This month's Buyer's Guide is devoted to AS/400 fax solutions. This market is changing rapidly, and the number of new offerings has dramatically risen. Until recently, the solutions available to the AS/400 were primarily bundled hardware and software solutions. Now, with so many new players in the AS/400 fax market, we have lots of new features that provide better integration and more comprehensive business solutions. We can still buy extremely powerful hardware and software bundles, or we can get a comprehensive standalone software product that we install on a spare PC.
The upshot of this new marketplace is that selecting a fax solution is more complicated than ever. Not all AS/400 fax solutions are the same.
AS/400 Fax vs. Fiction
Putting a fax solution on a PC is a simple process: crack open the PC's case, slip in a fax modem, and start feeding in the bundled software diskettes. These diskettes contain the usual "lite" version of a commercial fax software product. Is this the way our management views the process of choosing a fax product for the AS/400? Do they have that same "lite" perspective? "It's a fax board, right?" they seem to be saying. "So what's the big deal?"
The first lesson we've learned, however, is that the requirements for a quality fax solution are as unique as the requirements for running our businesses. There is no "lite," one-size-fits-all, AS/400 fax solution, and there's certainly no dearth of features and functions to choose from. Meanwhile, we don't have time to fiddle with these features. We want our fax system to be powerful, but we don't want to dedicate a body to its implementation or maintenance.
So how do we choose a solution that meets our needs, but doesn't overwhelm our resources?
Focus on Your Requirements
The first step toward choosing the right fax solution is to identify the real business requirement. Fax on the AS/400 is no longer a single-threaded solution. By this I mean that faxing from the AS/400 is not confined to report printing across a fax modem connection. Scads of new applications for the AS/400 use the fax as a medium. We need to know about these applications in order to judge the power of a particular fax solution. However, the power of these applications shouldn't be the sole criteria for selecting a fax solution. We must have a real business requirement-such as reducing postage or consolidating communications costs-before we'll get approval for a purchase.
With this in mind, consider these AS/400 fax features and applications.
Fax on Demand
In this fax application, our customers call our fax system and-using a touch-tone phone-select documents to be sent to them. A digitized voice provides them with instructions on how to use the service and a list of menu selections from which they can choose. The reports we've configured and programmed for the system might include sales brochures, statistics, database inquiries, or even AS/400 status reports. Customers punch in their own fax numbers, and the selected information is formatted and transmitted back to their fax machines.
What do we get from the transaction? We get their fax numbers, and an indication of their interest in our products. Our database of customers and their fax numbers grows. When we want to broadcast a communication, we have everything we need to be effective.
In-bound DID Fax Reception
Direct Inward Dialing (DID) allows faxing directly to the recipient's personal folder or mailbox. This centralizes the reception and distribution of incoming faxes and reduces the loss or delay of that important communication.
Why would anyone want to connect a fax to the Internet? For high-volume communications, such as mass mailing, faxing across the Internet can save postage and printing costs and reduce the time on the phone lines.
Forms Storage and Overlay
This feature allows us to store electronic forms to be used by the fax processing software. The forms may include graphical images, such as signatures, logos, or product pictures, which are then merged with the outgoing fax transmission.
As ubiquitous as faxing has become, there are places in the world where the telexing of messages is still the norm. Some fax packages now offer the capability to connect to telexing services transparently.
Total Billing Solutions
Some businesses have moved away from using the U.S. Postal Service for the distribution of invoices, purchase orders, or other business documents. Faxing these documents saves postage costs, while simultaneously decreasing the time it takes to mail them.
The average cost of sending an invoice to a customer is about 90 cents, while the cost of faxing that same invoice is about 10 cents. Total billing solutions, which rely upon the fax medium, may be able to pay for themselves in less than six months by reducing postage and preparation costs.
The Technical Breakdown
If your company needs a simple fax solution, shouldn't you expect a simple and straightforward means of implementing and maintaining that solution? Of course! Yet with all the potential power of these new fax products, you might be tempted to take on a highly sophisticated product that requires a lot of customization. As the level of complexity rises, so too does the complexity in the fax solution. How do the vendors manage this increased complexity? This section focuses on some underlying implementation concerns.
