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Digium Intros Switchvox 5.0 For SMBs

The IP-based unified communications platform adds fixed mobile convergence for up to six phones of any kind, as well as additional APIs for third-party application development and integration.

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Digium on Monday released Switchvox 5.0, adding wide fixed mobility convergence (FMC) support with the newest version of its IP-based unified communications platform for small and midsize businesses.

FMC is the centerpiece of the 5.0 rollout, enabling users to connect up to six different phones of any kind, regardless of the manufacturer, model, or underlying technology. That means office staff can set their extensions to ring on any analog, digital, IP, or smartphone, with seamless control over call answering, recording, routing, and transferring--no on-hold Muzak necessary. Prior to 5.0, Switchvox offered limited mobility integration via free iPhone and BlackBerry apps.

"We're taking it a step further and allowing for users to really use any phone," said Angie Reed, Digium product marketing manager, in an interview. "Now they're not just limited to just the BlackBerry or the iPhone, and they can converge multiple devices."

In fact, "any phone" encompasses hardware not primarily intended for voice calls: Switchvox's FMC support includes softphone applications. That would enable tablet users, for instance, to integrate their devices with Switchvox. Tristan Barnum, Digium product line director for business phone systems, notes that Switchvox's FMC will work with the most elderly of analog phones as well as the most current hardware or software available.

"Anything from the most sophisticated chunk of software acting as a phone, to a phone that was around before software existed," Barnum said in an interview, noting that "us phone nerds" have been tinkering with softphone tablet apps in Digium's office to get a sense of how customers might want to integrate Apple's iPad and other devices with their UC system. "The goal here is that no matter how people decide to use these devices, we wanted to be compatible."

Switchvox, which runs on Digium's open source Asterisk project, comes in three hardware configurations geared for up to roughly 30, 150, or 400 users. Multiple offices can be linked by multiple systems; Barnum noted that Digium has seen a recent uptick in larger companies with distributed branch offices among its customers. Pricing for each of its systems, which starts at $3,195 for the 30-user model, includes all available features--customers don't have to purchase functionality such as the new FMC a la carte. (Version 5.0 is a free upgrade for existing customers.) The FMC piece, in particular, is part of Switchvox's strategy for the mobility trend.

"Almost counter-intuitively, the smaller you get, the more important mobility is," Barnum said. "People want to operate independently; it's really hard to force your users to do things in a certain way, so to give them the most flexibility to be productive how they want is just a big trend."

In addition to the much wider range of mobility, Switchvox 5.0 features a new UI and new reporting tools. It also includes expanded API support to enable third-party application development and custom integrations with other software, such as existing customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), or accounting systems. Switchvox's UI dashboard can automatically display a caller's Salesforce.com record, for example.

The API support is particularly important for Switchvox's resellers, which account for somewhere between 60% and 70% of new customers, according to Digium. (The company also has a direct sales unit.) Those partners, Reed said, often develop industry-specific packages geared for SMBs in areas such as healthcare, education, or financial services.

Part of Switchvox's appeal is the ability of individual users to tailor the communications platforms to their needs, but IT managers still retain as much (or as little) control for security and rules enforcement. Administrators can implement and enforce permissions at a user level, for example, and the Switchvox interface prevents users from creating weak passwords that can lead to easy security breaches. Barnum said bad passwords are a common problem in IP telephony.

"It happens all the time in the VoIP world," Barnum said, adding the Digium originally built Switchvox as an internal system because it was uncomfortable with the security of other platforms on the market at the time. "People choose terrible passwords, and [the company] racks up some huge phone bill because someone's connected and running their call center out of it for a weekend when no one was paying attention."

Employees have more ways to communicate than ever, but until the mishmash of tools gets integrated, productivity will suffer. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: A buyer's guide to enterprise social networking. Download it now. (Free registration required.)

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