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Fax and E-mail Integration: Turning an E-mail System Into a Fax Solution

Articles and Tips:

Steve Fogarty

01 Jun 1998

According to a recent study commissioned by Pitney Bowes and Gallup, the average employee of a large company sends and receives 178 messages per day, and a majority of people prefer sending faxes over using courier services and e-mail systems if they need to send an urgent message. According to the study, "the fax machine continues to thrive as the preferred method to receive urgent business documents." Dennis Roney, president of Pitney Bowes Facsimile, concludes, "Companies should begin to implement effective fax management strategies to take advantage of popular fax technology."

One management strategy is to integrate faxing with e-mail. With today's integration solutions, you can offer users the benefits of both technologies while avoiding the drawbacks. This article explains the advantages and disadvantages of each technology and then examines several solutions for integrating these technologies.


Faxing offers several benefits: Faxing is easy to set up and to use; it is also immediate and secure. And since all fax machines use the same standards, users can always send and receive faxes, making this technology very reliable.

Unfortunately, faxing is also inefficient and costly. Users must leave their desk to send a fax and may even have to wait in line to use the fax machine. In addition, faxes must be manually routed to the recipients, and fax machines require a dedicated telephone line.

E-mail is emerging as a universal messaging source and repository. E-mail is less expensive than faxing and can be integrated with multiple public and private networks (such as paging services, X.400-based networks, and the Internet). E-mail is also easy to use and is convenient since users do not have to leave their desk.

However, most companies do not trust e-mail--particularly Internet e-mail--for delivering urgent or confidential documents. In addition, e-mail systems with integrated value-added services (such as faxing) can be difficult to manage.


Server-based faxing saves time and money over traditional faxing. According to Peter J. Davidson, president of Davidson Consulting, server-based faxing saves from three to six minutes per fax over conventional fax machines. For a small company sending an average of 12 faxes per day, the savings translate into U.S. $144 to U.S. $3,120 per year in labor alone. For a larger company sending an average of 120 faxes per day, the savings range from U.S. $1,440 to U.S. $31,200 per year in labor alone.

By combining the convenience and reliability of faxing with the cost-effectiveness of e-mail, you can add value to your company's network. The key to realizing this value lies in selecting an integration solution that makes sense given your company's size, resources, and expertise.

You can use one of the following solutions to integrate faxing with Novell's GroupWise or with other e-mail systems:

  • Workstation integration solutions (such as WinFax)

  • Fax gateways (such as Novell's fax gateway for GroupWise 4.1)

  • Fax servers (such as Cheyenne's FAXserve and Biscom's FAXCOM for NetWare)

  • Integration solutions from a messaging service provider (such as dotOne and MCI Connect)

Workstation Integration Solutions

Although workstation integration solutions are obviously superior to traditional faxing, these solutions are impractical for most companies that use GroupWise or another e-mail system. Because workstation integration solutions require a dedicated telephone line and a fax board for each workstation, these solutions can be expensive and time consuming to implement, and they provide limited scalability.

In addition, most commercially available workstation integration solutions do not integrate with the inbox and outbox of today's e-mail systems, including GroupWise. As a result of these drawbacks, workstation integration solutions are appropriate only for small companies, home offices, and mobile users (such as salespeople).

Fax Gateways

Fax gateways can be one of the easiest ways to partially integrate faxing with e-mail. In most cases, you can use fax gateways to integrate faxing with an e-mail system's outbox and address book. You can also use a fax gateway to eliminate the need for users to convert documents into graphics files, such as .TIFF or .PCX files, before sending them.

However, fax gateways do offer the following drawbacks:

  • Many fax gateways do not support inbound routing, and fax gateways that do support inbound routing typically scale poorly in performing this task. (Inbound routingenables an inbound fax to be routed directly to a user's e-mail inbox.)

  • In general, fax gateways provide limited scalability. One fax gateway is typically required for each e-mail post office or message transfer agent. According to David Ferris, a messaging industry analyst and a founder of Ferris Research, "when inbound faxes are supported, you can usually receive only inbound faxes over analog lines, requiring one analog line per user."

  • The document conversion feature offered by most fax gateways is typically both expensive and inconvenient. Most fax gateways require you to purchase and install the native application (such as WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Word, Excel, AmiPro, or Lotus 1-2-3) for each file type you need to support.

If users request support for other file types, you may need to purchase additional applications, which can quickly become even more expensive. In addition, the document conversion feature is often unstable and can easily become a bottleneck.

Fax Servers

Fax servers offer several advantages over fax gateways. For example, fax servers scale well: One fax server can typically serve your company's entire enterprise, regardless of the number of e-mail post offices or message transfer agents your company has.

In addition, most fax servers support multiple inbound routing methods directly to a user's e-mail inbox, including T.30/T.33, direct inward dialing (DID), and dual-tone modulation frequency (DTMF). As a result, fax servers enable bidirectional faxing from within GroupWise and other e-mail systems. Some fax servers even include least-cost routing as a standard feature, allowing users to send faxes when long-distance telephone rates are low.

Fax servers also offer a superior document conversion feature. For example, RightFax's RightFAX Enterprise 5.2 enables document-to-.TIFF file conversion, without requiring a native application or a rendering program.

