In my article last month, "Zen and the Art of Fax Servers," I described the state of the fax server industry as it relates to the Windows NT market. Over the next several months, I'll look at most of the mainstream fax server products available for NT. The fax server market has enjoyed tremendous growth in past several years; when we originally looked at fax servers in February 1996, the market consisted of six main products. Two years later, more than a dozen fax server products are on the market. These products address every working environment, from small departments to multinational global enterprises.
This article is the first installment in an ongoing series of fax server reviews. This month, I review the following fax server software products: Faxination 3.0 for Microsoft Exchange from Fenestrae, FAXport 6.0 from LANSource Technologies, RightFAX Enterprise 5.0 from RightFAX, and Zetafax from Zetafax USA. Also, because fax server software typically works with one or more dedicated fax adapters, the sidebar, "TR114 Series Universal Port Boards," page 98, reviews a popular adapter.
Faxination 3.0 for Microsoft Exchange
When you are searching for a fax server package that integrates with your Microsoft Exchange installation, ask anyone on the Internet and you'll get one answer: Faxination. Faxination 3.0 for Microsoft Exchange from Fenestrae is an integrated electronic messaging system that lets you send and receive fax transmissions from Exchange.
Two versions of Faxination are available: the Standard Edition and the Corporate Edition. The Corporate Edition contains all the features in the Standard Edition, with a few enhancements. For example, the Corporate Edition supports up to 16 fax lines per server, and the Standard Edition supports only 2 lines. The Corporate Edition also contains Directory Synchronization capabilities, an optional Cost Manager add-on, and Crystal Reports for report generation.
Faxination supports conversion of numerous document types for faxing. The software will automatically convert Rich Text Format (.rtf), plain text (.txt), 100 and 200 DPI DCX files (.dcx), and various CCITT Fax formats stored in TIFF (.tif) files. Faxination can also convert Microsoft Office document types; however, you have to have Office and Faxination's Conversion Printer installed on the Faxination server.
In addition to the basic features you expect to find in a fax server product, Faxination includes many advanced features usually found in high-end fax products designed for enterprise-level fax environments. These features include support for Least Cost Routing (LCR), Direct Inbound Routing, and numerous scheduling and cost management features.
Faxinstall. Installation is simple, although I had to repeat the process because I didn't select the proper devices during the first installation. Installing the software is a three-step process: You complete a series of pre-installation setup steps, copy the files, and perform the final setup and configuration.
Before installing the software, you must create a new user with local administrator privileges. Although you can use any name for this user, the software examples use Faxination, so I used it. Once you've set up the user with User Manager, you must also grant the user administrator privileges to the Organization, Site, and Configuration containers within Exchange. Run the Exchange Administrator, select the object to change permissions on, and click File, Properties to bring up the Properties window. In this window, click the Permissions tab, and add the Faxination user with the admin role to the list of NT accounts with permission to the container.
The software installs from CD-ROM with the InstallShield software installation utility. You have to log on as the user you created in the pre-installation preparation before you can run the setup program. When you launch the setup.exe program from the CD-ROM, you get a welcome screen, followed by a Choose Options screen. This screen has three options—Faxination Server Component, Faxination Devices, and Faxination Host—and each option has a small check next to the option to show you've selected it.
Rather than highlighting the Faxination Devices option and clicking Change, I clicked Next to continue. Unfortunately the software's device option for a fax-modem was not selected, and after completing the install, I had no devices to communicate with. Make sure you verify the installation options.
For the rest of the installation, you provide a license number, the name of the user account you created, the name of your Exchange Server host, the name you want to assign to the Gateway object, and a gateway profile name and password. The install program selects values to assign to each item by default, so you can click Next if each is correct. The file copy process commences. The process took about 10 minutes to complete on my Prioris test machine. For an example of setting up and maintaining your interfaces after the file copy process is complete, see Screen 1.
