Voice over IP (VoIP) is becoming an increasingly popular means to deploy the phone infrastructure within the SMB space.  However, the move to VoIP presents the challenge of interfacing the new VoIP system with the ability to send and receive faxes.  The advent of Fax over IP (FoIP) technology has allowed organizations to bridge this gap and integrate faxing with the VoIP environment through the use of a network fax server.

Traditionally, fax servers have been implemented on a physical server using a modem or internal fax card to connect to analog or digital phone lines.   This is not desirable within organizations using VoIP as it requires the maintenance and cost of separate phone lines outside of the VoIP system.  The development of T.38 as a reliable protocol for converting the traditional fax traffic into Internet Protocol (IP) packets that T.38-capable VoIP systems understand, has allowed organizations to eliminate these extra phone lines.  The fax server is now able to communicate directly with the VoIP system through the Local Area Network (LAN), and the VoIP system is then able to convert the T.38 packets into the traditional analog or digital connections to the telephone provider. This not only allows for the elimination of the costs and maintenance associated with the separate phone lines, but it also allows for the central management of all the phone resources in the organization through the phone system.

The move to faxing through a VoIP environment also allows for several other benefits that are not quite as readily apparent, but can be as important.  Perhaps the most important of these is the ability to run the fax server on a virtual server using applications such as VMware or Microsoft Hyper-V.   Unlike traditional faxing that required a separate physical modem or card to act as the connection point, FoIP-enabled fax servers use a software module to communicate with the server’s Network Interface Card (NIC), which then connects to the VoIP system over the LAN.  This allows organizations to take advantage of the native options of virtualization to easily snapshot, clone, or restore servers in the event of a disaster.  With the physical component out of the picture, the all-software solution allows not only for virtualization, but also for other flexibility that is impossible with a traditional solution.  Chief among these are the ability to easily evaluate the solution through downloadable software and evaluation license keys, and scalability as it is simply a matter of adding licensing to expand.  Gone are the days of ensuring that the fax server has physical room for expansion, waiting for the new fax board to arrive, and bringing down production faxing to install the new board.

It is not unusual for organizations, especially SMBs, to want to take advantage of the benefits of a FoIP fax server, but they have not yet moved to a VoIP infrastructure.  All is not lost for these organizations!  There are inexpensive media gateway appliances that will take traditional analog or digital phone lines and convert them to T.38 for IP delivery to the fax server.  This is a popular transition path for organizations that want to take advantage of the virtualization, scalability, and flexibility options immediately, even if they do not plan to move to VoIP for some time.

Whether an organization is currently managing their phone needs through a VoIP system, is looking to move to VoIP in the near future, or is some way off from implementing VoIP, the benefits of moving to a FoIP-capable fax server are significant and available.

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