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Small Businesses Turn To Hosted VoIP

Back in late 2003, the Brooklyn Brewery was looking at some big changes. In addition to selling off its distribution arm in order to concentrate on its core business as a micro-brewer, it also was looking to streamline its technology infrastructure, specifically by simplifying and improving the telecom side of the business. "We had an old, patched-together PBX system that was on its last legs," said Eric Ottaway, general manager of the Brooklyn Brewery, which was founded in 1988 and employs 27 workers. The brewery sells its beers domestically on the East Coast of the United States, from Massachusetts down to Georgia, and also ships its products internationally to Japan, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

Brooklyn Brewery had already been considering its various telecom options when its aging PBX caught fire. "Luckily, we were here," said Ottaway. "We heard a pop, a strong smell of smoke, and the box on the wall was literally on fire." Although quickly put out with no damage done to the premises, the need for action was paramount: like most small businesses, telephone and internet access were extremely important to Brooklyn Brewery's operations.

Ottaway called M5 Networks, a provider of on-demand VoIP systems, with which he had already been in touch. Within two business days, the business was up and running on the new IP-based telecom system.

"We're a brewery, not a phone company, and we believe in sticking what we know how to do, and to outsource everything else to people who know their businesses better than we do," said Ottaway. "Sure, you can buy systems to install yourself, but at the end of the day, you have to maintain and fix those systems yourself. With a hosted service, we get a lot more functionality, and better service, at a lower cost."

Hosted solutions are increasingly popular for software applications, as smaller enterprises decide that they would prefer to pay an all-inclusive monthly fee than invest in software, necessary hardware and infrastructure, and pay for ongoing support and maintenance. But hosted VoIP is a relatively new phenomenon. Still, small business owners are turning to hosted VoIP vendors like M5 to avoid buying or maintaining a phone system and the phone lines connected to it. As a single provider, companies like M5 replace the usual multiple telecom vendors that businesses have to deal with--sometimes as many as five when you consider long-distance carriers, local carriers, and Internet providers--and become accountable for all aspects of the system, from reliability, to service, to upgrades and new feature deployment. Perhaps most importantly, the costs are predictable from month to month.

"The quality has been excellent," said Ottaway. "The Verizon lines in this neighborhood are in bad shape, there's lots of dropped and crackling lines. They really need to do a wholesale replacement of the infrastructure. But we don’t have to worry about that any longer. Now, whenever we have any maintenance issues at all, we call the M5 service desk and they take care of it."

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