Fax and Your Unified Communications Strategy

The concept of fax may seem older than dirt… and it is… but it still has a place in offices across Australia. Even with all the ways we can now communicate, fax is often a requirement our customers ask us about when they are deploying unified communications solutions.

Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft’s Unified Messaging Vision

Unified Messaging is part of Microsoft’s Unified Communications (UC) vision which combines voice messaging, instant messaging and email into a single messaging infrastructure.

In Microsoft Exchange 2007, we got our first glimpse of Unified Messaging. The catch, however, was that the functionality only worked with inbound faxes. If you were sending a fax, it could not be done using Microsoft Exchange 2007.

Microsoft made a strategic decision with Exchange 2010 to leverage fax solution providers with deep expertise in handling fax solutions. With those changes, Exchange 2010 (and 2013) now forward the inbound fax calls to a dedicated partner fax solution. The partner fax solution establishes the fax call with the remote endpoint and processes the fax media on behalf of the Unified Messaging enabled user. The received fax is then deposited into a mailbox as a fax item.

Addressing Fax Requirements within your Unified Communications Strategy

When planning your UC strategy consider what your requirements are for faxing. You may be able to outsource your fax capabilities entirely by using a cloud service that converts faxes to/from email. Alternatively, most Multi Function Printers (MFPs) now support fax to email, allowing you to forward the fax as an email or send via an email to a fax service.

If you do need to support legacy fax devices you’ll need to allow for FXS ports on your UC media gateways. These will provide analogue phone lines for your fax machines.

Another option would be to leverage your UC media gateways that connect to the PSTN (usually via ISDN or SIP trunk) to consolidate PSTN connectivity including faxing. The UC media gateways can direct fax calls either to FXS ports which have legacy machines attached to them, or to a fax server which can deposit the fax into an Exchange Server inbox.

Some UC media gateways also allow for single number fax, where a person can have  a single telephone number for both phone and fax.

So if you are after a comprehensive faxing capability that integrates with Exchange Unified Messaging, you will also need a fax server, even with Microsoft Exchange 2010/2013. The fax server will not only provide fax routing between your Exchange 2010/2013 and UC media gateway but can also provide:

  • Delivery of incoming faxes as email;
  • Integration with fax machines and Multi Function Printers;
  • The ability to send faxes from any integrated application;
  • Better security;
  • OCR capabilities;
  • Archival of faxes for retention and compliance;
  • A central fax repository;
  • Fax cost savings;
  • Fax Over IP capabilities.