The CD-ROM also contains several utilities you can load. Crystal Reports and a special Exchange Wizard are on the CD-ROM in two distinct subdirectories. You can use the Exchange Wizard to install language support, e-forms, and additional address templates within your Exchange environment so you can customize your Faxination installation. Crystal Reports, available only on the Corporate Edition of Faxination, lets you produce reports on your fax server activity, so you can grill employees about their zealous use of company fax resources. You can load these utilities at any time after the main install is complete.
When you complete the file load process and restart your NT server, you must run the Faxination Server Administrator program (in the Faxination Program Group) to complete setup. The number of items you have to complete using this administration program varies depending on your installation. In general, you need to define your fax device configuration, set up directories and transmission defaults for the Faxination server, and define which Exchange users have permission to send faxes.
Use. Once you've set up Faxination, using the software is simple. In Exchange, you create addresses within your personal address book (or have the administrator create them in Exchange's global address book). You create these addresses as Fax Addresses and provide all the basic information, such as the fax number, recipient name, company name, and postal address.
When you want to send a fax, you have two choices. If you are running the Exchange client, you compose a new message. From the address book, you select the recipient, type in the text of any message you want to send, and attach Office documents to the message. You can even simultaneously send a message to a Mailbox and a Fax recipient. Within Exchange Server, the Faxination Gateway recognizes the destination address as a fax destination and handles it accordingly. You can also send faxes from remote workstations if you install a special printer on each client. This process is similar to how Windows 95 users use the Microsoft Fax product to send faxes from applications.
Tools. Through the Faxination Server Administrator, Faxination has several tools available that let you customize your environment. These tools include an address manager, cover sheet editor, service routing, fax scheduling, and trace utilities. To launch any one of these applications, click it within the Faxination Server Administrator Tools option.
The coversheet editor is a basic GUI utility you can use to create new coversheets and edit existing coversheets that come with Faxination. You can add pre-defined fields, such as a from name, address, phone number, and pager number. Unfortunately, the only way to add a graphical image such as a company logo to a coversheet is to create an intermediate file with the logo and save it as a TIFF image. The software will let you specify the image as a background image.
Service routing is a feature you can use to deliver inbound faxes automatically to their proper recipients. Faxination lets you specify different routing information for a variety of delivery methods. The software supports Customer Service Identification (CSID), Service Routing, Direct Inward Routing (DIR), SCAN, and Sitatex routing capabilities.
The fax scheduling feature is useful in cutting fax transmissions costs. Faxination lets you bundle faxes for transmission to one fax number. This structure eliminates the need to redial the same number over again. For customers that you routinely do business with, you can create a schedule. The schedule defines when Faxination will send transmissions to a particular number, letting you save money by delaying transmissions during peak business hours.
EOT. I encountered two concerns—really, one problem and one concern—with Faxination during my testing. The problem was related to uninstallation of the software, and the concern had to do with the package's pricing.
The problem cropped up when I started uninstallating the software. After I finished testing, when I was running the software's uninstall program, InstallShield was invoked again to remove the program and all its components. Unfortunately, the install program was not able to remove everything (this situation was not completely unexpected because often dynamic link libraries—DLLs—and other system files are in use, and you must restart NT to remove them; this situation happens often on a functional NT box when you're uninstalling software). However, even after I shut down and restarted my NT Server test machine, many Faxination components remained. For example, I still had applet selections on my Control Panel for Faxination Server. Furthermore, several Faxination services were still in my startup services (even though I ran the special program Fenestrae provides to remove them). To fully eradicate the program from my server, I had to manually delete the control panel .cpl add-ins, and manually hack the Registry to get rid of the Faxination services.
Another potential problem for consumers is the pricing schedule Fenestrae uses for Faxination. Although the company has suggested market prices for the software, the reseller determines the price. When I was attempting to get a price for the software from the company, company representatives were hesitant to provide one, stressing that the reseller network sets prices. I ultimately managed to get an approximate price for a single-server license with support for 500 users.
