The Fax Stops Here
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The ongoing investigation of fax server products concludes this month
This article appeared first in Windows NT Magazine in March 1998
Reprinted with permission from Windows NT Magazine.
Over the past few months, I have looked at a variety of server-side fax products. In January, I reviewed Faxination from Fenestrae, FAXport from LANSource, RightFAX from RightFAX, and Zetafax from Zetafax—and as an added bonus, I reviewed the Brooktrout TR114 fax board. In February, I continued my investigation with reviews of FaxWorks Pro LAN from Global Village Communication, Fax Sr. from Omtool, FaxFacts from Copia, and FACSys from Optus Software.
This month, I wrap up my investigation of fax servers with a look at some additional software products and a review of a combined hardware and software fax server. The software products I review this month are FAXmaker for Exchange 5.0 from GFI FAX & VOICE, Gold-Fax for Windows NT from Data Processing Design, and LanFax NT 5.0 from Alcom. I also test FAXserve for Windows NT, the new fax product from Computer Associates (CA), which arrived just in time for me to include in this investigation. Finally, I review Biscom's FAXCOM 3000/NT, a combination hardware and software fax server.
How can the market sustain so many fax products? This question looms over all the fax server software providers. Some products clearly address niche markets; they integrate with Exchange or with other adjunct products. Other products address different segments of the market. For example, some are clearly department-oriented, while others are enterprise-based. This situation reminds me of the Web server market a few years ago. Back in mid-1996, more than 30 different Web server products were available for NT. Today a lot fewer Web server products for NT are available. Will the same weaning process thin the ranks of fax servers? Only time and your purchasing dollars will tell.
FAXmaker for Exchange 5.0
Finding a fax server program to integrate into your large department- or company-level fax environment is difficult. Many high-end fax products are more suited for enterprise markets, and you end up paying for features you don't need or want. If your company is looking for a fax product for this market, FAXmaker for Exchange 5.0 from GFI FAX & VOICE fills the bill.
FAXmaker integrates smoothly with Exchange. With the Exchange Address Book, you create a series of entries with common fax addresses for your users to access. (Users can also use their personal address books to store private fax numbers.) The software will, when instructed, itemize all your phone calls to let you apportion them to specific users and departments within your organization. The software integrates with virtually every Windows application through a print driver, so you can fax from other applications.
The FAXmaker software contains several features companies will find particularly useful. For example, the software can do a fax broadcast, in which you send one fax to thousands of recipients. The software can automatically route inbound faxes to Exchange mailboxes based on Customer Subscriber Identification (CSID), dual-tone multifrequency (DTMF) tones, or optical character recognition (OCR) routing. You can expand the software to support up to 16 fax lines.
Installing and setting up FAXmaker is virtually automatic. You follow a four-step install process. In the first step, you install the server software from the CD-ROM. This step prompts you with a series of questions regarding your site, including Exchange setup. (The software does a good job. I was able to select the default answer to 99 percent of the questions.)
In the second step, when the file copy process is complete, you must install the FAXmaker print driver on the server. This process is similar to adding a new printer. In the third step, you must go into Exchange Administrator on the server and enable access for your users, as Screen 1 shows. In the fourth step, you set up your client workstations, which entails installing the FAXmaker print driver and the FAXmaker fax viewing software.
SCREEN 1: Enabling user access to FAXmaker
On my test Prioris NT server and Acer NT workstation, setup took about 10 minutes. The process went smoothly, and I didn't encounter any problems. On completion, I was able to send and receive faxes without difficulty. To receive faxes, I used a MultiTech Class 2 fax modem and routed the faxes to a generic mailbox for distribution.
With FAXmaker, you can send a fax from your workstation using one of two methods. You can opt to print the item you want to fax to the FAXmaker printer you installed on your machine. Or, if you are running Exchange, you can begin the fax process from there and attach any saved documents you want to send. In either instance, the person you are sending the fax to must have an entry in the Exchange address book. If no entry exists, when you open the Address Book, you must select Add, FAXmaker Address and specify the requisite information for faxing. Without this information, the software will not know how to send your fax.