A new entry into the AS/400 fax marketplace is the roll-your-own solution. These standalone software packages provide a basic fax application, but require you to connect the software to a PC that must be purchased separately. Some of these packages sell for as little as $200 and give you basic, centralized AS/400 faxing capabilities.
These packages are great if you have personnel with the skills to set them up and maintain them. Indeed, some of these packages provide APIs to access the software through the AS/400, making the growth potential seem unlimited. Don't forget costs to the organization, though. Customization and integration use MIS staff resources. Do you really want to spend your MIS dollars maintaining a custom fax implementation? The answer depends on the total business environment-a custom fax solution may give you a level of flexibility that makes its costs worthwhile.
One of the more common implementations of fax on the AS/400 is through printer emulation. A PC or other custom piece of equipment attaches to the AS/400 and emulates a printer or printer/display combination. Anything that can print on the AS/400 can be faxed in a simple, straightforward manner. Messages resulting from the faxing processes-such as delivery notifications or error messages-are reported back to an emulated display.
These systems are the easiest to implement on the AS/400 because their function is built around the native architecture of 5250 device types. They also have some native architectural limitations.
Don't expect to print anything on an emulated printer that you can't print on a similarly configured AS/400 printer. For that reason, consider products that emulate one of IBM's laser printers. If you need to fax logos, forms, or graphics from the AS/400, you should make certain the printer has adequate font support and can handle AFP and the Intelligent Printer Data Stream (IPDS).
Peer-to-Peer Fax Servers
Up in the stratosphere of the AS/400 fax solution marketplace are true fax servers that communicate and integrate with the AS/400 on a peer-to-peer level. Often these devices run under unique, separate, and highly functional operating systems-such as UNIX or OS/2-that are able to handle tremendous workloads. They may have their own file systems integrated with the AS/400 and keep the status of both systems continually updated.
Integration of these systems tends to be robust, with API hooks specifically designed for the OS/400 operating system. This can provide programmers with a good, structured pathway for expanding the packages and for tailoring homegrown AS/400 applications to utilize the fax server's software.
How these fax servers connect to the AS/400 can be a hidden benefit. Many use LAN adapters instead of the native twinaxial connection and make their services directly available to other computers attached to the network. For instance, some LAN users might be able to make use of the fax server without initiating a connection to the AS/400. This can simplify PC Support or Client Access/400 duties, while making the services global to the entire network.
Get a Handle on the Products
Develop an ongoing working list of concerns and questions about the hardware and software of any fax solution. You should constantly tailor this list to reflect the real environment in which you envision the fax solution. For instance, if you're looking for basic fax transmission capabilities, you don't need to weigh down the selection criteria with details about the native operating system of the fax machine. On the other hand, be realistic about the solution's workload. If you anticipate tremendous usage by all departments, be aware of the quality and power of the proposed solution.
Here's my list, aimed at a cross-section of potential applications. Use it as a primer, and then add or delete components as you see fit.
? What do I have to do when I want to add another fax line? What's the maximum the equipment will support? Am I limited by the software or the hardware?
? How do I upgrade to a faster fax modem? (Higher speed fax modems enter the marketplace every six months.) Is the upgrade process easy? Are there hidden limitations?
? How does the software integrate with my current or planned E-mail and word processing systems?
? How are fonts added? Are they software that must be reconfigured, or are they cards that are inserted like laser printer font cartridges?
? Does the software handle recipient directories or telephone directories? Some implementations enable me to build these directories using a program and data already resident in my system.
? How does the software/hardware combination handle confirmation messages? (I want to know that my faxes are successfully transmitted.) Does the confirmation go to a tracking system, or does it merely send me a break message? Can I configure it on a transmission-by-transmission basis?
? What are the product's fax broadcasting capabilities? How important is fax broadcasting to my planned application?
? Can I schedule a fax transmission for off-hours? How does it work? If I schedule large batch jobs of faxes, will the transmission load automatically be distributed across all the available phone lines of the fax server?
? What are the capabilities for fax usage reporting? Is a database maintained? Where? Can this usage report data be accessed by software on the AS/400? How?
