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  1. Why Fax? Why Network-Enabled?
  2. Plugging Fax Servers/Appliances into Your Network and Phone Lines
  3. Selecting a Fax Server
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Plugging Fax Servers/Appliances into Your Network and Phone Lines

Computer-based faxing includes desktop faxing and the usually server/appliance–oriented "production" faxing.

"Desktop fax is what's on desktop and notebook computers," defines Brooktrout's Potocnik. "This lets us send and receive faxes from our desktop, usually receiving. Using the T30 protocol, a computer can talk to other fax machines (and fax-enabled devices) in TIFF format."

One danger of data/fax modem devices, he cautions, is the support for data protocols such as v.90 or v.92, "which makes them vulnerable to hacker attacks. A fax board supports only the P30 protocol; you can't hack into it."

Although nearly every modem-equipped PC includes fax software, most fax servers use fax boards that have dedicated, faxing-specific hardware.

Fax server vendor Captaris defines an electronic fax server as a software application "similar to email servers, which allows users, applications, and devices to send and receive faxes without a walk to the fax machine or printer or without large batch jobs of printing and sending."

With a fax server, "You get better connectivity rates than just dial-up modems, and the boards offload a lot of the rendering and load from the system, so you need less system," notes Terry Mayne, VP and general manager at Equisys, Inc., whose products include Zetafax network fax software.

"The intelligent fax board, which is the part that does that actual processing, converts it into a digital image such as a TIFF file, and then an application vendor would write an application that talks to our board." explains Brooktrout's Potocnik. Using a fax server "provides security and confidentiality, e.g. as required by HIPAA, which ties into why the fax market is still growing," he adds. "And it reduces the administration cost."

"If you are a big company, and have hundreds of fax machines, the costs of phone lines, service, lease terms, etc. becomes an issue," notes Christian MacKenzie, VP of marketing and business development at fax software/server vendor Biscom.

Fax servers that work with a company's office and computer equipment can aggregate the fax lines and reduce costs. Peter Davidson ballparks the cost of fax servers at around $1,500 per port.

A fax server for a small-to-medium business might cost anywhere from $600 to $3,000—"and don't forget data backup and a UPS," suggests Equisys' Mayne—with higher-end systems costing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars. He estimates that a five-user, two-line fax system might cost as little as $600.

Intelligent fax board OEM Brooktrout currently "has 65% of the market, because Eicon has dominated the European market," according to Davidson's newer figures. In terms of companies selling fax servers, Davidson reports Brooktrout customers Captaris and Biscom leading the market with about 23% and 8.6%, respectively, with the rest split among numerous other vendors.

According to Brooktrout's Potocnik, "Eight of the top ten fax service providers use Brooktrout, and we have forty fax applications supporting us currently." Other leading fax server vendors and products include Captaris' RightFax and Biscom's FastComm (which works with Linux, Novell, Notes, UNIX, and other environments as well as Windows). "The vendors are all upbeat about the market," Davidson comments. "They see it as staying strong for another ten years or so."

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