3CX Phone System on VMware vSphere 6
Software based PBX for Windows
We are moving more and more towards an era in which software is really going to make a difference. Hardware is becoming irrelevant. Managing, securing and processing data has always been a top priority for hypervisors. A few years ago it was almost unthinkable to turn voice-related data on this same hypervisor. The adoption of virtualization in the area of latency-sensitive applications has been slow partly due to unsubstantiated performance concerns. I remember a project where we tried to get VoIP running on a hypervisor to achieve flexibility and cost reduction. Back then there were simply too many technical issues to run this smoothly. Last year 3CX announced that its phone system had achieved VMware Ready and Windows Server 2012 certified status. This designation indicates that 3CX Phone System has undergone detailed test procedures and is supported on VMware vSphere and Hyper-V for production environments. 3CX Phone System can even be found within the online VMware Solution Exchange (VSX)
3CX is the developer of 3CX Phone System which is an open standard unified communications platform for Windows that works with standard SIP phones and replaces any proprietary PBX – without the hardware. I'm very curious as to how this platform has developed itself. After some research I came up with 3CX who were glad to help me out. They provided me with a 3CX Phone System Standard V12 - 4SC including 1 year Maintenance license to give it a spin. 3CX Phone System is available in three different editions – Free, Standard and Pro! 3CX technical support is available via their support portal for 3CX Partners (free) or with a 3CX Support package (extra charge). For a features comparison see this page and all support an unlimited number of extensions (free edition is limited to only two simultaneous calls and of course there other features that are missing). You can simply download the trial product.
One big advantage is that it's software only which reduced time to benefit because it differs from the traditional model using hardware. It’s inexpensive to expand and easy to install & manage. When I'm talking about installations and management 3CX is performing well in this category. Because 3CX runs on Windows, it is easily installed and managed by Windows IT administrators without the need for special telecom or Linux skills. It’s preconfigured to work with popular IP Phones, VoIP Gateways and SIP trunks. Since I am no expert on VOIP and PBX, I was afraid this was going to take me a long time to get this up and running. but the contrary was proved. The install is simple and afterwards the management interface was clean, web-based and worked from anywhere; Windows, Mac OS, iOS & Android clients.
But as I mentioned before, VoIP applications are characterized by latency-sensitivity that dictates audio data be delivered at regular intervals to achieve good voice quality. I was surprised at how good the sound was and that there were no pauses in the delivery. My test lab is not heavily loaded. But this is ultimately solved by good management and making sufficient resources available. Therefore, timely processing and delivery of audio data is critically important to VoIP service. In the virtualized environment, however, meeting this requirement for VoIP applications is more challenging due to the additional layer of scheduling virtual machines (VMs) and processing network packets.
Despite such challenges vSphere 6 is able to allow VoIP traffic to be isolated by partitioning physical network bandwidth using the Network I/O Control feature. A feature that is available since vSphere 5. This helps to achieve the intended voice quality when VoIP traffic competes for shared high contention network resources. Even 1% packet loss can jeopardize voice quality.
3CX integrates with CRM & Accounting software and you can connect 3CX Phone System Pro to Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, SugarCRM, Google Contacts and Sage ACT!
In conclusion: The product looks mature, the documentation is outstanding and complete and both the products and the documents are available in different languages. The product list has also grown in time, including not only the 3CX Phone System for Windows but also a cloud version of 3CX Phone System which allows you to host up to 50 separate 3CX Phone System instances on one Windows Server machine. Each instance is entirely separate from the other.
Note that there isn’t a VA (Virtual Appliance) ready to use. This would make it easier for a lot of businesses. This is something they need to work on. And note also that the Hyper-V Virtual machine running 3CX Phone System requires specific settings in order to be sure that the MAC address remain static.