if you are in the market for a fax solution, you’ll know there are a variety of choices regarding which platform to use. Unfortunately, given the way many vendors market their products today, it’s not always easy to understand which platform you might (or should) be buying into. In this article, we’ll examine each of the major platforms and discuss their strengths and weaknesses.

The fax platforms we will be looking at in this post are:

  • On-Premise Fax
  • Software as a Service Fax (SaaS Fax)
  • Hosted Fax
  • Hybrid Fax

There are other options for faxing which we haven’t listed but these are the four you should consider as true platforms.

On-Premise Fax (Fax Server)

fax server

“On-premise” is the software (and hardware) that’s located inside your firewall. If you are running an Exchange server in your server room – that’s on-premise. I.T. has a love-hate relationship with on-premise  platforms. They love the control and ownership on-premise provides. I.T. also gets to control every aspect of the deployment and configuration. The trade-off is that in order to control these elements, I.T has to manage them. It’s also worth noting that because on-premise buyers outright own the hardware and software, they have to deploy a system capable of adequately handling spikes in fax traffic. This results is that you are paying from what you might use rather than what you do use.

Comparative speaking, on-premise platforms are often more expensive to deploy, support and maintain than their SaaS-based competitors. Deployments can quickly become complex, requiring a high degree of in-house fax server expertise or more frequently, costly professional services engagements.  Aside from retaining IT fax server and telephony expertise,  supporting and on-premise fax implementation also means maintaining the server software, operating system, database, client applications, licensing and support contracts.  Even with all those resources in place, you still still face significant challenges should the system go down. 

Firstly, your users are stopped in their tracks. We have seen entire businesses come to a standstill as support teams frantically works to identify the issue. If the situation requires getting the fax vendor involved, the clock’s going to tick a lot longer. Should the issue reside with the telecoms provider, you’ll have enough time to enroll in that creative pottery class you’ve been thinking about since the summer. Now, on-premise fax vendors will be quick to point out all their options for failover but in many cases, that means YOU standing up a second server, paying almost the same again for another set of licenses and implementing a replication process to keep the two servers synchronized.

There is still a good argument to be made for on-premise fax. For firms looking to stay away from the cloud and who have the IT resources and budget to implement and maintain their own ecosystem, on-premise can still make sense.  For those looking for a solution without that significant overhead, there are certainly more efficient and cost-effective options to consider.

Pros

  • Traditional, familiar established approach most IT teams are comfortable with.
  • I.T. has total ownership of the platform and can tightly control access and usage.
  • Some on-premise fax solutions offer niche capabilities businesses may wish to take advantage of. 

Cons

  • Sizing the system to effectively handle peak traffic, spikes and telecom provide outages is prohibitively expensive.
  • I.T. resources are taxed far more heavily compared to other platforms
  • I.T. may get to “own” the platform but they remain at the mercy of the fax vendor and telephone company when issues arise.

Software as a Service (SaaS) Fax

Fax Service Datacenter

If on-premise platforms have remained largely the same over the last decade or two, SaaS platforms are unrecognizable compared to their predecessors from ten years ago. You only have to look at how you own organizations accesses resources today.  Where as most organizations used to run local Microsoft Exchange servers, many have since switched to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 service or Google Apps for the email, messaging and collaboration. A very similar movement has long been underway with fax.

Software-as-a-Service fax platforms dispense with the need for end-users to buy, support or maintain their own fax hardware and software. Those fax components are owned and managed by a third party, normally the service provider. All you need is an internet connection. SaaS-based fax services also don’t charge based on hardware configuration or licenses – the cost model is primarily based on page volume. 

Unlike on-premise platforms, SaaS platforms require little from I.T. Set up is generally lightweight with users faxing through their email client without the need for any plug-ins or add-ons. Fax integration with Multi-Function-Print Devices requires little more than some basic SMTP configuration – the same skills required for manually setting up an email account on your phone. For those looking for more advanced faxing capabilities, enterprise SaaS-based faxing offers multiple integration options, ranging from dedicated tools to increasingly rich APIs.

One of the greatest benefits of adopting a SaaS platform is scalability (yes – we used the “S” word which is normally unforgivable in polite company). Adopting a SaaS platform means no longer worrying about spikes in your fax traffic. An enterprise SaaS fax service will be designed to handle page volumes far exceeding any single customer’s traffic, and the only costs you incur will be based on your page volume. Any SaaS service you consider should also have realtime failover ensuring your service remains uninterrupted in the event of the a service provider’s data center going down. 

There are however some considerations before jumping into a SaaS-based faxing solution. The first is to understand your requirements around integration and compliance. Some SaaS fax vendors may be unable to integrate with a particular application or device. Others may not be able to comply with regulations or standards your organization is bound by. Running into these kinds of limitations in integration and compliance mean you’re likely dealing with a more consumer or small business focused provider. 