? What happens when the system fails? What diagnostic features are provided? What does the system provide for recovery of in-process transactions?
? How is security defined to the system? Is it based on my AS/400's security profiles or must I maintain a separate security system?
? How are inbound faxes handled? Do they go directly to my users' E-mail boxes or folders? How are users notified when they've received a fax?
? What kind of vendor support do I get? Do I have to sign a maintenance agreement? Can I handle the problems myself? Do I have a choice?
Bringing It All Back Home
Bringing an integrated fax solution into an organization can be a real cost-saver and an exhilarating project for everyone. With all the new solutions available, it can also be leveraged into a real mission-critical application. Choosing the best fit for our business offers us an opportunity to learn more about both the technology and the real business requirements of our company. It's a high-visibility project with lots of benefits. As the AS/400 fax marketplace continues to heat up, we'll see greater utility at lower prices. Understanding these products and what's available is the key to providing the best fit at the best price. Look through these offerings. AS/400 fax has never been more exciting.
Thomas M. Stockwell is a senior technical editor for Midrange Computing.
Fax for the AS/400
AIFP 5560 SW 107th Beaverton, OR 97005 800-600-4329, ext. 490 fax: 503-520-5458 The HOST-FAX suite of fax and communication servers offers production and ad hoc faxing from any AS/400 application. HOST-FAX offers an AS/400 user interface, a fax-on-demand module, a Windows user interface for faxing from any Windows application, a Direct Inward Dial (DID) fax reception and routing module, and an Internet module. HOST-FAX is an open, industry standard server that connects directly to your AS/400 and is scaleable from 1 to 48 fax channels per server. Anzac Computer Equipment 31057 Genstar Rd. Hayward, CA 94544 510-475-4600 fax: 510-475-4680 The Anzac FaxLaser attaches directly to an IBM AS/400 and performs as an IBM 3812-1 printer. It supports the features of IBM's laser printers, including font selection, portrait and landscape printing, and Computer Output Reduction (COR). With the addition of a plain text instruction in the print job, it will automatically transmit the print job to a fax number anywhere in the world. AT&T 400 Interpace Pkwy. Parsippany, NJ 07054 800-242-6005, ext. 5202 fax: 201-331-4639 OfficeAccess software for the IBM AS/400 provides a full range of messaging options right from your AS/400 workstation. Users have the flexibility of communicating with virtually anyone, anywhere, anytime. Message delivery options include fax, E-mail, X.400, telex, and more. OfficeAccess can transparently support IBM OfficeVision/400 users. For those who have not implemented OfficeVision/400, OfficeAccess provides its own interface consistent with IBM AS/400 standards. Biscom, Inc. 321 Billerica Rd. Chelmsford, MA 01824 800-477-2472 fax: 508-250-4449 FAXCOM for AS/400 turns your AS/400 into a corporate fax management system. It offers capabilities such as multi-channel support, individual and group fax phone book management, complete fax tracking and billing, inbound routing to AS/400 folders, business forms storage and overlays, token-ring connectivity, and OfficeVision/400 integration. FAXCOM for AS/400 is also integrated with IBM PC Support/400 and Client Access/400. CAP Computer Consultants, Inc. 10020 Cedar Ln. Kensington, MD 20895 301-770-5045 fax: 301-897-0710 CAP FaxLink for the AS/400 allows users to send faxes from their workstations or attached personal computers. Users can select any spooled report or document and direct it to be faxed, with a cover sheet, to the entered person and fax number. CAP FaxLink utilizes a standard PC and interfaces with popular PC-based faxing software. The product can be integrated with existing applications to automatically send faxes such as customer quotes and order acknowledgments. cma ettworth, Inc. 1900 South Harbor City Blvd., Suite 124 Melbourne, FL 32901 800-999-5248 fax: 407-726-9942 TELEX/FAX/400 provides a comprehensive fax solution for the AS/400 and PC user. It features fax receiving and viewing and the ability to fax reports and forms from applications. It supports Windows and OS/2 as well as IBM's Integrated Fax Adapter card and