Product review: Sutus Business Central SB-200

Product review: Sutus Business Central SB-200

Sutus has small offices covered with crisp telephony, clever workspaces, networking and security, and a nice price

Sutus started shipping Business Central in November 2007 and is already making waves with this unified communication solution. Although it primarily competes on price and easy administration, there are other advantages for small-office owners.

The main hardware (about the size of a Microsoft Xbox 360 gaming console) integrates seven components -- likely reducing your initial investment and certainly making setup and maintenance simple. That's because the SB-200 combines a router, domain controller, wireless access point, and file and e-mail server -- all in addition to providing security and core telephony functions.

Initial setup of my test environment went fast (about 10 minutes) and was foolproof. After booting the SB-200, I plugged in my external Internet trunk line, connected the three supplied Polycom VoIP phones to the router ports, added the small Sutus Gateway for using an analog phone line, and then accessed the setup wizard from my Windows Vista laptop. I especially appreciated the PoE design (unique among the solutions tested) that eliminates separate power supplies for both phones and the Gateway device.

The wizard made it easy to configure the server, set up my Internet connection, and create workspaces for three users. With the basics done, I turned to the more extensive Business Central Manager (also accessed through a secure browser connection) to perform other tasks. These included recording an auto-attendant greeting, configuring the firewall, and then setting up wireless networking and VPN access.

The user interface is fairly easy to follow, allowing non-technical users to manage phones and extensions, and to determine how calls are routed. It's not quite as intuitive as Microsoft Response Point or PBXtra, but only required about 30 minutes to configure all of Sutus' other features. For example, the file server portion let me create personal and group storage areas; afterward, mapping drives to these spaces from different PCs and operating systems -- Windows Explorer, the Macintosh Finder, and Linux -- all worked without a problem. Additionally, I created e-mail accounts and accessed these from Microsoft Outlook.

By default, Sutus includes a master incoming call flow, or rule set, that directs callers to the auto-attendant. This main reception workspace can ring the receptionist's phone or automatically instruct people to dial an extension or go to the directory of extensions. Each employee workspace then has its own incoming call flow; employees edit this to have a sequence of up to three call destinations, such as phones, voice mail, or back to the auto-attendant.

But that's not the half of it. Each Sutus workspace is actually a collection of services that include phones, e-mail, and network file folders. Depending on permissions you set, these workspaces can belong to an individual, a group, or a location. I think this should provide a very good collaboration experience for very small firms.

In operation, the sound quality of the Polycom phones was excellent. Furthermore, accessing the system menus from the phones didn't tax me. For instance, three steps allowed me to access messages in my workspace or a shared workspace. Sutus also provides other typical voice messaging system (VMS) functions, such as forwarding messages and accessing the VMS from an external phone.

The SB-200 doesn't match the telephony features of the high-end PBXtra configuration or Allworx with add-ons. But Sutus has three-way conferencing and supports fax machines connected to the Gateway 310 [you mean the SB-200?].

Another point in this solution's favor is reliability features that don't cost extra. For instance, automatic backups and RAID hard disks, plus a reboot and recovery agent should make SMB owners feel more comfortable.

In the case of Sutus, less is truly more. The lower price (considering all the hardware components) doesn't reflect diminished features. Moreover, the Sutus hardware was the most compact of the group, considering that wireless and a router are built in. Sutus' sweet spot is clearly very small operations, so the only caveat is the lack of expandability.

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