Telcos

Asterisk: Good choice for a large project?

Scott Lowe continues to consider the future of voice services at Westminster College. Although Avaya has come to the table with a workable solution, something nags at Scott to consider Asterisk before making a final decision. Follow his journey in this post.

Last year, my department was granted the auspicious task of handling the campus telephony services at Westminster College. The existing phone system is a Nortel Meridian switch. The system is rock solid and has a good feature set, but it's not inexpensive at all to maintain or extend. Lately, the PBX has become the roadblock for some initiatives due to the need for expensive upgrades. I should note that we are far from behind on maintaining this unit. Just last year (before IT formally took over), we made a major investment to bring the switch to a current hardware and software level.

Our voicemail system is currently the only component that's seriously out of date. In fact, it's so out of date that it's completely unsupported. If we crash, well... it's going to be a problem. Over the past year, I've learned the hard way that smaller Nortel accounts aren't handled in the same way as larger ones, so I'm considering (considering is the key word) options.

Unless you're a Harvard or a Yale, private colleges aren't generally rolling in the dough. So as I look at these kinds of services, cost is always at the forefront of the equation. As things stand now, if I do anything new with voice services, it needs to fit within the existing budget. That budget includes the maintenance on the existing phone system, which I can leverage into a five-year financing program, meaning that I basically have five times one year's maintenance to spend on a new solution.

I've previously considered Pingtel, Shoretel, and Mitel as possible replacements for my Nortel switch. Shoretel and Mitel came in very high on pricing, which honestly surprised me. Although Pingtel's pricing was good, their references didn't exactly jump up and down and say, "YEEHAW!" To be fair, their references weren't negative, but they did not inspire confidence, either. I'm also close to landing the plane on an Avaya IP Office solution that fits my budget and technical needs. That said, I still have some concerns about the solution. At the end of the day, if nothing else jumps out at me, I will probably go the Avaya route, but I am looking at one last option before I take the plunge: open source Asterisk.

To say that I've read a ton of forums regarding Asterisk lately would be the understatement of the year. Opinions run the gamut from, "No way, no how" to "It's better than grandma's apple pie" and her apple pie is darn good! I suspect that reality lies somewhere in the middle and that the overall customer experience probably has as much to do with customer choice as it does Asterisk shortcomings.

Depending on your perspective, my project is either large or small, but it's probably middle-of-the-road as far as Asterisk is concerned:

  • 200 IP phones
  • 350-400 analog devices
  • 2 PRI's (incoming calls)
  • 20 SIP trunks (outgoing calls)

Here's a summary of what I've learned thus far:

  • Asterisk's feature set is quite rich and extending it is not rocket science if you know what you're doing.
  • It's not an "out of the box" experience. Someone with deep Asterisk knowledge will need to be involved.
  • Asterisk itself can support what I need.
  • You get what you pay for. If you cheap out on the analog/IP gateways, PRI gateways, servers or phones, your experience will be less than stellar. Of course, "You get what you pay for" could also be used to say that I should buy a commercial platform.
  • If the person implementing Asterisk has no clue how it works, the experience will be less than stellar.

So, here are my questions for you, dear reader:

  • Do any of you have experience with Asterisk in a larger installation?
  • How is overall stability/reliability?
  • How is overall voice quality?
  • Regrets?
  • Opinion

As I indicated, my main solution right now is the Avaya IP Office, but I'd kick myself if Asterisk could fit the bill and I didn't at least look into it.

If there's enough interest as judged by the comments, I'll write a follow up.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

26 comments
DaveLane89
DaveLane89

We have worked on a few Asterisk installations and found that its not as good as the commercial supported solutions - for us with under 10 people at goodchoice.it it works fine but i would not be happy with a larger installation yet...