FAXmaker lets you send multiple copies of a fax and set different software options when you place modifiers in the body of a fax. To change settings, however, you must enable the Remote Administration feature. To change options, you place a modifier line (which begins with a double colon—::) within the body of your message. Different modifiers let you change your outgoing fax resolution, specify a billing code, attach an additional file to the fax, specify a cover page, and even skip the queue to send the fax immediately.
When your FAXmaker installation receives a fax, you can have the fax automatically appear in your Exchange inbox, assuming you've enabled CSID, Direct Inward Dialing (DID), or DTMF routing capabilities. If you do not have these capabilities, you must route all faxes to a default mailbox for redistribution.
When a fax appears in your mailbox, the From line will contain the CSID of the sending station. When you double-click the message, the FAXmaker fax viewer launches so that you can read the fax.
FAXmaker is an excellent product that is ideally suited to the department- or company-level fax server market. The software works well, is easy to install and maintain, and works with a variety of Class 2 fax modems. The software also supports dedicated fax boards, such as Gammalink, which more sophisticated sites might use. FAXmaker is a premium solution I would consider for my business.
FAXserve for Windows NT
CA's FAXserve for Windows NT offers several basic features you expect to find in any fax server product. The product is fully Messaging API (MAPI)-compatible, allowing for easy integration with MAPI-standard email packages. The product contains a basic security system that lets you define the users who have access to the fax server and what functions they can access within the server, such as the ability to change personal information, dial long-distance numbers for faxes, and use private cover pages. The software supports broadcast and scheduled faxes and includes a cover-page editor and fax image viewing software.
Building on its basic features, FAXserve offers several enterprise-level fax server features that will help you manage your fax environment. The product works with fax modems (Class 1, 2, and 2.0) and specialty fax boards from several manufacturers. Combining the product with an intelligent fax board lets you use inbound DID and DTMF routing for delivery of inbound faxes to appropriate mailboxes. Built-in billing and accounting functionality give you better control over your fax costs. If you add FAXserve's Least Cost Routing option, you can use alternative fax servers across your LAN (and even the Internet) to distribute faxes and save faxing expense. If you have multiple servers installed, FAXserve lets you distribute your fax workload between servers to equalize server loads. FAXserve also includes enterprise-level fax features such as the SMTP gateway that lets you configure FAXserve with any SMTP-compliant messaging system, eliminating the need for fax client software.
The software installation on my Prioris server was uneventful. After feeding the distribution CD-ROM to my system, I ran the setup program and answered a few minor questions. The installation process does not require in-depth knowledge about your environment. Because the FAXserve software runs as an NT server, after the installation process finishes, you have to reboot your NT server to activate the software.
After I completed my installation and reboot, I finished the software configuration. I added users to FAXserve and performed some additional minor configuration to tailor my faxing environment. I accomplished all this activity through FAXserve Administrator, the GUI administration program you see in Screen 2. You must define users for FAXserve.
SCREEN 2: Configuring the fax server software through the FAXserve Administrator
Although CA's documentation states that the product integrates with the NT Domain user list, in practice this integration means that the software will read your NT user list and let you add these users to the FAXserve authorized user list. To import a bulk number of users, shift-click in the new user dialog box to select all of them and add them at the same time.
Before you can send faxes from client computers, you must install the product's accompanying client software on each client. This process is simple: The client software installs on a share on your fax server during the server setup. To send a fax from a client computer, you can choose one of several methods. You can use your Exchange or Outlook client software to compose a new fax and send it. If you are in another Windows application, such as Microsoft Word, you can print the information you want to fax to the Cheyenne Fax printer. FAXserve also supports other email software packages, including Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, and cc:Mail.
Users can easily view a fax they've received with FAXserve. When users open the fax within their email client, a special fax viewer launches and opens the fax. Users can zoom, rotate, print, and perform other functions on the fax within the viewer.
