Talking about work

I haven't been doing that lately. This is due in no small part to a week's vacation I recently took. But it's also because I've been dealing with Product Next and... that's company IP right there, and complaining/explaining the problems I'm facing around it would count as intelligence to our competitors so... I can't talk about it. So blog posts, no SF-questions even though they'd help. Maybe I need a sock-puppet over there... hm.

This is crimping my style somewhat, but I expected this when I moved out of the public sector. I do apologize for that.

There is one thing I can talk about though, phones. Specifically, changing ours out. The system we have was purchased some time in the 4-6 years ago range and is probably a good example of the state of IP telephony of the time. One of the first things I was half-asked to do (half-asked = a higher up complained about it but didn't demand action on it) was find something more modern. I was full-asked last week.

I can't blame them, really. As an IT professional, even one with a previously casual relationship with the networking and phones world (my previous two jobs were tightly siloed, so I never got to play with routers or 110-blocks) I can recognize that this phone system is chock-full of what I call "TelCo crap".

TelCos. You know, those people who built continent spanning networks before digital switching was invented. And after digital switching was invented, encoded all of the standards in the mode of the era while carrying over some analog-switching thoughts because the edges still had analog switches. Someone used to Google Voice or Skype will take one look at that and see, "A maze of twisty passages, all alike." Or worse, "I was designed for mainframes, here is my 7300 page manual."

I am not at all surprised that big money can be made by providing phone-simplification services to companies. In olden days that meant outsourcing the PBX maintenance and calling a service to turn on new extensions. These days with Office Communication Server, Asterisk, Skype, Google Voice, and whatever else promising to get rid of the PBX entirely there are a lot of options.

So, yeah. I need a small-business friendly phone system that isn't OCS or Skype and can use phone-like devices. With a pretty-looking web-portal that allows checking of voice mail, preferably mobile-friendly. I'm open to recommendations and experiences. In the mean time, I'll slip the research into my non Product-Next time.


Since we're in the same area, you'll probably run into these people. We use iCore managed service with Cisco phones at one of my sites. They're.... meh. You'd probably end up tearing your hair out. I find the phone provisioning to be tedious, and the back end user management interface is a hacked up mess of Java IMHO. For the users, there is a web interface to check voicemail and such. Don't know about mobile checking, but it's possible they have it. I'll be honest and say that I haven't fully explored the functionality that they offer, but like I said, the management UI is daunting.

At another site we use Avaya phones with IPOffice. It's a little easier to manage I think, but not by terribly much. It may not have the complete package of functionality that you're looking for either (at least the one that we're running; I don't have the exact spec we're running, I can look that up tomorrow). It's possible one of their higher end systems may provide what you're looking for though.

Not sure if you're dead set on hosted solutions, but if not, Switchvox is an Asterisk based PBX appliance with full support. I've been pretty happy with it. It has a nice web interface for users and administration, and has all the usual wants, like IVRs and call rules.

I've been pretty happy using the 3CX Phone System. It scales pretty well and so far seems to be pretty reliable, we've been running it at client sites for about 18 months now.

We use TrixBox; it's not the fanciest, I'll be the first to admit, but it just plain works, it has a nice module/update interface, and it's got all the important bits exposed so I can go in and customize and/or fix it when a new requirement arises or something goes sideways.

In unrelated news, if you're ever out towards IAD, give me a buzz; we should grab a drink.