.
The combination of FAXCOM Server and FAXCOM Suite for Windows can provide organizations with enterprise-wide faxing capabilities. The configuration can be used stand-alone, or can be tailored to the specific environment. Get past the cost, and the only difficult part about implementing FAXCOM will be saying goodbye to your traditional fax machines; but they do make great door stops!
About the Author
Keith Burgess is an information technology professional currently working for one of United States’ largest wireless carriers. In his spare time, Keith enjoys using and writing about computers and computer software.
If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.