Castelle's FaxPress is good for a 350-user office

Fax machines have changed from
novelty to ubiquitous appliance to dinosaur in only a few years. They still do most of the
transmitting, but fax modems and fax servers are clearly where fax is heading.


The GCN Lab looked at the Castelle Inc. FaxPress 3500 network fax server, which can
attach to Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 or Novell NetWare networks and deliver fax services to
all network clients.


Equipped with a network interface card and four 14.4-kilobit/sec fax modems, the
FaxPress device transmits with a minimum of hassle. It's powered by a Motorola Inc. 68030
processor and 12M of RAM.


I tested the FaxPress on an NT 4.0 network with Windows 95 and NT Workstation clients.
It also works in joint NT-NetWare environments; token-ring connectivity costs extra.


Old-fashioned interface


Setup was simply connecting the 3500 to a 10Base-T hub on the GCN Lab's network and
installing the software on the server. The software interface and features looked a bit
dated, and the documentation was difficult to follow. The test package had Version 3.5
documentation and a Version 3.71 addendum, although the software itself was Version 3.73.


After installing the software, I set up the user clients. Under NT, the 3500 could not
obtain user and domain information. I didn't test the FaxPress with NetWare, but company
representatives said the latest version of the software, 3.73, will interface with Novell
Directory Services to get such information.


Under a multiprotocol software option, FaxPress can work with NetWare and NT at the
same time.


Setting up the user clients individually wasn't difficult, but it was an unnecessary
step that ought to be fixed in future versions.


When the software and clients are properly installed, the 3500 can interface with Lotus
Notes and cc:Mail, Microsoft Exchange, Novell GroupWise or any e-mail system that supports
Message Handling Services.


FaxPress proved to be reliable and easy to use. I had only one test unit, but on a
network with multiple FaxPress 3500 units, the software can balance the load to cut down
on delivery bottlenecks and keep backed-up faxes from consuming network resources.


That feature should certainly appeal to administrators of large networks, but my advice
is to wait until the 3500's software gets more enterprise-friendly.


For workgroups and departments that do a lot of faxing, however, the FaxPress should
meet your needs now. Castelle recommends it for offices with 350 fax users. It's easier to
manage than standalone fax modem cards and provides a central point of fax access and
administration.


Installing multiple telephone lines at a central location is also easier than
installing lines wherever there happens to be a modem.


Future network fax servers should focus more on access from open-standards platforms.
Browser access to incoming faxes is the best approach, but the GCN Lab has yet to see any
vendor heading in that direction.


Word processors can save documents straight to intranets. Why can't they save documents
to be faxed? Not until this kind of platform-independent approach is widespread will we
see the end of the standalone fax machine and the birth of the networkable fax device.


The FaxPress 3500 shows where things stand. On the upside, the hardware for sending
faxes and connecting to a network is mature and common. The downside is that the software
doesn't make it easy enough to incorporate this technology into the way we work.


The problem is unfortunately broader than fax servers and stretches into all office
productivity tools. But the paradigm of transmitting faxes is well understood.


I hope the fax server industry can develop a new paradigm that ties the ease of faxing
better to the connectivity benefits of client-server networks. Right now, this marriage is
rocky.


At $5,000, the FaxPress 3500 isn't cheap. But it seems more reasonable when you compare
the costs of buying and maintaining regular fax machines, plus installing consumables,
against the ease of faxing right from your users' PCs.


The 3500 is in a small category of networking products that demands little from the
administrator and serves many users. It's one of the better examples of what can be done
now, and I hope future versions will show what this category can become.


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