Fax servers do offer two drawbacks, however: complexity and expense. For example, to set up a fax server for a company with 100 GroupWise users, you would need to purchase the following services, hardware, and software:

  • Services From the Telephone Company. The exact services you would need to purchase from the telephone company would depend on the size of your company and on the fax server you chose. For example, you might need to purchase a fractional T-1 line, 4 to 10 trunk-type loop start, "wink start" service for DID, DTMF touch-tone signaling, and a block of 100 telephone numbers.

  • Hardware. Again depending on the fax server you chose, you would need to purchase a PC with sufficient hard drive space and RAM to run the fax server software, a fax board, and an analog or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) modem or frame-relay hardware (such as a router and a CSU/DSU).

  • Software. You would need to purchase fax server software. Depending on the fax server you chose, you might also need to purchase NetWare server software, Windows NT or Windows 95, and native applications (such as WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, Word, Excel, AmiPro, or Lotus 1-2-3) for each file type you need to support.

In addition to considering these costs, you should estimate the costs of managing the fax server. For example, you may need telephone support to install and troubleshoot the fax server, or you may need additional training so you can properly manage the fax server.

Integration Solutions From a Messaging Service Provider

If you work for a large company, you can probably justify the complexity and the expense of implementing and supporting a fax server. If you work for a small company, on the other hand, you may want to consider using a messaging service provider instead.

Messaging service providers offer basic Internet e-mail access. If you use a messaging service provider for Internet e-mail access, you continue to manage your company's e-mail system, but you rely on the messaging service provider to connect that e-mail system to the Internet. The messaging service provider sets up and maintains virus scanning and other security features, such as a firewall protecting your company's network from the Internet and configuring Internet e-mail access. In addition, the messaging service provider tracks services at a single location--a capability known asusage reporting.

Messaging service providers are also beginning to offer advanced faxing services. To understand the integration solutions offered by messaging service providers, you must first understand how messaging service providers offer Internet e-mail access. A messaging service provider maintains a single hub that provides a connection to the Internet for the companies using this messaging service provider. These companies access the hub via an analog or ISDN modem or via frame-relay hardware (such as a router or a CSU/DSU) to send and receive Internet e-mail.

Messaging service providers are extending this hub-based messaging infrastructure to faxing. By providing inbound/outbound routing and document conversion through a single hub, a messaging service provider can offer your company the same benefits offered by an in-house fax server, with the added benefit of requiring only one modem or frame-relay connection.

Using a messaging service provider can be an economical solution: In terms of initial expense, hardware and software costs are essentially nonexistent: The only exception is if you need to purchase a modem or frame-relay hardware.

Recurring costs are typically low as well. Fixed costs, in the form of voice T-spans or qualified technical personnel, are often eliminated, and variable costs are usually reduced through better least-cost routing. For most companies, the cost of sending and receiving faxes both domestically and internationally is lower with a messaging service provider than with other integration solutions because the provider is aggregating the fax traffic of thousands of companies and is generating a large volume of long-distance traffic. As a result, the messaging service provider can negotiate low long-distance telephone rates.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to consider using a messaging service provider is simplicity. For example, you can compare the requirements for setting up an in-house fax server with those for using a messaging service provider. (See "Purchasing a Fax Server Versus Using a Messaging Service Provider.")

When you choose a particular messaging service provider, you should evaluate the network transport architecture that the messaging service provider uses. Some messaging service providers transfer faxes via the Internet, thereby undermining the security and performance advantages that make faxing an attractive option. A messaging service provider should deliver a fax to its destination entirely via private networks comprised of telephone, frame-relay, and T-1 lines.


If you want to integrate faxing with GroupWise or with another e-mail system, you have several options: As explained in this article, you can use a workstation integration solution, a fax gateway, a fax server, or an integration solution from a messaging service provider. As you tackle your company's integration challenges, you should decide which integration solution best meets your company's needs for integrating faxing with e-mail. As you make this decision, you should consider the support requirements for each integration solution, and you should ensure that your company has the necessary resources to support the solution you choose.

Integrating faxing with GroupWise or with another e-mail system may seem daunting, from both a technical perspective and a financial perspective. But by carefully evaluating which components to outsource and which components to implement in house, you can create a truly integrated messaging infrastructure for your company.

Steve Fogarty is chief messaging architect and cofounder of dotOne Corp. (formerly, a Utah-based messaging service provider and messaging systems integrator. You can reach Steve at

NetWare Connection,June 1998, pp.35-37

Purchasing a Fax Server Versus Using a Messaging Service Provider

Suppose that you wanted to implement an integrated fax and e-mail solution for 100 GroupWise users and that you wanted to offer these users bidirectional, user-routable faxing. If you were trying to choose between purchasing a fax server or using a messaging service provider, you might want to compare the resources you would need for each solution. Depending on the fax server you chose, you might make the following comparison:

Fax Server
Messaging Service Provider
Services From the Telephone Company

A fractional T-1 line



4 to 10 trunk-type loop start



"Wink start" service for direct inward dialing (DID)



Dual-tone modulation frequency (DTMF) touch-tone signaling



A block of 100 telephone numbers




A PC with sufficient hard drive space and RAM



A fax board with 4 or 12 ports



An analog or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) modem or frame-relay hardware (such as a router and a CSU/DSU)




Fax server software



NetWare server software



Native applications (such as WordPerfect) for each file type you want to support



Windows NT or Windows 95



NetWare Connection,June 1998, p.36

* Originally published in Novell Connection Magazine


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