Laying the infrastructure for network-based faxing

Adding fax services to your server has many benefits, not the least of which is improved efficiency. Find out how to get started with Eric Toll's Drill Down.

Even in the age of e-mail, businesses still use faxes as an important means of communication. The fax machine has become one of the most used pieces of equipment in the modern office. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the biggest causes of inefficiency.

You can help increase efficiency in your organization by deploying a fax server on your network. In this Daily Drill Down, I'll show you how to lay the foundation for server-based faxing.

Why do I need a fax server?
There are many reasons you may want to add fax services to your server. Examples include:
  • NetWare is robust and does a good job of hosting faxing services.
  • Network laser printers can print a cheaper, and sometimes faster, page than a traditional fax machine.
  • A departmental fax machine is overloaded with incoming faxes.
  • You need to keep copies of incoming faxes on your server.
  • You can cut communication costs while allowing broader services.
  • You can provide every user with the ability to send faxes from their PC. (Just like a print queue.)
  • If you have GroupWise, you can have incoming faxes automatically routed to users.
  • It can help increase employee productivity.

A better mousetrap
Do you still fax things like this? You type a document in your favorite word processor, save the document, print it to a laser printer, walk over to get the document, walk to the physical fax machine, and find a cover page. (Oops, who has a pen?) You fill out the cover page, load the document, then stop to make sure it’s not upside down and that it’s oriented the correct way. (Where is that guy's fax number? It's back at the desk.) You dial the number. Busy. Wait. Redial. Connect. Paper jammed. Clear the jam. Retry. Busy. Wait. Redial. Connect. It’s sent! Whew!

There's a better way. You can send faxes directly from your computer using your network connection. All you have to do is create the document in your choice of software applications, click File, then Print, choose the Network Fax Printer, and click OK. Select check boxes to indicate whether or not to make a cover page. Now fill in the screen or even cut and paste the recipient name and fax number. Click OK. The job leaves your PC in seconds and then becomes work for the NetWare server. You never have to leave your chair. About a minute later you get a network broadcast message saying that the fax was successful.

It sounds good, but how will I use this service?
The NetWare server hosting a fax application server can be set up to only receive faxes, only send faxes, or other configurations. You can also assign users permission to route, print, and delete nonimportant faxes that come in.

You may also need to provide users with their own personal fax numbers to receive faxes, and you can give anyone with a login account the ability to send faxes from their PC. If your server is on a WAN with many servers, consider getting a large user license so that remote users can also send out faxes. In terms of bandwidth, the average file size of a one-page fax is around 150K, so it is feasible for WAN users.

The fax hardware adapter manufacturers specify the operating system recommendations. Because NetWare does a good job handling the amount of network overhead and traffic that faxing can create, many fax vendors support it. You will probably be able to just add network fax hardware and software NLMs to your existing server.

Examining your phone lines
The first task on your list is to investigate the phone line situation. Determine the number of lines you'll need, based on the number of users and anticipated usage of the fax system.

A single NetWare server can scale from one line to 144 lines. You just need the hardware and horsepower to drive it. If your server is correctly sized for your user base then you don’t need to add any hardware to your server other than the PCI fax card(s). That’s why it makes sense to first plan your phone line situation, because it will probably be more of a bottleneck than your server.

I think DID (Direct Inward Dial) lines are the best thing since sliced bread; you should consider getting this type of line if you want to provide users on the network with their own personal fax numbers. People really love this; no more going to the fax machine looking for a fax in a pile of others, no more wondering if someone else saw the fax first.

DID lines work similarly to network interface cards that can have multiple IP addresses assigned or bound to them. With DID, the general rule of thumb is that you assign 10 to 15 numbers to one physical DID line.

As the word Inward suggests, this type of line can only receive calls, it cannot originate them, so count on getting a few lines to deliver outbound faxes. Two to three lines for outgoing faxes will work well in smaller environments, as shown in Figure A.

DID and analog line connections to your server fax card.

Obtaining the numbers
When you order the DID lines from the telephone company, purchase a range of phone numbers (for example, 555-4500 through 555-4530). Expect to pay around $80 per month for a block of 100 phone numbers. In the example above the purchased block has 30 numbers. You would then purchase two physical DID lines and have the first 15 numbers (555-4500 through 555-4515) point to this physical DID line, and have the last 15 numbers (555-4516 through 555-4530) point to the second physical DID line.

To use DID lines you will need a PCI fax card that has DID ports on it. In my opinion, Brooktrout has the best quality fax cards available. Don't consider using Class 2.0 fax modems as they eat server power and are not as reliable or efficient as an intelligent fax server adapter. Trust me—don't skimp on hardware. If incoming or outgoing faxes fail, people will stop trusting the technology and then they'll stop using it. With an intelligent server based fax adapter, you'll have a near perfect success rate, and be able to send and receive faxes anywhere (even to the old 1980s thermal facsimile units some people still seem to have in use).

DID lines require the fax adapter to get power from a special -48v DC transformer which you must connect to the fax adapter externally. If you do get a DID fax card, the power supply should come with it; if not, you can order one from Tellabs.

If you're going to deploy a lot of numbers immediately, consider getting a high-density ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) PRI E1 or T1 line that carries 30 dedicated channels of voice or data traffic. In North America, you'll effectively have 23 dedicated channels plus one management channel. You need an ISDN or T1 card or cards installed in your server. These cards in turn are connected internally to your fax card or cards as shown in Figures B and C.

A typical configuration for a T1 hookup for fax lines.

A typical configuration for an ISDN PRI hookup for fax lines.

T1 service to the Net? How about T1 service to your network fax card?
With T1-based fax bandwidth, you have 24 clean digital channels available to you coming in on one piece of wire. I say channels because that's really what they are, which is much better than having 24 analog lines. For example: Let's say you have the T1 service, and you have 100 personal user fax numbers and a few company 800-number fax numbers pointed at the T1. All of a sudden, you have a flood of incoming faxes on one of the 800 numbers. Twenty of the channels can simultaneously accept faxes for that one particular number, without having to have 20 physical copper wires with that particular 800 number written on them.

By the same token, if all 100 users decide to send a two-page fax at the same time, 20 of the channels will service all these outgoing jobs, and it will only take about 15 minutes. I've used the number 20 in these examples because you can create a pool of channels that can be dynamically allocated by any number of logical phone/fax numbers, while still leaving four channels on reserve for special numbers. It would be pretty tough to light all 24 channels at the same time sending and receiving faxes.

You can get help from your telecom provider when you set this up. There are many phone companies offering fantastic rates on phone service and providing T1 service. I know in some large companies there is a separate department for phone services, but with faxes it’s basically just data and you don't have to interfere with your company’s PBX; you can just get the T1 installed right next to your server.

There are many things to take into consideration when deploying fax servers on your network. Now you have a better idea of what is available in terms of technology and line configurations.

Eric Toll is a Certified NetWare Engineer for NetWare 5 and an IBM Certified Technical Solutions Specialist and e-Business Application Architect for IBM’s AS/400 product line. He is corporate IT manager for Panthus Corporation in Syracuse, NY, writes for Network Computing Magazine, and has enjoyed working with ever-changing technology since he began doing networking in the late 1980s. Send him your comments.

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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