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Open-source based IP PBX for small business: Training and support

Beyond installation and configuration, open source IP PBX for small business offers value-added resellers an opening for training and support.

In the first part of the discussion about open-source based IP PBX for small business, consultant David B. Jacobs discussed some packaging options available to value-added resellers (VARs). Part two of his discussion about open-source based IP PBX for small business covers additional packaging options. In the third and final section below, he discusses training and support.

IP PBX training for VARs

While extensive knowledge and experience with voice technology is not required, VARs new to voice will require some training. Digium has developed a one week Asterisk training camp and a dCAP (Digium Certified Asterisk Professional) test. Fonality offers a three day Trixbox training leading to FtOCC (Fonality trixbox Open Communication Certification).

Other vendors have not yet developed formal training. 3CX requires a potential VAR to download the product and install it in the VAR's facilities. Paul Kothe of 3CX partner Heart of Texas Network Consultants, Waco, Texas reports, "I worked with the phone guys at two of my customers who purchased VoIP systems. It took a lot of reading, but I became confident I could bring it to my customers. The 3CX system was a very easy system for me to figure out after reading."

IP PBX support options

VARs report that most customers do not require support beyond daytime business hours, but 24 x 7 phone support is available for some purchased products. Digium offers two options for phone support: daytime hours in the US Central Time Zone and a more expensive option for 24 x 7 support. Fonality and Pingtel offer 24 x 7 support. 3CX currently does not offer phone support but provides a knowledgebase, an online troubleshooting guide, and online submission and response to problem reports. All of these products are also supported by active user community forums with extensive discussions of problems and solutions.

Choosing an IP PBX option

Which IP PBX solution you choose will depend on customer requirements. The first option – using open source software -- is the only choice if custom modifications are required. While it may appear that downloading free software is less expensive than purchasing pre-built software, the effort involved to compile and build the software may not be worthwhile unless it will be installed at multiple sites. Several factors come into play when choosing between pre-built and configured software and vendor-integrated hardware and software. First, either option will usually require a reseller agreement with one of the vendors. You will need to determine whether your expected volume and the cost of developing product expertise justifies more than one vendor relationship.

Even though several of the products are based on Asterisk, they differ in some features. A customer will choose among similar products based on which product includes features it needs. And a Windows-only shop will prefer the 3CX Windows product rather than introduce Linux.

Available support is another factor to consider. Pingtel offers its products as software alone or pre-installed on hardware. The software is identical in either case, but available support is not. Buyers of integrated hardware and software can purchase support packages covering Linux and the hardware platform in addition to coverage of the PBX software.

Price comparisons must include the entire configuration. For large configurations, the cost of SIP phones and annual support fees will exceed the cost of PBX software and hardware. The lowest cost option for one customer may not be the lowest for others.

A rapidly developing market

The low-cost IP PBX market is developing rapidly as vendors move beyond open source origins by adding features and simplifying user interfaces, and by providing support and training. Every current data network customer with a traditional PBX is a potential customer. VARs who take advantage of this technology can add a valuable new line of business.

About the author
David B. Jacobs of The Jacobs Group has more than twenty years of networking industry experience. He has managed leading-edge software development projects and consulted to Fortune 500 companies as well as software start-ups.

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