Do you dream of giving Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Nortel, Symantec and all the rest of the pain-in-the-you-know-what techno giants the old heave ho? Well, potentially, now you can by entering the emerging world of small-business appliances that stuff computing and telephony into a single box.
All-in-ones combine the once-uncombinable--technologies like phone servers, file servers, file walls, routers and web servers--into a single digital device that fits on any shelf. They're not exactly cheap; units start in the $2,000 range. But they are far cheaper than the business technologies bought separately. And all-in-ones can be self-installed, easy to customize and powerful enough to support an entire small business's techno-infrastructure.
“The idea is to keep complex business technologies as simple as possible so even the smallest firms can access enterprise-level tools,” says Shawn Chute, executive vice president at Sutus, the British Columbia-based integrated business device maker.
There are other cool startups worth knowing here--East Rochester, N.Y.-based Allworx and Fairfield, N.J.-based Critical Links--but Sutus makes probably the most representative device of the all-in-one market, the Business Central 200 (a three-person business will pay about $2,500 for a fully installed system). The thing combines everything from e-mail servers to wireless routers to voice mail management into one unit.
To save you the hassle of testing an all-in-one--or worse yet, having you convert your shop over to one you hate--I got a thorough briefing from Sutus executives and installed a BC200 at my six-person digital content company.
What's to Love
Just as the company promises, this really is a business-ready phone, file and e-mail server--plus a ton of other stuff--in one easy-to-install box.
The unit, about the size of an average desktop PC, could not be easier to get running, at least to start. Plug it into a wall outlet. Connect the swanky, business-class Polycom desk phones via a single normal Ethernet cable. Then plug in up to three phone lines and one fax line. Connect the whole system to a broadband connection--again via a normal Ethernet jack--and then sit back and do nothing at all. The unit boots up the phone, creates basic telephony and PC identities, creates voice mail, brokers a firewall, configures the e-mail server--in other words, gets you ready for business in less than one hour. Very impressive.
What's Not to Love
As simple as it is to set up, the BC200 is still major-league technology. It will take real time and effort to get it to actually do what you need it to do.
I'll be blunt: Sutus, and probably all these integrated solutions, are configuration train wrecks waiting to happen. Yes, they can automatically set up basic voice mail, e-mail, file servers and all the rest. But you still have to configure your exact employee names, match them to passwords, get the log-ins right and manage the phone-calling sequences. And that's just the phone. Then there's the e-mail. And the file servers. And wireless routers and ... and ... and. And all of that--all of it--has to be dead right for your business to stay in business. Pretty daunting stuff.
Do This Now
From one small-business owner to another, Sutus is a legit techno solution. If you are in the market for office systems, by all means give these guys a sniff. Yes, you can dream the dream of never having to say you're sorry to Microsoft: Just be aware that your entire business infrastructure is getting jammed into a single device.
And bad data, no matter how cool is the box it sits in, is bad data.