This pricing structure for client access illustrates a major concern many companies will have with Faxination. It supports only per-user licensing and not per-server (where an unlimited number of users have access to a fax server) or per-seat (where you can purchase a license for each computer) licensing. For example, suppose you have an NT network with 150 personal computers but 600 users who work on those computers in four shifts. To let all your users access Faxination, you must purchase 600 user licenses, rather than 150 licenses to assign to each workstation.
Even with the minor problems I encountered, Faxination is an excellent tool and integrates well with Exchange. To take advantage of all the features Faxination offers, however, you must use the software with a dedicated fax communications board, rather than with a fax modem. Coupled with a professional fax board, the software makes for a professional, smooth-running system usable in almost any business environment.
|Faxination 3.0 for Microsoft Exchange|
Price: $1495 Standard Edition with 5 user licenses
System requirements: Windows NT, Windows 95 or Windows 3.11, Fax modem or fax card
Your company no longer has to maintain a separate fax machine and telephone line for every department that needs fax service. Instead, you can use a fax package on your PC and send faxes directly from your desktop.
FAXport 6.0 from LANSource Technologies is a client/server fax management package that lets you establish a fax pool of one or more modems for users running FAXport client software. With FAXport, you can centralize fax services on one fax server and let users throughout your organization send faxes and receive faxes directly in their email mailboxes.
FAXport contains all the features you expect in a modern fax management system. The software integrates with several email systems (including Exchange and cc:Mail), so you can automatically route inbound faxes to user mailboxes through Direct Inward Dialing (DID), dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF), CSID, or manual routing. For sales-oriented organizations, the software has a bulk fax feature that lets you create a custom phonebook of users, complete with customized cover pages and fax a document to everyone in the phonebook. Finally, the product has sufficient security. You can control access to different components at a user or group level, control long distance or international dialing codes, and pause outbound faxes for review and approval. Screen 2 shows a typical setup screen for creating users within the software.
My copy of FAXport arrived on CD-ROM from LANSource, bundled with the company's WINport and RASport software. For testing, I installed the FAXport components. Because the software requires both a client and a server, I used two separate machines: an NT Server 4.0 box as the fax server, and a Windows 95 machine for the client software. FAXport setup requires a four-stage installation process, which I found time consuming and cumbersome, not to mention error prone. It took me several tries to get the software up and operational.
First, you install the FAXport software off the LANSource CD-ROM. The installation program prompts you for information and installs all the software you select into the directory you specify. This process takes only a few minutes. When you finish the copy process, you need to share the installation directory so client systems can install the client software (why the install program doesn't do this task is a mystery).
Once the copy process is complete, you must install the server software. Again, nothing during this phase is difficult. You run an installation program and answer a few questions. The third step, configuring the server, is slightly more involved. In my case, it consisted of three steps: setting up default user and Administrator users in the FAXport user database, setting up server security, and configuring my modem. The fourth and final stage of installation is to install the fax client software on all client machines.
Unfortunately, after I got through the convoluted setup process, making the program execute and work correctly was not easy. Whenever I attempted to fax a document from Microsoft Word, the FAXport client displayed an Unable to open 'c:\windows\faxprint.tif' message, followed by a message to check an obscure .ini file on the server. Reinstalling the client software cleared up this problem. I didn't do anything differently the second time around, and I still don't know why it worked the second time.
Sending a fax with FAXport seems simple and is like the process with other fax software packages such as the Microsoft fax product that comes with Win95. To send a fax, you go into whatever application has the document you want to fax, and print the document to the FAXport printer. During installation, the FAXport printer becomes the default printer (an annoying but easily corrected feature). Thus, by default, all your print jobs will yield a send fax dialog. Once the send fax dialog appears, select the name of the party you want to fax to from a phonebook, and click the Send! button.
Once you submit a fax to the server, you can use the FAXport client to review the status. Examine the server log to view the status of all the faxes you have sent, to see whether they have been sent to the recipient or they are still waiting in the outbound fax queue.
