These are very interesting times for small- and medium-sized businesses. The inevitable ebb and flow of Internet-based communications is changing the way even the smallest businesses do business. There are new opportunities nearly every day to tap into different technologies and networking systems once thought only to be within the grasp of large corporations.
Small businesses are growing increasingly mobile and virtual businesses with employees dispersed between small and home offices are becoming working realities. Financial pressures to improve productivity and reduce costs are common themes among all businesses across all industries. As a result, the case for converged multi-service networks has never been stronger.
Right now, it's never been more cost-effective for small and medium-sized businesses to migrate from separate voice and data networks to converged enterprise-class systems. And Nortel Networks intends to be there to help small businesses along the way.
Driving Communication Costs Down
Nortel Networks plans to enhance its enterprise-class convergence portfolio with a series of products designed to help small- and medium-sized businesses drive down their overall communication costs. These products will also help smaller businesses simplify network operations and extend infrastructure investments by doing away with single-purpose devices in favor of multi-purpose converged solutions.
Nortel Network's Swiss army-knife approach will include two key product enhancements to its current convergence portfolio. This includes the company's Survivable Remote Gateway (SRG) and Nortel Networks Business Communication Manager (BCM) Release 3.6. Both products are expected to be commercially available in May 2004.
Recent analyst reports confirm Nortel Networks leading position in IP telephony (define) technology. According to Gartner Research, Nortel Networks has regained its position as the overall leader in North American PBX (define), key telephone systems and IP Telephony lines shipped in 2003. Gartner also finds that Nortel is second in the Pure IP-PBX and IP-Lines shipped on IP-Enabled systems.
Aziz Khadbai, Nortel Networks local premise solutions general manager, said the company will continue to provide product innovations to maintain the trust of the enterprise and SMB markets.
"These solutions offer feature-rich IP telephony options that fit each customer need," Khadbai said. "Allowing for IT investment protection and enabling customers to migrate to IP at their own pace."
Counting on Calling Continuity
Nortel Networks Survivable Remote Gateway has been specifically designed to extend the desktop features and user interface of Nortel Networks Succession 1000 IP PBX platform to give employees located at remote sites full access to the same features and applications available at the main business site.
The SRG allows distribution of trunking across a Succession 1000 and SRG WAN (define) to provide true, least-cost routing and reduce toll voice communication costs. Local PSTN (define) access is provided by SRG for both local and emergency 911 calls. Nortel's SRG provides a suite of IP-based data and routing capabilities, including DHCP (define), Web caching and VPN (define) support.
Richard Solosky, Nortel Networks director of portfolio marketing, said survivability is the key to SMB uptake of the remote gateway product.
"We're seeing a lot of traction for convergence in the SMB market both from traditional stand alone, single site businesses and among smaller entities that are adopting IP telephony at a rapid space," Solosky said. "Small- to medium-sized enterprise uptake is good because the SRG specifically services remote offices well. SMBs like the idea of low-cost IP calling, but want survivability, too. They want to be able to keep making local calls even if the IP network is disrupted. So from a business continuity standpoint, the SRG provides a solid backup for local access to voice lines."
One such organization that needs 24x7x365 voice survivability is Chimes, a non-profit group that provides services to people with various barriers to independent living. Founded in 1947, Chimes has expanded to an international multi-service agency delivering a wide range of programs, services and support for more than 4,500 people of all ages and many different levels of ability. The organization currently operates family services in Maryland, Washington D.C., Delaware, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Israel. Many of Chimes' facilities are group homes, where making a phone call could save a life.
Martin Lampner, Chimes chief financial officer, said Nortel's SRG is a good fit for its smaller group homes because telecommunications is the key to binding the organization together.
"We see the SRG solution fitting into the infrastructure as a mechanism to make that 911 call in emergency situations," Lampner said. "We're especially looking to the inherent reliability and flexibility this system offers. SRG ensures communications in a variety of situations."
Digital, Analog or Both
Don't confuse Nortel Network's Business Communications Manager with business contact management software just because both are labeled BCM for short. Solosky said Nortel Network's Business Communications Manager, which now includes a variety of updates released this week, delivers small- to medium-sized businesses a unique converged voice and data solution.
"We're expanding the size of the product the expansion gateway allows up to 200 users at a branch office location and we're offering over 100 new IP telephony features. We're also offering an entry level IP phone, the model 2001, that carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $145," Solosky said. "Some new phones [models 2002 and 2004] can handle either A/C type power or Power over Ethernet connections. But the best news is that small businesses can mix and match digital and analog phones in any combination with BCM."
This means small businesses can opt for deploying either an IP-enabled or pure-IP communications strategy. BCM has the calling capabilities any business needs, particularly when leveraging existing Meridian, Norstar, and Succession 1000 investments. BCM functions include including IP telephony, unified messaging, and even multimedia call center capabilities for when a business needs to tie together its Web-based contact capabilities (e.g. click-to-talk) with call center communications.
Because BCM 3.6 also includes a performance management upgrade, small businesses can take a proactive approach to network performance by monitoring critical system components around the clock. Those small businesses with an adept IT staff can deploy and manage many different elements of the system in-house. Conversely, those small businesses lacking voice and data expertise can farm performance management out to a third-party service provider. Either way, the result is lower support costs through reduced network downtime and early problem detection.
Nortel Networks sells its products exclusively through channel partners. Elite channel partners include telecommunications companies such as BellSouth and SBC. Other channel partners include independent data value-added resellers and voice service resellers. Nortel Networks is rolling out training programs to its channel partners this month, in preparation for the general release of SRG and BCM next month.