jnoboa
jnoboa

# Do any of you have experience with Asterisk in a larger installation? yes # How is overall stability/reliability? hardware and OS are main point of view for this particular question it is reliable system we have the usual small network related issues with the end user but not with the system itselt. # How is overall voice quality? Voice quality it will depend more on your LAN and your network infrastructure. Again Server Hardware and Eco cancelled cards, QoS at the L2 level is always good. # Regrets? None... Try www.Voiceroute.net

jgreaves
jgreaves

I am an IT and Linux guy turned Telecommunications and currently resell Toshbia, ShoreTel and others, and have looked hard at Cisco and Asterix lately. To address them each in turn. Asterix, can be powerful and inexpensive, but after buying phones and interfaces and a good server, the cost starts to climb close to that of the other providers. It would really be best to have a solid Linux/Asterix person on staff to maintain, though you can get support contracts from VARs or from Digium. (though you already know this) Cisco has some good stuff, but can get complex and hard to manage. They often offer good purchase prices, but watch the ongoing costs. Note: Cisco, Avaya, Nortel and ShoreTel all require some type of hardware and software support to keep current and these can be BIG numbers, you may want to have your vendors include 5 years of support to make sure you don't get hit by hidden costs after the initial install. ShoreTel doesn't do analog phones very cheaply. Even with their new 24A switch, when you add $140 (list) for licensing of each analog phone, plus hardware costs, those 400 analog phones make shoretel a poor fit. It is a nice system with a low total cost of ownership, but not cheap to get into for this application. I suspect you are looking at about $150K in matl and about 40K in labor for a project this size. Toshiba has been a little slow in coming to the table with feature rich IP and large systems, but I think they have arrived. I ran some quick numbers on your configuration and came up with $82K in matl and 40K in labor. You might give them a quick look. You didn't say what you are paying Nortel or planning on paying, so I don't know how painful the contract is. We are working with a local k12 district whose avaya maintenance has gone up to $80K per year (about 9,000 kids). To echo some other comments which I agree with. Avaya makes some good stuff, but avoid the IP office. Consider keeping your Nortel (which is current) and just get a new voice mail (which doesn't HAVE to be from Nortel) anyway, just my $.02 John

grantllaing
grantllaing

Hi, Here in Australia, ther is lots of asterisk based solutions, including in the uni or colleges here, but i know of one ITSP (can't name names here) that runs asterisk as their core for ITSP clients, true the guy there is a wizz on it, but he has had some great support from digium, as i have been told. The system works great and we also deploy trixbox solutions as well. we find it great. yes you do have to watch the equipment you put it on and the gateways and ip phones you use, but this is the same for any project, where harware is involved. fell free to contact me directly and i will pass on your details if you want to contact them. Thanks Grant Blended IT Solutions grant@blendedit.com.au

mflynn
mflynn

Scott, I manage a large Avaya PBX. I would also vote to avoid the IP office implementation. If you are interested in Avaya, you might want to look at the S8700 / G650 systems. They have very good support for analog phones, Digital, and IP endpoints. Not knowing where you are located, you also need to consider the E911 reporting requirements: Illinois, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas, Vermont, Washington all have requirements to send room level location data to the local PSAP via ISDN or dedicated trunking. While Asterisk is capable of doing this, it is not easily done ??? the other issue is the PSAP may require certified hardware or middleware.

dhawkins
dhawkins

Scott, Digium Inc. "The Asterisk Company" the creator, would like to offer you a proposal regarding this job. We are the Asterisk experts and will help solve your issues. Would you please contact me at your convenience. Thanks, Bill Hall 256-428-6266 bill@digium.com

