Conventional fax is expensive.
In a worst-case scenario you start by laser-printing the document (burning
paper, chemicals, ergs). Then you walk to the printer, grab your
pages, walk to the fax machine, fill out a cover sheet. Then you
try to figure out how to dial the fax machine, load your stack
of paper into the hopper, and wait to make sure everythings
cooking right (burning mental energy the scarcest resource
in any corporation,plus long-distance ticks). Then you hang around
and check, and check back in five minutes, etc., etc., to see
if the fax goes through (more mental energy). Meanwhile, their
fax machine is (hopefully) burning paper, chemicals, and
ergs. But of course, since you cant be absolutely sure
you end up calling the recipient to check if theyve
received your fax (thus sending a final burst of mental energy,
ergs, and money up in smoke).
Even if you just look at labor and telco charges, the numbers
get scary fast. Figure a three-page fax takes five minutes to
send, and costs 30 cents for long distance. If a $20/hour employee
sends ten such faxes a day, youre down $5,096 per employee,
per year. And thats just for outbound, casual
faxing. Handling received faxes (collating, pigeonholing, etc.)
costs money, too.
Meanwhile, conventional fax equipment cant give you the
sizzle of advanced applications: fax blasting (e.g., faxing a
twelve-page sales report to 200 managers), fax publishing (e.g.,
faxing a monthly newsletter to 2,000 subscribers), fax-based order-processing,
fax on demand, etc. Nor can most conventional fax machines provide
a gateway for low-cost/high-reliability Internet transmission
of fax documents (without the help of a service bureau).
For all these reasons, you need a LAN-based fax server. Available at many
scales and price-points, fax servers make faxing as easy
and (in principle) as inexpensive as e-mail. By letting
you fax from your PC desktop, a server eliminates some of the
complexity of physical document preparation and handling, and
facilitates PC-centric document-base management. By managing the
file conversion, raster conversion, image file storage/assembly
and transmission process on a central resource, a server frees
local (and remote) PCs from CPU and disk overhead. By providing
a central line interface to telco (or PBX) facilities, a fax server
cuts down on the need for house wiring and separate outside
lines for the fax machine. By providing coherent error-management,
retry, and reporting, fax servers give you greater assurance that
documents have gone through as intended, and save you the trouble
of physically monitoring the transmission process. By managing
inbound routing to electronic fax mailboxes, servers
eliminate the labor of collating and delivering received faxes,
reduce the number of inbound faxes that go missing,
and secure received documents from unauthorized eyes. And by cooperating
to support least-cost routing and/or IP WAN/Internet transmission
of documents, fax servers can reduce phone charges.
And thats just the beginning. Even inexpensive fax servers are now offering
feature perks such as remote fax retrieval on-the-Web, limited
document self-service via fax-on-demand, and sophisticated fax
publishing/blasting/mass delivery. More expensive (and specialized)
systems support electronic forms entry and other EDI-like features,
aimed at automated fulfillment and supply-chain automation.
Whats more, you can afford them. Labor savings alone are sufficient,
in almost every case, to justify replacing standard fax machines
with a server. The financials become even more appealing when
you consider that upwards of 60% of all interoffice voice
traffic is now fax: a network of compatible, LCR-capable,
service-bureau-aware, IP-enabled fax servers can make huge chunks
of your phone bill disappear.
BETTER FAXING WITH TECHNOLOGY
Technically, fax servers can get pretty nifty. Sending faxes to and from a
PC environment is a nasty undertaking, and developers have worked
overtime in recent years, creating products and architectures
that wont break down, thrash, suck up mass storage and CPU
time like water, crash client PCs, or drive end-users crazy. Products
are available for use across all popular network architectures;
NT and TCP/IP support, predictably, get better all the time.
Architecturally, most products subdivide the three functions of a) port management;
b) document assembly, rasterization and queueing; and c) client
communications at the process level, but load all three functions
onto a single PC server, running NT or Unix. In the most high-end,
large-scale architectures, you can distribute functions across
the LAN, filling up separate fax-card boxes to gain lots of ports
and sequencing fast, multi-CPU machines with lots of RAM and disk-space
to handle raster conversion.
You dont want to skimp on board hardware; a low-grade Class 2 modem
will fail during the handshaking process far too frequently. Most
fax servers use intelligent fax boards (and line interface cards)
from Dialogic or Brooktrout; a few use NMS hardware or Commetrex.
In one case, Castelles FaxPress, a generic (perhaps even shared) NT
server is employed for client communications, rasterization, and
other functions, but this machine is slaved to a self-contained,
external box, containing proprietary fax hardware and the line
interface. This isnt a bad idea: the NT server doesnt
have to do port management (so it can be shared with other applications),
and you dont have to fool around with fax boards, which
can be troublesome to install.
But you may not have to do that, in any case. Fax servers tend to be sold
pretty-much turnkey, these days so your dealer/integrator
will probably assemble and configure your system. If you insist
on doing it yourself, the hardest parts involve board installation
and server/service configuration. Once the server is up and running,
recognized across the network, with fax boards installed, feature
configuration is usually not too difficult. In most cases, no
more than a few hours work (and an average of two calls
to technical support) will get you up and running.
If youve ever used a faxmodem, you already have the gist
of what a fax server works like from the client side. For single-destination
outbound faxing, most systems arrange to have the fax server emulate
a network printer, addressed by a modified standard print driver
on the client machine. To fax, you hit Print, select the fax server,
and go. Windows pop up to let you enter cover-sheet info, select
from local fax-number lists, etc.
The big difference is that a fax server works faster. Instead
of using your local CPU and hard disk for document-to-raster conversion
(rasterization), and your COM port for connection management,
a fax server lets you shoot your document across the LAN, where
the server does the muscle-work of rasterization and port-handling.
If you send a lot of multi-page documents, or send the same document
to multiple destinations, youll see the productivity benefits