FAXserve also supports Open Database Connectivity (ODBC)-compliant databases. FAXserve stores various information in a Microsoft Access .mdb-format database. You can extract and analyze information from this database with Access or another ODBC-compliant report writer.
FAXserve offers very attractive pricing at the low end for an enterprise-level product, but it can rapidly become expensive in large environments (you need both server and client components to get started). Because FAXserve does not offer per-seat licensing, a business with 150 computers in use during 3 shifts will need 450 user licenses. In a large user environment, this pricing scheme can get expensive fast. Despite the potential cost, FAXserve is a great product from an established company with a proven track record.
Gold-Fax for Windows NT
Are you looking for a fax server solution to run on your Windows NT Alpha installation? Numerous fax server solutions are available for NT, but few solutions support the Alpha platform. If you need a fax product with both Intel and Alpha support, consider Gold-Fax for Windows NT from Data Processing Design.
Gold-Fax is packed with standard features you need to set up an operational fax environment in your company. The software has basic security, lets you create and maintain your own cover pages, works with several modems in a fax pool, and has an integrated address book so that you can maintain a list of fax addresses for your most common recipients.
Installing Gold-Fax is relatively easy, but involves some manual setup and configuration. You must perform a small amount of preinstallation setup. This process involves using User Manager to create a special service account for Gold-Fax and creating two global groups—Gold-Fax Routers and Gold-Fax Users—to control access within Gold-Fax. In addition, your fax modem must be installed and operational through the Control Panel Modems applet.
The installation process is simple, although I did have some minor difficulties with my test installation. The software came on a recordable CD-ROM (gold, ironically enough) that the CD-ROM drive in my Prioris server could not read. To circumvent this problem, I mounted the CD-ROM on another computer and copied the CD-ROM's contents to a temporary directory on my NT server. I then ran the setup program for both the Gold-Fax server component and the Exchange email gateway component. During installation, the server software creates three new services and two new printers.
After physical installation, you must complete some manual setup. For example, Gold-Fax relies on NT's built-in schedule service to run routine cleanup tasks, and you must set up this process manually. Furthermore, if you intend to configure Exchange to notify you after you send a fax, you have to add Gold-Fax to the Recipients container and create a Gold-Fax profile within Exchange. In my NT test environment, the setup process took roughly 15 minutes.
One of the features I like best about Gold-Fax is its close integration with NT's security system. Using the two global groups in the NT Security Accounts Manager (SAM) database, you can control access to Gold-Fax. You make users members of the Gold-Fax Users group to grant them authority to send faxes. In addition, you must add one or more users to the Gold-Fax Routers group. This group controls who can view the first page of an inbound fax to determine who the fax is for and route it properly. If you have the Exchange gateway, you can also restrict access to sending faxes within Exchange Administrator, as Screen 3 shows.
SCREEN 3: Restricting user access to Gold-Fax fax services
Gold-Fax can also perform least-cost routing (LCR) as needed. To establish rules for routing, you must use the Gold-Fax Manager and select the Send Routing index tab. From this window, you can configure Gold-Fax servers that reside in given area codes or dialing prefixes. For example, if prefix 252 faxes are local calls from another office and you have a WAN link to that office, you can have your local copy of Gold-Fax send all faxes for the 252 prefix over your WAN link for processing at the remote office.
You can send faxes with Gold-Fax in two ways. First, you can send faxes directly from Microsoft Exchange if you have the optional Gold-Fax Exchange Gateway installed. With this option, you establish a series of Gold-Fax Address entries in your address book, select the address you want to send a fax to, type in a message and add attachments, and click Send. Second, if you do not have the Exchange gateway, you can use the Gold-Fax client program to send faxes.
Although Gold-Fax contains several features you typically find in high-end packages, the product is better suited to the department- or company-level fax server market. The software is moderately priced. If you need a basic package that integrates well with fax modems and offers support for Alpha and Intel NT platforms, give this software a closer look.
