While being a leader in most areas of IP telephony, Avaya have previously been lacking in support for the smaller end of the market. That's set to change, however, thanks to the introduction of the new Avaya IP Office, a VoIP solution which caters from as little as two users right through to 360 users per server.
How We Tested
An Avaya representative delivered and setup the IP Office system for us with a selection of modules and six Avaya phones -- three IP-based and three digital handsets. We were also supplied with accompanying software for evaluation which included Voicemail Pro, Voicemail Pro Client, SoftConsole, Phone Manager and IP Office Manager.
Avaya IP Office is a broad term used to describe the phone system consisting of a server and operating system. The supplied server was the IP Office 500, which is a self contained 2RU (rack unit) appliance. The operating system provided was IP Office Release 4.0.
IP Office 500 has four bays on the front of the unit, and each bay can accept two modules (for a total of eight different modules at any one time). The main module slots directly into the unit but a secondary card sits above the main card -- referred to by Avaya as the modules' "mezzanine" (see related photo). The main benefit of this is the ability to mix and match modules as you need them to suit your environment such as ISDN, standard telephone lines, ATM modules for dedicated data connections between sites and lastly, dedicated ports for connecting Avaya digital phones.
Setting up IP Office is quite straight forward if you are familiar with VoIP configurations. IP Office Manager is a software client supplied to configure all aspects of the server and its interface is reminiscent of Microsoft Outlook, with windows and menus laid out in a very logical and easy to use manner. Main headings are on the left and as you dig deeper into the menus the next window is displayed on the right-hand side, with more detailed information and settings.
IP Office's main strength is its scalability. You can start off with one server plus one or two modules and as the business grows add more modules and expansion units to cope with physical connections. You can have up to 15 servers in a group to take full advantage of IP Office's multi-server integration where you can automatically manage all devices through just one server. This 15 server group is not a hard limit however, as you can still add additional servers, but will need to administer them as a separate group with separate users. Different groups of servers and phones can still seamlessly communicate with each other using IP telephony protocols.
We were disappointed by the fact that IP Office doesn't currently support SIP phones or SoftPhones. It supports SIP trunking to a provider but that's where the SIP compatibility ends.
However we were impressed with the suite of software available to IP Office users, the three main ones being VoiceMail Pro, Phone Manager and SoftConsole. VoiceMail Pro runs on a standalone PC and adds additional features to the existing Voicemail present on IP Office 500. Apart from expanding voicemail storage to the PC hard disk, VoiceMail Pro opens up a great deal of phone automation for small businesses by connecting Auto Attendant scripting with an SQL database. Through simple flowchart scripting and access to the database, any business can create an automated customer dial-in system for competitions or an automated ordering system where customers punch in their customer number, password and order requests over the phone. The possibilities are endless.
The last two programs are installed on a PC for end-users (for example, receptionists and administration areas). Phone Manager compliments a physical phone by giving you direct access to features and parked calls as well as giving you group user information, instant messaging and an address book, to name a few. Through additional licensing, it also has softphone capability so you can make and receive calls on the road if you have private network access.
SoftConsole is specifically tailored for receptionists. It is similar to Phone Manager but geared for handling more calls and provides greater information on the status of the phone system, such as checking phone queues and which users are available.
Overall, we were impressed with Avaya's new IP Office -- It is completely modular, the pricing is on the ball (cheaper than ShoreTel's ShoreGear-120) and it scales extremely well. The IP Office 500 server will set you back US$700 (AU$840) which includes the basic operating system and modules and phones start at US$250 (AU$300) each. This system is perfect for any small business looking for enterprise-grade functionality without having to fork out big business dollars.
|Cannot use SIP phones or Softphones but can use SIP for trunking to a SIP provider for external lines.|
|While there may be some minor restrictions, it will not have any problems growing with the business in a cost effective manner.|
|Outstanding scalability, pricing is modular just like the device itself and the support is good too.|
|3 Year back to base warranty. Online help and knowledgebase is available and additional support options is dependant on offers from selected Avaya partner.|