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jargon busters mainJargon Busters -
A fax too far - (Nov 1999)
What do you do when your fax resources are stretched to the limit? Omtool’s Ken Clark has the answer.

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The primary goal of today's businesses is growth. One of the oft-ignored side effects of this expansion is the gradual ‘stretch effect’ on the organisation’s IT infrastructure. Switched-on companies now have to think ahead when implementing any aspect of technology and ask themselves the question – will this system cope in 6 months, a year, or five years time?

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of faxing. Before the days of fully computerised fax servers, a company's expanding faxing needs were met by purchasing ever more fax machines which resulted in long term administrative overheads, maintenance, consumables costs and so on. Nowadays, such an approach is no longer always necessary. Some modern fax servers are designed from the ground up with scalability in mind. These scaleable systems are labelled ‘Enterprise Fax Servers’ because of their ability to not only scale through additional lines, but also scale with fail over and WAN capability.

The Enterprise Fax Server

At the outset, a two-line fax server may seem more than enough to cope with existing fax traffic, but what happens when the marketing department catches on and decides to put it to use as a fax broadcast device, or a purchase order system is required to fax direct from the application? Taking advantage of cheap rate telephone calls certainly saves the company money on those expensive mailers and postage, but will those two lines really be able to send 5,000 faxes or more?  Fortunately, there is not always a need to buy a whole new fax server. An Enterprise Fax Server will readily expand to cope. All that is required is another fax modem or fax board to slot into the server – the initial investment is protected. Fax servers today can scale from one line to a full 60 channel PRI (Primary Rate ISDN) circuit to cope with the needs of even the largest customers. With a fax server like this running full tilt, over a million fax pages could easily be sent or received in a month.

Technology Creep

Many companies suffer from Technology Creep – meaning that, as a company grows, not all departments grow in the same direction. How can these disparate needs be integrated when it comes to fax? Answer: very easily. Recognising that fax server products need to be flexible, developers have concentrated on the need to support many different types of clients effectively and have recognised the desirability of integrating e-mail and voice-messaging systems. They are also taking advantage of intranet and Web browser technology. The growth of IP-based development environments like Java and ActiveX has meant that a desktop client no longer needs to be tied to the desktop. By integrating with standard Web browsers, the humble fax server can now deliver all of that faxing power wherever in the world you may be at the click of a URL.

Often it is back-office applications that account for much of a fax server’s traffic. In a manual fax machine environment it may have been impractical to bulk fax all those invoices, statements or purchase orders, but the fax server scales to this task well. Being able to deal with the needs of the front office user is vital in a fax server, but expanding to meet the needs of line-of-business applications and non-PC systems is absolutely key. The fax server has grabbed hold of the Internet’s coat tails with both hands and many fax servers already link directly into the Internet in a number of areas. Least Cost Routing is an established technology that allows the delivery of faxes across a WAN or the Internet to an office that is nearer to the intended location, thereby greatly reducing the cost of telephone calls for faxing.

Many organisations have now set up internet/faxing bureaux across the globe which fax servers can tap into – if your organisation hasn’t got an office in Singapore you can fax from cheaply, you can be sure someone else has. IP-enabled fax servers and fax machines are also now readily available. Why send over the public telephone network at all, when two IP-Fax devices can send directly across the Internet at no cost whatsoever?

If the primary goal of today’s business is growth, then that is also the goal of the Enterprise Fax Server. With its ability to deal with ever-greater volumes of fax traffic, a wider variety of client interfaces, gateways to other computing systems and new technologies, the Enterprise Fax Server of today remains an essential part of a modern IT infrastructure.

jargon busters main
Ken Clark

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