FAXport also has Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) phonebooks. The package contains a GUI mapping facility that lets you extract fields from different databases and text files (any ODBC data source) and map them to FAXport fields (such as recipient name, company name, and fax number). These mapped entries appear in your fax phonebook like any other entry. To send a fax to any recipient, including ODBC mapped entries, select the entry and add it to the recipient list.
I was disappointed with FAXport. The software, from all the literature, offered a great deal of promise. However, the problems I encountered, first with software installation and later attempting to send a fax and not being able to generate an attachment easily, were frustrating and disappointing. The software would be better if LANSource streamlined the installation process to reduce the number of steps and help eliminate some of the problems. Once I had all the kinks worked out of my installation, however, the software worked without any difficulties and operated well.
LANSource Technologies 416-535-3555 or 800-677-2727
Price: $399 5-user version supporting up to 4 fax modems
System requirements: Windows NT, Windows 95, or Windows 3.11, Fax modem
If you need an enterprise-level fax server solution, but you have not found the perfect product, look no further. RightFAX Enterprise 5.0 from RightFAX is the product you need.
RightFAX contains all the basic features you expect in a fax product. You can attach documents in their native form—Word, for example—for faxing. You can view your faxes online, print them, forward them to another user on your network, or refax them to another destination. The software lets you manage your fax environment with customized phonebooks, coversheets, and library documents.
Several enterprise-level features make the software useful in multisite, multiserver environments. These features include LCR, which lets the software automatically determine a route that incurs the least cost to your company; load balancing, which lets the software automatically route your fax to one of several fax servers to reduce processing load on any one server; and ODBC phonebooks, which let users access a phonebook through an ODBC data source.
In addition to all the enterprise-level features, RightFAX can interact with several messaging systems, including Microsoft's Exchange Server, Lotus Notes, and even Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP)/Post Office Protocol (POP) mail systems (letting you send faxes through Internet mail). These message/fax gateways let you use Exchange client software or other packages' client software to send and receive faxes directly from your recipients. If you add an advanced fax board, you can automatically route inbound faxes to the correct mailbox for online viewing.
If you are on the road a lot and want to send faxes from one centralized location, you can use RightFAX's Web client. The Web client is an add-on that you install on your Internet Information Server (IIS) host to let users send and receive faxes through a Web browser. Users can view faxes online as standard GIF images or can opt to install a plug-in that provides advanced TIF-viewer functionality. Your fax data is transmitted through the Web interface, via the LAN, WAN, or Internet, to the RightFAX server on your network, which processes the request. This mechanism lets users at remote offices access your fax services without expensive dedicated telephone lines.
Getting RightFAX up and running requires minimal effort. You run the software's setup.exe module to yield an InstallShield application to guide you through setup. The initial prompts ask you for your serial number and identification information. Eventually, you get to select the components you want to install. I used an NT 4.0 Digital Prioris server equipped with a Brooktrout TR114 fax board. RightFAX will work with standard telephone lines and a fax board; however, many of the advanced features are designed to take advantage of DID or digital board capabilities. The setup duration varies depending on the options you specify. I had all the software installed and my system rebooted within 15 minutes.
After installation, you have to do a fair amount of configuration to get the software operational. On each client that you want to send faxes from, you must install some client software. This software resides in a directory called client off the main RightFAX directory on your server. On your server, you must run several administration programs to get the software properly set up the way your environment dictates.
One feature I was particularly interested in testing was RightFAX's Exchange Server fax gateway. During my installation, I opted to install this component. Surprisingly, no further configuration was necessary. The email gateway installs a control panel applet you can use to configure it, but no further configuration in Exchange Server is necessary. I began using Exchange to send email immediately. The process was simple: In my personal address book, I defined a new fax address with the pertinent information. I then sent a message to the address, my Brother plain-paper fax line. A few minutes later, my fax arrived. In the interim, I received messages to inform me of my fax's progress, as Screen 3 shows.
