Fax servers set sights on administration, ease

Written and Tested by Andre Kvitka

With dozens of fax server products available on the market, choosing one over another can be a time-consuming and very confusing process. Our comparison of four fax servers [FCW, Feb. 8] made it clear that the best products combine comprehensive fax server administration tools and tight e-mail integration with client-side components that do not require a genius to use. In this roundup, we look at two more products available to users running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT servers: Integral Fax 6.4 from Imecom Group Inc. and LanFax NT 6.0 from Alcom Corp.

Integral Fax 6.4 is primarily a Windows NT server-based application that prides itself on e-mail connectivity to most popular mail systems such as Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, Microsoft Exchange and Novell Inc.'s GroupWise. Unlike other fax servers, Integral Fax uses a modular interface approach. The basic package includes a Windows NT fax server, a bare-bones client, alarms, and forwarding and routing features. But to fully utilize Integral Fax you will need to purchase additional components, such as fax/mail gateways, advanced alarms, fax server statistics and a World Wide Web client. The modular approach also means that there is not a central application for administering the services.

LanFax NT 6.0 also is a Windows NT-based product that evolved from a small-business to an enterprise-scale solution. As we were testing the newly released version, we learned that Esker S.A., a publicly held software company headquartered in Lyon, France, with U.S. headquarters in Stillwater, Okla., announced that it had acquired Alcom. Esker also is in the fax server business and has been developing and selling a product called Faxgate. Faxgate is employed generally in enterprises that require connectivity to multiple hosts, including SNA mainframes, IBM Corp. AS/400 systems or Unix servers, in addition to local-area networks. Integration of both Faxgate and LanFax certainly will benefit the diverse fax automation needs of most customers.

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Integral Fax

Installing Integral Fax reminded us of days past when software installation files were copied to the hard drive and then the installation program was launched from there. With Integral Fax, you have to copy installation components to the local hard drive before getting under way. The automated portion of installation and configuration of components depends on which files have been copied to the hard disk.

Administration of Integral Fax also is modular. Unfortunately, that means there is no centralized administration utility. Instead, adding, configuring and monitoring servers is a matter of using a number of different modules and interfaces. For example, to configure individual fax lines, we had to launch a separate configuration utility that is simply a graphical interface for the Dialogic Corp. GammaLink fax board.

The name of Integral Fax's Admin-Fax module might cause users to think that is where most of the administration and fax server monitoring is done. However, we were disappointed to find that Admin-Fax's options were limited to enabling basic alarms, changing account passwords, managing users and viewing line-status and line-configuration details. If you want to change those configuration details you must go elsewhere.

Managing user accounts also was tedious because there was no way to import users from a Windows NT domain or any other directory; each user had to be added manually.

We could configure basic alerts for notifying users of problems with the phone line and disk space using simple Windows dialog boxes. But in order to get more sophisticated alert options, such as e-mail notification, we had to install yet another separate module. The same is true for generating fax server statistics. Integral has yet another extra-cost module that allows network administrators to slice, dice and graph fax server usage patterns.

Integral Fax supports most basic methods of routing, including manual, Direct Inward Dialing (DID), Dual Tone Multi-Frequency (DTMF) and T-30 Subaddressing. The program integrates with Messaging Application Programming Interface (MAPI)-compliant e-mail systems, including Exchange, Notes, GroupWise, X.400 and Simple Mail Transfer Protocol-based e-mail.

Integral Fax clearly is designed to work in combination with e-mail systems such as Notes or Exchange. In fact, the stand-alone client provided with the client portion of the software is atrocious. This client is nothing more than a plain, gray box with menus at the top. Using the menus, we were able to send a fax, view personal and fax server queues, and perform a few other basic functions. Integral Fax does not provide fax cover pages nor does it supply tools for creating them.

Apart from the weak client software, the other major limitation of Integral Fax is the program's lack of support for any multichannel boards other than GammaLink. According to Imecom, Integral Fax supports many boards native to Europe, but support for Brooktrout Technology Inc. hardware will be available only in the next release of the software.

On a positive note, configuring the GammaLink with Integral Fax was a snap compared with the difficulties we experienced installing Brooktrout drivers with other fax servers we have tested.

Integral Fax will suit some users' needs well, especially those looking for a modular application and cost savings. But the program's awkward interface and its limited hardware support prevent it from having the broad appeal of products such as Castelle's FaxPress 3500 and RightFax Inc.'s RightFax Enterprise 6.0, the winners of our recent fax server comparison, both of which earned a score of 7.50. Integral Fax earned a final score of 6.10.

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LanFax NT 6.0

It is clear from the first steps of installation that Alcom has paid close attention to customer needs in designing its software. Unlike other products, with which some manual configuration of the Brooktrout board was unavoidable, LanFax took care of everything automatically. We specified directory information and entered license keys, and a few minutes later the fax server was functional.

Administering LanFax also is very intuitive. The administration module has a device window that displays all of the available Brooktrout channels and their status as well as a Messages window that offers a view of incoming and outgoing queues. Double-clicking on any one of the channels reveals a detailed configuration of that channel. For example, we specified country code, area code, channel phone number, enabled device log-in and rules for forwarding incoming faxes among others.

The General Options menu allows users to configure global settings such as routing methods, server log parameters, default cover page location and fonts.

Fax server usage reports are a snap to create, and reports can be sorted by accounts, dates or point of origin.

As with the other fax servers we have reviewed, LanFax supports most basic methods of routing, including manual, DID, DTMF and T-30 Subaddressing. It integrates with MAPI-compliant e-mail systems, including Exchange, Notes, GroupWise and SMTP-based e-mail. When automated routing methods such as DID are not configured, a user can be assigned to manually forward faxes to proper people.

The bundled LanFax client looks very much like Windows Explorer. The left pane is a tree with Inbox, Outbox, Sent Items, Deleted Items and Drafts folders. LanFax NT uses the Windows NT security model, so sending a fax was a snap. We simply connected to the fax server by pressing a log-in button, and we were ready for business.

As with Integral Fax, we were able to use a company phone book as well as a personal one. The phone book can have single-user entries as well as group entries for batch faxing.

Finally, unlike Integral Fax, LanFax comes with a set of generic fax cover pages.

In short, LanFax is a powerful and easy-to-use fax server. However, it is restricted to Windows NT as a platform and lacks scripting tools - two limitations that keep its final score at 7.40, just less than the score of the winners in our recent fax server comparison.

-- Kvitka is a technology analyst at the InfoWorld Test Center.

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PRODUCTS TESTED

Imecom Group Inc.Integral Fax 6.4Available through Unisys Federal Systems on the NASA Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II contract.Score: 6.10

Alcom Corp.LanFax NT 6.0Available on the open market.Score: 7.40

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