While IT managers would mostly likely rank network fax about as low as a technology can get when it comes to a tech's sex appeal, one player in the space -- Sagemcom -- will be at Interop trying to convince the event's attendees otherwise. Like many of the other solution providers exhibiting at the NYC-edition of the IT event (starts Oct. 18, register), Sagemcom has taken the virtualization route in an attempt to rejuvenate the otherwise moribund tech category.
Not exactly a household name (particularly in the domestic US), Sagemcom's roots can be traced to Interstar, a Montreal-based provider of networked fax solutions that dates back to the 1990's. It was then that a majority of the products that bridged computers to fax technology were hardware-based or "boarded" solutions: ones where physical boards that connected to the plain old telephone system (POTS) or T1 lines were deployed into the slots of servers that ran on network operating systems like Windows NT and Novell Netware.
One reason such boarded solutions were required in the 1990s is that TCP/IP was by no means a universal protocol for connecting all of the components in the fax food chain. PCs with documents to fax often "spoke" to their servers over proprietary protocols (eg: Novell's IPX) and telephone carriers were the most common intermediary between those and other servers (and fax machines as well). A board was necessary to bridge the dissimilar communications networks.
Over time, TCP/IP's ubiquity has made it possible to eliminate the friction associated with faxing over telephone networks. Fax servers can connect to other fax servers (or machines) over IP-based networks such as the Internet -- a method of connection called FoIP (Fax Over IP) for which a standard known as T.38 was ratified by the ITU standards body.
According to Sagemcom director of marketing and product management John Nikolopoulos, Sagemcom's ancestor Interstar was the first company to embrace the T.38 standard in its fax servers (a claim that InformationWeek has not verified).
According to Nikolopoulos, the ubiquity of IP-based faxing made it possible for most organizations to retire their boarded solutions. That's because there was no need to hop fax transmissions from one network (eg: a Novell-based local area network) onto the PSTN. With today's network servers already communicating over the IP protocol, the reduction of networked fax products to software-only solutions that run on those servers (eg: Windows Server) has opened up another opportunity for companies like Sagemcom: the ability to virtualize their software.
Today, Sagemcom has a Windows-based fax server called XMediusFax that's supported on any of the primary virtual machine offerings; VMware, XEN, and Hyper-V. But the key offering that Sagemcom will be showing off at Interop is a version of the software that runs on Cisco's Integrated Services Routers (ISRs). "It's the AXP version of XMediusFax" Nikolopoulos told InformationWeek. "AXP (Application Extension Platform) is basically the platform that application developers like us must write to in order for our software to run on a Cisco ISR." Sagemcom will be showing off the AXP version of XMediusFax in Cisco's booth (#121) at Interop NYC.
The availability of a FoIP-compliant fax server on Cisco's AXP platform gives IT managers a choice of deploying their fax servers onto a blade within one of Cisco's ISRs as opposed to directly on a Windows Server (or a Windows Server running in a virtual machine). According to Nikolopoulos, the AXP version is usually better suited to organizations with branch offices that might not have a local Windows Server infrastructure.
"The AXP version is ideal for SMBs or branch offices" said Nikolopoulos. "Whereas the Windows version supports up to 480 channels per server, the AXP version supports 24 channels."
As for cost, it depends on the configuration. According to Nikolopoulos, prices start in the sub-$10,000 range and run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars (based on the number of channels that must be supported).
David Berlind is the chief content officer of TechWeb and editor-in-chief of TechWeb.com. He can be reached at email@example.com and you also can find him on Twitter and other social networks (see the list below).