aaron.rosenthal
aaron.rosenthal

Scott, I work for a leading Asterisk engineering firm and after reading through your post, there's no question in my mind that Asterisk can satisfy your communication requirements but there's some give and take that you must consider when working with Asterisk. The first big decision you need to make is whether you intend to play a key roll in the implementation of an Asterisk system or whether you want to find someone who can deploy a turn-key Asterisk system (similar to proprietary systems - you pay a price and get a product that does exactly what you purchased it to do). Obviously, the cheapest way to implement Asterisk is to do it yourself but without a highly experienced Asterisk engineer on-staff, I would not recommend this. Working with a consultant is also risky unless you get a really good referral. I run into too many companies who tried to roll their own Asterisk system with the help of a consultant and the end result was a system that wasn't reliable let alone did what it was supposed to do. This is why Asterisk gets such a bad wrap in some places, and the only reason why this is the case is because it takes the right Asterisk engineer to make it work. You need to be 100% confident in the implementors capability to deploy the right solution. Do NOT go the route of an Asterisk based appliance like Switchvox or Trixbox. These are SMB solutions with sexy interfaces but don't have the flexibility you'll want for a larger organization. You want to use the latest edition of Asterisk and you want to use the most reliable hardware out there. My company is an IBM, Digium, Polycom, and ADTRAN partner because these are the companies who make the best hardware available for the Asterisk systems we build. Asterisk offers such a flexible solution that rarely have I ever told a company that their requested feature isn't possible. The downside to this is that you need to have a very clear idea and understanding of what it is you need this system to do. Just think of all the features you'd like this system to have, assume Asterisk can do it, and then whichever Asterisk firm you use should be able to make your required features work... so long as they're in your budget. The most reliable way to build an Asterisk system is by using Asterisk (I said this already). Flavors like FreePBX just won't get you started off on the right foot. This being the case, there's no user or admin interface which is scary for an institution like you and probably the single most troubling dilemma you'll have to face. At the moment, the command like is how you need to administer an Asterisk system. So what is the solution? Send a linux engineer to a 1 week DCAP training at the cost of $3K after which they'll come back with the knowledge to administer this system. All the complicated changes should still be handled by the administrator. OR.. the other option is use a company that offers a support plan that includes administration. Forgive me for plugging my company but I'll use us as an example. When we sell our turn-key Asterisk system, we offer a variety of support and maintenance plans. Our standard S&M plan includes unlimited administration of moves and changes eliminating the need for you to do anything more than submit the changes that need to be made in our system. We do this every single day from our NOC in NYC for all our Asterisk systems. Our more advanced maintenance plans include SLA backed on-site support with 4hr response times to 24/7 remote system monitoring. We offer the same level and quality of services you'll get from Avaya but will benefit from the zero licensing associated with Asterisk along with its flexibility. When you use a company offering a turn-key system, expect to pay less than a proprietary system (up to 50% less) but you'll always spend more than a consultant. There are so many ways to build an Asterisk system. When you purchase one of our turn-key systems, they will always be built our way. No if's, and's, or but's... if we say to use Polycom phones, there's a reason so do it. We've built enough systems to know what it takes to make them a mission critical product that competes with the likes of Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel. And since we are responsible for the overall maintenance and health, it behooves us to minimize the potential problems any system would ever have. Why do you have so many analog devices? Will the school be looking to upgrade analog devices to IP endpoints in the future? Something else to think about is that Asterisk does a very good job as an external paging system and an emergency notification system. Give me a call so we can brainstorm some ideas and we'll discuss what I'd like to write here but would prefer not to write a novel :) Cheers, Aaron 347.689.0711

fm77c
fm77c

Don't pick IP Office. It is old, really proprietary and expensive overall. Have you considered sipXecs at www.sipfoundry.org?

spetersen
spetersen

I have been doing VOIP for 11 years now. And through those years have gotten to touch or look at just about all you mentioned. My curiousity while reading your article was that you never mentioned one of the leading VOIP products and that would be Cisco. I have used asterisk in lab settings and maintennace would be my main concearn. Telephony issues go to the top of the list when people cannot call out. With any system things are going to happen and systems go down. Having the ability to pick up the phone and call for support is a key component to risk mitigation. You mention mention analog gateways, PRI's and phones. Most of which in an Asterisk installation is going to be someone elses hardware. So now you have to support Asterisk and interoperability between devices and system. There is an old saying of it is nice to have one throat to choke. And with IP telephony I can say that statement holds true. You have a miriad of things that can go wrong from QoS issues to old time PSTN issues with your PRI, and not to mention the new technology with your mention of SIP trunks. My bias is with Cisco as I have been a major implementor of theirs and from a VOIP side of things they own products that run End to End. I am surprised if budget is a constraint that they would not have been considered. They always compete well with price when pitted against competition. Just my 2 cents for what it's worth, Scott