Fascimile Support/400. TELEX/FAX/400 interfaces to Voice Access, a solution that offers interactive voice response APIs and fax-back capabilities. A free demonstration is available by calling 800-999-5248 for TELEX/FAX/400 or 800-341-4329 for Voice Access. Computer Keyes 21929 Makah Rd. Woodway, WA 98020 800-356-0203; 206-776-6443 fax: 206-776-7210 Keyes File Image and Fax lets users send and receive fax documents, spool files, OfficeVision/400 files, PC files, and more from any AS/400 terminal or attached PC. The product displays fax, PCX, TIFF, and other raster images on PCs or image/fax terminals. It outputs to laser printers on forms up to 228 characters wide. Features include speeds up to 14,400Kbps, APIs, history logs, and broadcast, schedule, and route capabilities. The product lets you create your own forms overlays, including logos and signatures. Create!print of America 21201 Victory Blvd. Canoga Park, CA 91303 800-221-5882; 818-992-4028 fax: 818-992-6290 Create!fax is a faxing capability enhancement to Create!print, an electronic forms software print manager for the AS/400. It is an automated business document faxing system that merges electronic forms with the user's print file without changes to the application software. Create!fax produces high quality faxes that do not have to be printed prior to transmitting. All characters, boxes, and lines are electronically imaged, generating clear and concise logos, signatures, forms, and documents. DCE Corporation 5 Hillandale Ave. Stamford, CT 06902 800-326-3821; 203-358-3940 fax: 203-358-3944 DCE has a full range of FaxBoxes-computer-to-fax gateways that connect directly to a computer's serial port and can emulate a variety of printers. FaxBox features include sending text and graphics, sending postscript and HP PCL, store and forward faxing, and adding companies' letterheads and logos automatically. FaxBox may also convert inbound formats to those required. FaxBox can detect Dual Tone Multiple Frequency (DTMF) and Direct Inward Dial (DID) routing codes to enable distribution within your organization. DCS, Inc. 997 Hampshire Ln. Richardson, TX 75080 214-705-8224 fax: 214-690-9869 DCS FAX/400 is an application designed to utilize the advanced communications features of the IBM AS/400. DCS FAX/400 enables users to communicate through facsimile directly from their AS/400 workstations. It allows AS/400 users to fax spool files directly from the AS/400 to any fax machine in the world-no printing or scanning needed. DCS FAX/400 also logs usage and provides reports that can be used for internal or external billing. Fax*Star Division of SEPE, Inc. 4001 Westerly Pl., Suite 106 Newport Beach, CA 92660 800-327-9859 fax: 714-752-7980 Fax*Star is a fax gateway for midrange, mainframe, DEC, and UNIX users. Fax*Star, configured as a printer, attaches to the host through twinaxial or coaxial cable or an RS 232 port. Simple embedded commands in print jobs control the fax conversion and sending process. Fax*Star Windows in conjunction with Fax*Star allows users to fax directly from Windows applications. With dual connection to your host computer and a Novell server, through token-ring or Ethernet, faxing capability expands to multiple platforms. Holodyne Corporation 111 Richmond St. W., Suite 323 Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5H 2G4 416-363-3020 fax: 416-363-9099 SQLFax 2.0 is an enterprisewide solution that provides direct database connectivity. With SQLFax's API, any program that can write a record to the database can send a fax. SQLFax 2.0 provides an image management and contact management system that harnesses the power of SQL. The most unique feature of SQLFax 2.0 is its ability to query your relational database directly. Other features include mail merge, file format conversion, decompression/compression, and logs that provide an audit trail. IBM 800-426-2255 See your IBM representative Facsimile Support/400 lets your AS/400 communicate with more than 15 million Group 3 fax machines worldwide. Outbound faxes can include text, images, graphics, multiple fonts, and electronic forms designed with Advanced Function Printing Utilities/400. Facsimile Requestor/400 can increase productivity by adding distribution lists, automatic cover sheets, and off-hours transmission capability. IBM's Integrated Fax Adapter simultaneously supports two send and two receive operations, or one send and