Fax Servers the Hardware Way

Editor’s note: When we began this review process, one of the companies we considered for evaluation was Biscom Inc. After evaluating the company’s products, we found that Biscom’s business model is highly specialized for the high end of the market, and therefore, was not a direct comparison to other products tested here. While we did not test Biscom’s products, here is an overview of how the company’s offerings are positioned.

Our reviewed products offer some variety of approaches to, and execution of, fax transmission and reception. This variety should offer solutions to many companies that will integrate neatly with their hardware and adequately address their requirements.

But let's take the case of a multinational company that has branches in many separate locations, several hundreds of users, and a diversified hardware environment on the users’ desktops. They have NetWare for file and print services, Windows NT for applications and groupware, UNIX for the database, and AS/400 for purchasing and order processing. Most or all individual users need to send and receive faxes from e-mail and applications; the marketing executives want to send broadcast faxes to the customer database; and the accounting and purchasing departments need fax processing for purchase orders, confirmations and delivery instructions.

These businesses represent typical customers for Biscom Inc. (Chelmsford, Mass., www.biscom.com), which has made a specialty of servicing large-scale fax needs with turnkey solutions. Rather than a software-only sale, Biscom normally combines their software with hardware and a 24-hour support contract. A typical Biscom sale will start with thorough research into the customer's existing IT infrastructure, followed by the delivery and setup of a preconfigured fax server or servers by a Biscom technician. The servers will incorporate such reliability enhancements as RAID disk arrays, redundant power supplies and SNMP monitoring capability, and are, at the customer's option, usually accompanied by user and administrator training and 24x7 support agreements.

According to Matt Kimball, Biscom's product manager, a typical enterprise customer will include about 800 users in multiple locations, and use multiple system architectures, frequently including mainframes. A pair of fax servers, each with a four-port fax board, would fill the hardware requirement, and connection to the outside world would go through either Direct Inward Dial (DID) lines or T1 service.

The typical bill for this typical installation is just under $35,000 for the whole package. While this may not sound like bargain pricing, if you divide it out by 800 users you will come up with a figure of $43.75 per user. This is not far off what a software-only solution might cost, without the onsite installation and 24-hour support.