dibthree
dibthree

There are lots of great consultants out there that will help you with design. The fact you are evening considering Asterisk for this type of project means that you need professional advice. And by consultant I don't mean a friend of a friend or that small local phone vendor that does consulting work or even that local IT company that does consulting. Data networks can and do go down constantly. Voice networks should almost never go down or cause you pain. In the end all things have a total cost of ownership. Trying to cheap out early on some open source system that very few people support will get you in big trouble in the long run. I would bet that Nortel has been there running a long time. I have been in both the data and voice industry for a long time. Every day I consult with people that have all types of systems. I love this industry, I love what I do, and I am very passionate about it. If you put in an Asterisk you are heading for problems. Maybe not right away, but I guarantee you someone will be very disappointed. I am not saying that the Asterisk is not for anyone. It is just not for a school that so heavily depends on their phones. Your post sounds like you have made your decision and you are trying to get people to back you up. I suspect you will get the asterisk because that is what you want. Not because it is the best designed system for this school. It is hard to tell from reading a post so please forgive me if that is not so. A couple of quick bits of advice: 1. Look at what the big guys are using. They can buy anything they want. They spend time and do the research. If Asterisk made sense they would use it. 2. Go with the major players in the industry. Everyone else copies them. You will never have a day when you cannot find support either through the manufacturer or through an authorized reseller. 3. Don???t talk to a bunch of people on the internet. Call the manufacturers directly. They will come out and explain it all to you. Trust me they will not try to ???sell??? you nearly as hard as you think they will. They will educate you more than anything and then direct you to a partner who will try to sell you. 4. Buy through authorized channels (companies authorized to sell the equipment by the manufacturer) and get the maintenance agreement. In today???s world it is all about the Support Agreement with the manufacturers. Just try to call Cisco without one and see how much it costs. Voice and data communications is my love in life so I can go on forever. But remember, making the wrong choice on something like this on a project like this could be devastating to the school. There are a million Meridian techs out there. Even if you can???t get the manufacturer to support that old MM you should easily be able to find a contractor to support it. I would rather have an updated Meridian even if it is 15 or 20 years old over a brand new Asterisk any day. Just out of curiosity. When you buy your data network equipment do you buy Cisco (or equivalent) or D-Link (or equivalent)? That is not a rhetorical question. I would really like a response. Also do you buy Cisco???s Smart-net when you buy the equipment? Remember voice is much more important than data. We forget that so often and just take it for granted that when we pick up our telephones they will just work. Good Luck. Keep us posted.

sstrochak
sstrochak

We've been in the VoIP business for 8 years now and have seen a lot of things. Upfront, I will say that we are a ShoreTel reseller so many of my opinions may be biased. I've seen a lot of systems out there and no one comes close in terms of overall TCO and what we like to call "easability: easy to install, easy to manage and easy to use". With that said, however, I think you may be missing another option. Why not just replace the messaging system and keep the PBX (or ease into something else). There are some excellent third party messaging systems (AVST comes to mind) that will look just like your existing system to the end users (same key-strokes, etc.) but will give you all the new features that you are looking for. As for the Asterisk idea, we've seen some customers grow out of it well before they got to your size and replace it with an "enterprise-ready" (read: commercially produced) system. They had issues with support and realized that you REALLY need to have an Asterisk expert (not somoene that can dabble a bit, but a real expert) on staff in order to support it and get everything out of it. At the price you need to pay for an expert like this, you'd have been better off going with a commercial solution that is better supported. Finally, while Avaya makes outstanding products (we compete against them all the time and win some and lose some), the IP Office isn't one of them. It was from an acquisition they made a few years ago to get in the low-end IP space and just doesn't feel as robust as their enterprise products. Just my $.02. Hope it helps.

Rondil
Rondil

Parts for your existing switch are cheap and plentiful. Techs that can work on it are also plentiful. You could easily support the system yourself. Dump that expensive maintenence contract and keep your old system running. If you want VOIP to cut calling costs, hang a VOIP gateway on it. Avaya is the old AT&T, a company I used to work for. A bigger bunch of crooks I have never seen before. I have had them call into a PBX and change the password and refuse to give it to the OWNER of the switch. I trust them about as far as I can throw them.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

John, I very much appreciate your thoughtful reply. As a result of what I'm reading here and some other research I've done since (beyond reference calls), I'm not going to go the IP Office route. Unfortunately, from a cost perspective, I can't keep the Nortel either. We're smaller than your example, but it's still enough that it hurts. Budgets are tight these days and I need to stay at current levels and the maintenance line for Nortel is slated to take a major jump this year. I did look at ShoreTel and got an initial quote from the company. Because of our high analog count, their pricing was... staggering. Same situation with Mitel. I haven't looked at Toshiba, though. I'm going to do that. I'm also going to give the Avaya S8300 another look. I got a quote on it a couple of months ago and the pricing and feature set were impressive. Again, I appreciate the comments! This is extremely helpful. I hope it's helpful to you too. Scott