one receive operation. To your AS/400, the adapter appears as an intelligent printer data stream (IPDS) printer. Integrated Custom Software, Inc. 701 Hebron Ave. Glastonbury, CT 06033 203-657-3339 fax: 203-657-8150 FormSprint Fax provides automated faxing of any form using existing application software. The fax document is produced by FormSprint, which merges spool file data with the FormSprint form definition and then passes the output to the AS/400-connected FaxBox manufactured by DCE Corporation. Graphics, logos, signatures, and a variety of scaled typefaces can be included. Formats are defined on the AS/400 and can be changed at any time. Users are automatically notified of the successful transmission of their faxes. Pacific Solutions L.C. 4395 Diplomacy Rd. Ft. Worth, TX 76155 817-545-8600 fax: 817-545-8989 Two AS/400 fax products are available from Pacific Solutions L.C.: Cobwebb/400, which uses the Hasler Fax Modem, and Cfax400, which works with the IBM Fax Adapter card and Facsimile Support/400. Both products offer a comprehensive range of features, including a PC Windows fax driver and viewer, an AS/400 text editor, an API for sending faxes from RPG programs, a spool file interface, comprehensive fax queueing facilities, and more. Quadrant Software P.O. Box 200 Mansfield, MA 02048 800-258-3399; 508-337-8559 fax: 508-337-8604 The FastFax family of products is designed to send, receive, and control all faxes across your WANs and LANs with least cost routing. The product line includes support for batching of faxes going to the same number, Microsoft Windows, AFP/IPDS, the IBM Integrated Fax Adapter, the 3489 Image/Fax display, OfficeVision/400, and Facsimile Support/400. Powerful no-programming integration features can be implemented by the most unsophisticated users with security against unauthorized access. Rydex Midrange Technologies, Inc. 302-71 Spit Brook Rd. Nashua, NH 03060 800-661-1815 fax: 603-888-4258 RMTI offers a variety of fax solutions for the AS/400. Key strengths include a powerful API toolkit and the ability to use either direct RMTI fax gateways or the fax services of value-added networks (i.e., MCI, AT&T, and GE). A comprehensive user interface allows for ad hoc faxing or serves as a front-end to RMTI's messaging systems. These messaging systems provide E-mail for single or networked AS/400s, mail enabling, and connectivity to OfficeVision/400, LANs, and value-added networks. Support Net, Inc. 8425 Woodfield Crossing Blvd., Suite 125 Indianapolis, IN 46240 800-255-3390 fax: 317-469-0923 Fax Server/401 is Support Net's client/server fax product for the AS/400. With Fax Server/401, users can send a Quicknote to an ad hoc destination; fax OfficeVision/400 documents; fax any document or report generated by the AS/400; fax images such as logos, signatures, and letterhead; fax Microsoft Windows documents; receive inbound faxes-routed to the addressee or printer; and fax documents such as purchase orders from existing software. System 3x/4xx Warehouse, Inc. 1401 Capital Ave. Plano, TX 75074 800-397-9783 fax: 800-397-0056 FAXsystem 3x/4xx is an integrated facsimile system for the S/3X and AS/400 environments. FAXsystem connects through twinaxial cable and provides fax automation for computer document delivery from the host system. T4 Systems, Inc. 3 Innwood Circle, Suite 116 Little Rock, AR 72211 800-233-1526; 501-227-6637 fax: 501-227-6245 The T4 MultiLINK is a reliable, high-capacity fax server for multiple mainframes, midrange host applications, client/server applications, and networks or combinations. The T4 MultiLINK runs on a high-powered UNIX operating system. It also contains menu-driven administration and enables diagnostics both locally and remotely through modem or network connection. Teubner & Associates, Inc. Seventh & Main, P.O. Box 1994 Stillwater, OK 74076 800-343-7070; 405-624-2254 fax: 405-747-8420 FAXGATE provides automated, high-volume faxing for AS/400s, TCP/IP hosts, LANs, and SNA mainframes simultaneously enterprisewide. A single FAXGATE system can receive documents and messages from any of these host or network environments and deliver them to offsite locations as a fax or Internet message. FAXGATE also delivers inbound faxes and Internet messages to applications, users, or printers. FAXGATE, which integrates with E-mail software and CICS, introduces support for Advanced Function Printing (AFP) documents.