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Review: Zultys Technologies's MX1200 Enterprise Media Exchange

Their new Voice over IP switch is based on Session Initiation Protocol, Telephony Application Program Interface and Voice XML to deliver standards-based IP telephony to up to 1,200 users.
Converged voice switches are a dime a dozen, but most remain a collection of proprietary hardware and software. Not so with Zultys Technologies's MX1200 Enterprise Media Exchange. This new Voice over IP (VoIP) switch is based on Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), Telephony Application Program Interface (TAPI), and Voice XML to deliver standards-based IP telephony to up to 1,200 users.

For network managers of small-to-medium-sized offices, the MX1200 appears to pack quite a punch. Its capabilities include Instant Messaging (IM), Automatic Call Distributor (ACD), voice mail, unified messaging, firewalling, and, of course, voice switching-all the applications needed to deploy a basic phone system. Wrap in its broad support for standards and the MX1200 seems to offer IT the right ingredients for remote and medium-sized office deployment.

But growth-minded networkers will want to think twice before going with the 1200. Scalability is limited to 1,200 users. Additional switches can be deployed, but without a single systems image, preventing multiple MX1200s from functioning as a single unit. Resiliency is limited at best; and switch functionality, while encompassing the top 25 measures, misses out on some core traditional features, such as least-cost routing.

BIG PUNCH

The MX1200 is a 2U box containing four Linux-based computers and two 18Gbyte Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) hard discs. One disc stores the voice mail, while the other stores the application code, databases, and the call detail records. The MX1200 supplies a mix of ports, with up to 12 remotely powered 10/100 Ethernet ports and 16 regular 10/100 Ethernet ports.

With remote powering, phones receive their power over the LAN-not through external power supplies. Enterprises can couple remote power feeding with a centralized backup power supply to drive critical phones in the event of a power outage. Zultys claims that its remote power feeding solution is compatible with IEEE 802.3af, though the standard has yet to be finalized. The MX1200 also includes eight analog ports, eight T1/E1 ports, two 1000BaseSX ports, and one 1000BaseFX port. Three additional ports are supplied for trusted, untrusted, and Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) use when the MX1200 is configured as a firewall.

Users interact with the MX1200 either through a phone or through Zultys's Media eXchange Interface End User (MXIE), its personal communications tool. Since the product is SIP-based, the MX1200 can support SIP-compliant phones-namely Cisco Systems's 7960s and ATAs, Pingtel's Expressa, ipDialog's SipTone, and SNOM's SNOM100. Zultys is also expected to begin delivering two of its own phones in March 2003. The Zultys IP Phone (ZIP) 4x4 will retail for around $400 and supply four call appearances and four external 10/100 Ethernet ports. With these extra 10/100 ports, ZIP 4x4s can be daisy chained off a single phone to conserve MX1200 ports. The phone will supply conference calling for up to four destinations, speech encryption, a speakerphone and headset, storage of at least 64 numbers for redial, and buttons for holding, transferring, call parking and pick-up, muting, redialing, and one-touch dialing. A lower-end phone, the ZIP 2, will offer two line appearances and retail for around $140.

The MXIE tool enables all users in the enterprise-whether the person is logged in as an individual, an operator, or a member of an ACD group-to interact with the MX1200 through a PC-based soft client. Since the MX1200 integrates with Microsoft's IM platform, users can configure their presence, view the presence of others, and send IMs from the MXIE. The MXIE also allows users to control how incoming calls are handled by setting call-handling rules. These rules might ring one of the eight phone numbers that can be associated with each user, or direct incoming calls to voice mail. Users can also use MXIE to access voice mail, make and terminate calls, and perform call functions such as transferring a call by dragging and dropping the call indication to another user's name on the MXIE screen.

THE CATCH

The MX1200 packs significant functionality, but is decidedly aimed at small-to-medium-sized offices. Distributed enterprises with multiple sites will likely find the MX1200 to be lacking in a number of features. Resiliency is an obvious sore point, as is the lack of Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) support for integrating with an existing corporate directory.

What's more, other than the remote power feeding and the up to five hours of backup time that can be provided in the event of a power failure, there's little redundancy built into the product. With some other VoIP switches, calls continue untouched in the event of a switch failure.

Like many new voice-switching platforms, functionality remains restricted to just the top call switch functions. So while Zultys offers music on hold and night service, least-cost routing, which enables companies to select the lowest phone tariffs, isn't offered.

Pricing ranges based on configuration. A basic system runs $20,000 for a single T1, with support for 25 users and 8.5 hours of voice mail. A fully loaded system for 1,200 users runs $212,000.