RightFAX is a fantastic enterprise-market product. The software has every option you want in a fax program, and then some. The package is easy to use and integrates smoothly into environments such as Exchange. Amazingly, the software is a bargain compared to other enterprise-level products that have expensive server licenses and tacked-on client access licenses.
|RightFAX Enterprise 5.0|
System requirements: Windows NT, Windows 95, or Windows 3.11, Fax board
In the competitive world of fax server products, many companies stuff as many features into their product as possible. Unfortunately, this approach raises the price, and you pay for many features you might not need. If you are looking for a decent entry-level fax server solution that you can build on as your company's needs grow and you don't want to spend a fortune, Zetafax from Zetafax USA is a product to consider.
Zetafax contains several helpful options for companies that want a workgroup-level fax server solution. The software lets you maintain a mailing list (or, a fax list) of users for fax distribution. This approach lets you group fax recipients for broadcast faxing. This feature is helpful in a sales environment if you want to distribute specific sales literature or press releases to certain individuals quickly and efficiently.
Zetafax can integrate with ODBC-compliant databases to retrieve fax names and telephone numbers. This capability lets you easily integrate Zetafax into legacy environments. For example, suppose you have a customer database and you want to have all your customers in your Zetafax address book for sending sales literature or product update announcements. With other fax solutions, you have to re-enter each record into the fax server's database. But you don't with Zetafax. I wanted to see how easy using this option would be, so I tried linking Zetafax with a SQL Server client database. Unfortunately, the Zetafax documentation contains a one-line statement that the software supports this option but contains no further discussion of how to set it up. I found no option in the Zetafax client workstation software to specify an ODBC data source for this feature.
I liked Zetafax's audit trail feature. With audit trails, you can monitor each fax record in the log. You can determine who sent a fax, when they sent it, where they sent it, and even use a billing code. A security system, as Screen 4 shows, lets you establish on a user-by-user basis who can send long-distance faxes, and you can restrict access by low call rate, where faxes will stay in the outbound queue until the cost of placing the call decreases (after 7 p.m., for example).
Installing and configuring Zetafax is a snap. My test system arrived on CD-ROM, and I installed it on my Digital Prioris NT server, using a Class-2 Multitech fax modem (the software also supports high-end fax boards such as Brooktrout TR114s). To install the software, I had to drill down on the CD-ROM to \zetafax\server\i386, where I ran setup.exe. After I answered a few standard installation questions, installation proceeded. After completion, I ran the Zetafax Server Configuration program, also shown in Screen 4, to add users and configure the server's devices and other requisite information. When configuration is complete, the Zetafax server process runs on your NT server. You can monitor the server and its various components interactively.
Sending faxes with Zetafax is simple and is not altogether different from the process with most fax products. The software includes two mechanisms for sending faxes: a client workstation GUI fax management front end and a Windows print driver to redirect the results of printing from various Windows applications to the fax application. The fax manager is the most versatile method to send faxes. It is also the method you use to check your fax inbox, review the status of faxes you've sent, maintain your address book, and interact in other ways with the fax server.
Zetafax's default configuration interacts with Exchange for sending and receiving faxes. These features are available with the Zetafax E-Mail Gateway. With the email gateway, you can use CSID, DTMF, or DID routing codes to automatically route inbound faxes to an Exchange mailbox, when you couple the gateway software with the Zetafax direct inward dial option. If you currently use Exchange and you do not install the Zetafax email gateway, the only way you can send a fax within Exchange is to print it to the Zetafax print spooler, as you would from any other Windows program.
Zetafax has a suggested list price for a 5-user license. You pay additional fees for additional lines (the base product handles one line) and for the direct-inward-dial option to recognize DID and DTMF for routing codes. CSID routing is included in the standard version. The entry-level price also includes a copy of the Zetafax email gateway with corresponding license count. That fact makes the entry-level price for Zetafax slightly higher than that of other products but still a good value for what you get.
Zetafax USA 770-622 2810
Price: $525 5-user license
System requirements: Windows NT, Windows 95, or Windows 3.11, Fax modem or fax board