LanFax NT 5.0
LanFax NT 5.0 from Alcom is a BackOffice-compliant fax server product with support for Brooktrout and Gammalink fax boards and Class 1 and Class 2 fax modems. LanFax Server is a 32-bit NT service that provides centralized fax management for NT 4.0 and 3.51, Windows 95, and Windows 3.11 workstations.
Alcom is targeting LanFax at the department- and company-level fax server market. The software contains several features these environments need but does not include features (such as LCR, advanced cost management features, and load balancing) that would make it a true enterprise-level fax server product. Even so, users can send faxes from any Windows application when they send their output to a special print driver and automatically print incoming faxes or route them to users based on DID, DTMF, and CSID codes. Users can also fax to groups of people they define in their fax address book.
LanFax was the easiest product to install and configure of all the products I tested. When I ran setup.exe on the distribution CD-ROM, the software prompted me with a series of questions about where I wanted to install the software, my license keys, and so on. In most cases, I was able to accept the default answer (except for the license key question). I answered a few simple questions about the type of fax device I was using on my server, whether I wanted to install an added component, and additional personal information.
One question that required some thought was whether I wanted to install the LanFax client or the LanFax MAPI interface. To send a fax with the LanFax client software, you must either print to a special print driver or use a client software component to maintain a list of contact names and phone numbers. With LanFax MAPI, you can add a service to your Exchange or Outlook client to send and receive faxes directly from your Exchange Server client. I was disappointed that I could not opt to install and use both of these components as I see fit.
LanFax integrates directly with NT security. For users to send and receive faxes, you must first add them to a local group on the NT fax server called LanFax Users. This clean integration lets you easily control who can use your system's fax services.
For administration of your LanFax installation, the software includes a special LanFax Manager application. This application lets you easily monitor your LanFax installation and make necessary configuration changes to your system. For example, to add routing capabilities to your system, select Server, Properties, Routing; select the type of routing; and add or modify the necessary routing information. Naturally, you can set up exclusive routing for users who exist within the LanFax Users local group—something that caused me some confusion during setup but that wouldn't have been a problem had I read the manual more closely.
I liked LanFax's intelligent retransmission capabilities. With intelligent retransmission, if a fax transmission fails, the software automatically retransmits only those pages that failed to transmit. This feature is a huge cost saver on long distance and overseas fax transmissions, which have notoriously noisy telephone connections and thus problematic connections.
Another wonderful feature of LanFax is its intranet interface. Using this interface, any HTML 3.0-enabled Web browser can access a special IP port on your network, log in using an ID and password from your NT SAM database, and interact with the LanFax fax server software. This feature lets your non-Windows-based clients, such as a user on an SCO box, send and receive faxes on your LanFax server. Screen 4 shows a sample session through this intranet interface.
SCREEN 4: Using LanFax's intranet interface to send a fax
The entry-level price for LanFax is $895, which lets you manage 1 fax line with 10 user licenses. Additional user licenses are available in 5-, 25-, 50-, and 100-user increments. Additional fax line licenses are available in 1-, 2-, 4-, and 8-line increments. Given these prices, Alcom's LanFax is a moderately priced fax server solution. No unlimited users option is available. Even so, LanFax's excellent integration with Exchange Server and its intranet feature make it worthy of closer consideration if you want platform-independent fax capabilities. A starter kit with limited functionality is available through the company's Web site if you want to evaluate the product further.
Over the past several months, I have examined a combination of fax hardware and software products you can add to your environment to give users integrated fax capability. All these solutions required you to have an existing server to install them. But what if you are looking for a drop-in fax server solution—a solution complete with hardware and software—that you can plug in to your network and start using? If you seek this type of solution, then Biscom's line of FAXCOM fax servers is for you.
My test system, a Biscom FAXCOM 3000/NT, arrived in two boxes: one for the monitor and another for the system unit. The system unit housed a 200MHz Pentium II, 64MB of RAM, and a 1.2GB IDE hard disk with NT Workstation 4.0. The system unit also included a Brooktrout TR114 fax server board, a Western Digital network card, and the usual assortment of peripheral ports.
