Fax Management for the Enterprise

Brooktrout’s TruFax is Windows Server 2003-certified.

Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003 is chock full of features and capabilities. One of those capabilities, often overlooked, is its shared faxing. Microsoft Shared Fax is a basic feature of the OS, but in light of Microsoft’s new security emphasis, isn’t installed by default.

Once installed, Shared Fax integrates directly with Exchange and/or Outlook to provide fax services from within the user’s e-mail client. Users can then send or receive faxes just as they send or receive e-mails.

Even if you don’t use Exchange or Outlook, the built-in fax-management capabilities of Windows XP and Windows 2003 let the whole organization take advantage of the Shared Fax service. This client tool offers a wizard-based interface for sending faxes, and even lets you preview the fax as a Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) image before sending it off. Since the fax service will work with any modem supported by Windows Server, it’s fairly simple to implement.

But if you’re serious about faxing, you might consider using a dedicated fax board rather than a generic modem. Brooktrout Technologies has released a new series of fax boards designed to specifically work with Windows 2003. In fact, Brooktrout has taken the time to certify these boards for the OS, earning the "Designed for Windows Server 2003" logo for their new boards. This feature alone makes the installation and operation of the boards simple, because drivers are included with the base OS and guaranteed to work properly.

BrookTrout TruFax 200
Brooktrout’s TruFax 200 board dual channels let you receive and send faxes at the same time.

Two certified board models are available: TruFax and TR114. The TruFax 100/200 model is the one we tested. We actually looked at the TruFax 200, the two-channel version (read two telephone connections; TruFax 100 only includes a single channel). The card was installed in a Dell PowerEdge 600SC server running Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition. The machine recognized and installed the card automatically. This PCI card uses a universal PCI bus connector, letting you use any PCI slot from 3.3 volt, 32-bit slots to 5 volt, 64-bit slots.

The TruFax 200’s dual channels allowed us to use one channel to send out faxes that were queued for delivery while receiving incoming faxes through the second channel. This is ideal for small to medium-sized businesses or regional offices that want to include an integrated fax solution without breaking the bank. Of course, you don’t need a Brooktrout fax board to use Shared Fax. You could easily do it with any supported modem and use it as a dual function card to support both faxes and remote dial-in. But today, more and more organizations are opting for VPN connections through a local ISP and moving away from modem-based dial-ins. In addition, if the modem is connected to a remote user, it can’t receive or send faxes at the same time. You might also consider the security issue. Brooktrout boards are designed to support only fax-based communications, automatically dropping all non-fax-related calls. This way, no one can use the fax board to penetrate the network when you’re not looking.

In Windows 2003, faxing is managed through the Fax Service Manager (all fax commands are under Start Menu | All Programs | Accessories | Communications | Fax). This tool can manage fax services on either the local or a remote machine. It’s a useful tool since the MMC regroups all aspects of fax management and administration: driver and hardware configuration, available cover pages, as well as incoming and outgoing fax rules. Its rules include taking advantage of off-hours, to send faxes when telecommunication costs are lower. Another advantage is its tight integration with the Brooktrout TruFax 200. Since the TruFax is a special fax board, it can automatically provide fax compression, reducing the size of the message it needs to transfer. It also processes all faxes directly on-board, allowing the server to use its processing power for non-fax-related activities.

If shared faxing is something you’re concerned about, it’s definitely worth your while to take a look at both Microsoft Shared Fax and Brooktrout’s fax boards. These boards work with most other software fax solutions, but the combination of the default fax service and the card worked quite well. What was most impressive was how short a time it took from board installation to actual faxing (about 15 minutes). The combination is quite impressive and the board cost is quite reasonable.

About the Author

Danielle Ruest and Nelson Ruest, both Microsoft MVPs, are IT professionals focused on technologies futures. They are authors of multiple books, including "Microsoft Windows Server 2008: The Complete Reference" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2008), which focuses on building virtual workloads with Microsoft's new OS.

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