dibthree
dibthree

I see two things common in all of these posts. 1. IP Office is not a good choice. I agree completely from some very painful experiences. The product has always been a thorn in Avaya's side. Everything else in their product line is great though. 2. If you go with Asterisk support will be an issue. Only people trying to sell you and Asterisk will tell you otherwise. How many certified and trained Nortel, Avaya, & Cisco technicians are in any given market? How many Asterisk? If I were in your shoes I would upgrade the Nortel no questions asked. I have worked on all these systems extensively. Nortel and Avaya I like best because they are Hybrid IP solutions. Cisco is number three for me because they are the best pure IP solution. If the powers that be required a completely new system I would stick with the big three - Nortel, Avaya (definitely not IP Office), or Cisco. Phone systems are expensive. That is a fact. You will pay now or later. The problem with later is that it costs money and grief. Good luck. Sorry if I am too blunt. I am not trying to be a jerk. I am just very opinionated because I see so many companies ?get sold? something that causes them nothing but grief. I always say, "Hind sight is brutal. Sometimes I think it is there just to remind me of all the mistakes I have made." Be sure and keep us up to date. I am interested in how it all turns out. And I still say call the manufacturers. Get them in your office and let them convince you.

rmontgomery
rmontgomery

"Most of which in an Asterisk installation is going to be someone elses hardware." For what it's worth, Digium recognized this concern and has responded with new system-level products. One of the most frequent questions on the open source discussions was, "what's the capacity of this hardware," or, "which server should I use for eight PRIs?" Digium now offers Asterisk Appliances that give you a complete system from a single vendor. And with a range of partners for your choice of Asterisk-certified handsets, you have the ultimate flexibility in a fully supported end-to-end solution. Hope this helps, rm -- Rod Montgomery (rod.montgomery@digium.com) Director of Services, Digium, Inc.

BBPellet
BBPellet

We have had nothing but problems with Cisco VOIP solutions, hardware and software issues. On top of that they came out and did the install, now they WON'T support it...first it was there were no Techs in the area to support us, then it was the hardware was too old ( was only a month after they installed it!!!) Finally we scrapped it and went to TrixBox dedicated devices. Now NO ISSUES at all! FLAWLESS! And we can support ourselves!

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

I'm definitely not sold on Asterisk. Not looking for people to back me up. On the contrary, I'm looking for pros and cons to this kind of install. I'm painfully aware that Asterisk is a high-risk proposition. I indicated in the posting that I have all but settled on an Avaya IP Office system. Consideration of Asterisk is an afterthought. I want to give everything due consideration. On the data network side, we're 100% HP Procurve. Between the lifetime warranty and shelving spares, we're in very good shape on the data side. We've had the Procurve in place for just over a year and have had no problems (knock on wood).

dibthree
dibthree

I agree completely. I was only involved in one Shoretel install but I thought it went pretty smooth for a pure iP install involving 5 sites in 5 states. A few quirks but over all seems like a solid system.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

This is exactly the kind of stuff I'm looking for. I'd keep our existing system, but maintenance costs are rather high. A fellow CIO at another college in MO told me that they have the same system and don't pay maintenance at all. It's just break/fix. Not sure I'd go down that road. I looked at ShoreTel after reading a lot of good things, but was blown away at the high cost compared to the Avya system. The price was simply out of reach with our budget. You outlined one of my concerns about Asterisk, too. Support is an issue. Scott

Dave
Dave

Scott, I was reading through the threads because I was interested in what people have experienced with the Asterisk. In my humble opinion, everyone has overlooked one of the most feature rich and scalalbe solutions in the marketplace today and that is the NEC UX5000. If you have not met with NEC, I strongly suggest you do before making your decision.