Much of the capability gap that used to exist between SaaS-based faxing and on-premise fax servers has been closed, making it an attractive option for those looking to avoid a large investment in fax.

Pros

  • Quick and painless adoption.
  • Volume based-costs without long term commitments
  • Little user set up or training.
  • Application and device integration without a local fax server.

Cons

  • Some vendors may offer limited integration options.
  • Software upgrades are rolled out by the service provider 
  • No direct access to fax infrastructure

Hosted Fax

Barrier Rope

Hosted fax lives in the cloud, much like SaaS fax. There are however, some major differences. In a hosted environment, you have your own dedicated server, database, software, deployment options and configuration. Hosted is essentially an on-premise installation except it’s hosted in a datacenter by a third party. 

A hosted fax service offers numerous benefits, albeit with a hefty premium. There is certainly more control over the environment given that you get to customize your own instance. Hosted end-users also get to control when and how they upgrade to a new version of the fax server software. Similar to a SaaS Fax service, fewer I.T. resources are required in-house as the service provider takes care of most of the work.

So what’s not to love about Hosted? Firstly, the cost. You will be paying for an on-premise set up  and then adding in the costs your hosting provider will charge you every month for set up, maintenance, administration, upgrades and support. The second consideration is control. A hosted fax environment will certainly provide you with more access to the system’s back end than any fax service but it won’t give you the unfettered access that comes with an on-premise system. The third issue with adopting a hosted fax environment is scaling. Like, its on-premise cousin, hosted systems still require you to size your instance to handle spikes in traffic, meaning you’re paying a premium for what you might use. The last limitation of a hosted fax environment is fail-over. While your data center will likely offer some form of fail-over, you’ll need to understand what happens should your fax server becomes unavailable. Unlike enterprise SaaS fax services which are architected to ensure interrupted service – you may be offline for some time while your provider switches you over the backup. Also be sure to ascertain exactly what you are getting in terms of a back-up/fail-over site. If you are looking for a solution that guarantees business continuity, you may well have to stand up a second production system and pay for the professional services required to synchronize the servers. 

Pros

  • You get a dedicated, fully customizable fax server hosted in the cloud.
  • You have complete control over that instance including when and how to upgrade.
  • In-house I.T. resources are free’d up.

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • You are left with the same scaling issues which means paying for what you might use
  • If you want real-time failover- you’ll likely have to pay for a second instance along with professional services to put it all together.

In short, hosted fax is well worth investigating if your goal is to simply offload your fax infrastructure to third party provider. Hosted’s additional level of control and deployment transparency will suit those taking a more conservative approach to cloud adoption – as long as the price tag doesn’t frighten them off.

Hybrid Fax

Hybrid Fax

Hybrid Fax combines on-premise faxing with SaaS faxing. The end user sets up their on-premise fax environment which is then synchronized with the fax vendor’s cloud servers. There are a number of benefits a hybrid set up offers over cloud and on-premise platforms; the trade-off is price and deployment complexity. Given that most of the elements of hybrid fax have already been covered in previous sections, we’ll jump directly into the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Continuity – hybrid fax offers a combination of on-premise and cloud-based faxing which will appeal to I.T. managers looking to reduce risk.  If your local phone system goes down – faxes can be routed to the cloud servers (and vice-versa).
  • Cost Management – Many hybrid fax vendors offer a monthly payment plan which is often more a more attractive proposition than a large upfront capital investment.
  • Scaling – buyers can utilize the cloud servers to handle peaks or spike in traffic.

Cons

  • Complexity – Of all the platforms discussed in this post, hybrid has the most working parts and the need for continual synchronization offers plenty of opportunities for problems. 
  • Boots on the ground – Hybrid fax may increase the burden on I.T. given its need for a on-premise implementation which then has to be synched with a cloud system.
  • Cost – Hybrid may allow you to pay on a monthly basis but the long term costs will often dwarf both on-premise and SaaS alternatives.

So which is the right platform for you?

On the blackboard write I'm confused oh wait maybe not.

On the blackboard write I’m confused oh wait maybe not.

We’re a little biased here but the facts remain the same, if you need enterprise fax without the infrastructure and support overhead, a SaaS fax platform is the way to go. Hosted will give you additional control and access capabilities but the price tag is may be prohibitive and the fax technology was likely designed for a traditional local client/server install. Hybrid offers some upgraded redundancy and scaling options compared with on-premise but the trade-off is cost and complexity. On-premise still offers a handful of exclusive capabilities and may make sense in scenarios where I.T. teams are the size of small armies and cloud-based applications are still unwelcome.