Setting up the system unit for testing took about 15 minutes. I observed when I unpacked the system unit that it was heavy. Unlike many clone system unit cases that are made out of stamped metal and plastic, the case enshrouding the FAXCOM 3000/NT reminded me of one of the old radio frequency interference (RFI)-immune IBM PC cases. After connecting the mouse, keyboard, monitor, network cable, and analog telephone cables to the Brooktrout, I was ready to use the unit. I flipped the On switch, and in a few moments, the familiar NT logon screen greeted me.
The second stage of setup was a little more involved. Because Biscom didn't know anything about my environment, I had to configure the hardware. For example, I had to assign a proper IP address to the unit to communicate on my network. Running the FAXCOM server administrator, I changed the CSID settings to identify my outbound fax lines. I had to change some other minor parameters, but the documentation that accompanied the unit stepped me through the process nicely.
In the final stage of installation, I set up my Exchange environment to communicate with the FAXCOM product. I had to install a special Biscom software fax connector for Exchange on my Exchange Server host. This process was simple and took only a few minutes. I also had to install and configure an Exchange client software component.
Although the installation seems like a lot of work for a total prepackaged solution, it did not take a significant amount of time. The entire process, from opening the box to sending the first fax, took me a little more than 30 minutes. Once I was set up, I was able to fax to my heart's content.
The FAXCOM 3000/NT software component offers many features you will find helpful in an enterprise environment. First and foremost is the product's ability to expand as your fax needs grow—Brooktrout boards let you easily expand your server's capacity as necessary. The software contains full inbound routing capabilities, so you can automatically route inbound faxes using DID or DTMF. The product also contains LCR capabilities. In a diverse WAN environment, you can share fax resources with other sites to reduce outbound fax delivery costs.
Using FAXCOM's software to send and receive faxes is straight-forward. You can send and receive faxes using your Exchange Server client software, such as Exchange client and Outlook client. (The product also works with other computer systems, such as the AS/400 and UNIX-based systems, and email packages such as Notes, Groupwise, and cc:Mail.) These features are not extraordinary in the fax server software world. You can also fax documents from other Windows applications through a special print driver; thus, you can use an application such as Microsoft Word to compose faxes. With FAXCOM software, you can insert image files, such as your personal signature or maps containing directions to your business location, into your faxed document. This feature lets you give your faxes a personal touch that is not possible with other fax software packages. Screen 5 shows the FAXCOM interface for viewing faxes.
SCREEN 5: Viewing two documents simultaneously with FAXCOM 3000/NT
Overall, I enjoyed working with the FAXCOM unit. I found the software standard and easy to use, and the hardware consists of quality components not likely to give you trouble down the road. When you factor in the cost of a fax server computer, an entry-level fax server board, a copy of NT, and the fax server hardware, the cost of FAXCOM 3000/NT is not unreasonable.
FAXmaker for Exchange 5.0
Available for Intel platform
Contact: GFI FAX & VOICE * 716-265-1380 or 888-243-4329
System Requirements: Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0 or 5.x
Windows NT 4.0
32MB of RAM
30MB of hard disk space
Fax modem or fax board
FAXserve for Windows NT
Available for Intel platform
Contact: Computer Associates * 516-342-5224
System Requirements: Windows NT Server 4.0 SP1 or later
16MB of RAM
20MB of hard disk space
Fax modem or fax board
Gold-Fax for Windows NT
Available for Intel and Alpha platforms
Contact: Data Processing Design * 800-843-1317
System Requirements: Windows NT 3.51 or 4.0
Fax modem or fax board
LanFax NT 5.0
Available for Intel platform
Contact: Alcom * 650-694-7000
System Requirements: Windows NT Server 3.51 or 4.0 or
NT Workstation 3.51 or 4.0
32MB of RAM
Fax modem or fax board
Available for Intel platform
Contact: Biscom * 978-250-1800 or 800-477-2472
System Requirements: Not applicable
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael P. Deignan is an associate technical editor for Windows NT Magazine and president of Ideamation, a consulting firm based in Providence, RI. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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