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

On the Nortel side, our maintenance contract is increasing WAY beyond budget this year (30%), so keeping it is a serious challenge, unless I simply drop maintenance...which I'm not thrilled about doing. That said, the system was upgraded just last year and DOES have IP capability, but we're getting nickel and dimed everytime we look at the thing. What are your thoughts on the Avaya S8300? You're not being a jerk at all! This is why I posted the message and I appreciate the thoughts.

cburgy
cburgy

I am a bit bias, as we exclusively sell Shoretel. We do a lot of Shoretel and Network implementations and our customers are fanatical about Shoretel. We encourage organizations to talk to our customers directly about why they chose Shoretel and what other systems we've evaluated. We've pulled out Cisco's, Toshibas, Nortels and Avayas to replace them with a Shoretel system. I'd encourage you to carefully evaluate all of your requirements and the TCO of the system. In the end, you have to live with whatever system you implement and manage it. If you are going multi-site, there is nothing on the market like Shoretel's single image and N+1 redundancy today. Check out www.shoretelforums.com for other organizations who have gone through this process (a number of people post similiar questions on the forum). We are a reseller out of California, so your decision to purchase from Shoretel or not does not have much of a direct impact on us. That being said, i'd be happy to discuss this with you in more detail and offer any feedback on your requirements. I would be REALLY REALLY shocked to see Shoretel be more expensive than Mitel, Avaya, Cisco and Nortel when it is apples to apples. Those systems are almost always a 20-40% premium over Shoretel when properly compared (they don't bundle in a lot of the functionality like Shoretel and resellers strip it barebones to get the initial purchase and then nickle and dime you for features after the fact). Chris Burgy cburgy@archertechgroup.com

rmontgomery
rmontgomery

Scott, Asterisk is open source and is surrounded by a vibrant community of developers and enthusiasts. And the GNU Public License offers no warranty, that's true. And I further agree, it would be risky to implement Asterisk, or any other voice platform, on such a large scale without the assurance of technical support from professionals intimately familiar with the product. That's why Digium, the maker and sponsor of Asterisk, offers a variety of services and licenses to meet your need. Download an open source snapshot to confirm that Asterisk is truly as flexible as you've heard; then purchase a commercially supported version when you're convinced that the product is capable of a large deployment. Call on Digium Services any time you need help planning, deploying, or maintaining your system. Digium offers training, consulting, and technical support to make your Asterisk installation a success. There are thousands of organizations around the world that have used Digium Services to bridge the same open source support gap you perceive. Westminster deserves no less. Please read the case study of UPenn's Asterisk deployment: http://www.digium.com/en/company/casestudies/viewcasestudies/University-of-Pennsylvania Feel free to contact me directly, or Digium Sales (sales@digium.com) for details. Sincerely, rm -- Rod Montgomery (rod.montgomery@digium.com) Director of Services, Digium, Inc.

jdc
jdc

I would seriously consider the s8500 system. with the s8300, I suspect you will run into problems with Media resources at a site your size, and jump through several hoops to overcome them. Avaya CM systems are not cheap to get into, but they are a premier manufacturer of telecom equipment, and the make a rock solid product. Personally, I don't like the Cisco product, but it will definately fit your needs as well. Also, you can talk Cisco into a ton of free or massively discounted equipment just to get you into their product. Nortel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week, so be careful considering their products, I suspect Siemens is not far behind. J

dibthree
dibthree

I was a huge fan of the Definity line. I still think that it and the Meridian were by far the two best PBXs ever built. The Definity morphed into the Avaya Media Server lines. I have worked on a lot of them and I like them very much. I do not get the same piece of mind that I got with a Definity but close. And the functionality and ease of programming is still there. Avayas program in English so most techs that know telephony can pick them up pretty fast. Meridian's program with loads and mnemonics and that makes it more difficult for people just starting out. About the maintenance, are you buying it from Nortel, an authorized Nortel company, or just a company that supports Nortel equipment? I am surprised it is that expensive to maintain. How many ports are on the maintenance agreement? Is it all inclusive? Parts & labor repair, MAC, etc? Do you have a full time employee that handles your switch or do you outsource 100% of it? Sorry it took me so long to reply. I had a last minute business trip up to New York and I just got back. I will try to log back in when I get caught up, read the other posts, and give a little more detail.

DarinR
DarinR

We are in a similar position. 500 users - 200 are IP Phones - upgraded Nortel system 2yrs ago and 'we are maxing it's capabilities now'. We have researched until we are blue in the face. Cisco has a nice offer but it cost a little more in the initial layout...so we are going forward with Avaya - and we are looking at the 8300/8500 Definity has a proven track record and it very widely used. Support will readily available and we plan on getting an IT staff member educated so we can handle all the basics internally.