What Is a Fax Server?

Category: Fax

I work in a busy office, and often the fax machine is a major source of frustation and lost productivity. I'm no geek, but it sounds like a central fax server would save time and money. Can you get me started?

Does Your Office Need a Fax Server?

Fax machines are very useful, but large numbers of them in a big office, or a number of branch offices, can be inefficient. A fax server saves much time and money.

People must walk to and from fax machines, both to send faxes and retrieve received faxes. People are often found lined up at fax machines awaiting their turns, unproductively. It's not uncommon to pick up the wrong fax or a few pages of someone else's fax, resulting in great confusion, frustration, and wasteful searching or re-faxing.

Each fax machine needs a dedicated phone line, a monthly fixed expense. The more fax lines you have, the lower the overall utilization rate and the more money wasted. The same goes for the desktop space that must be purchased or rented for fax machines, and all that money tied up in fax paper and toner. Regular and emergency maintenance costs climb as fax machines proliferate, too.
fax server

Fax Server: Hardware or Software?

A fax server is a computer dedicated to sending, receiving, and distributing faxes over a network. A fax server is equipped with one or more fax modems, into which a phone line is plugged. A fax server is also connected to a Local Area Network so that it can communicate with desktop computers on the same network. Remote offices can communicate with a central fax server over the Internet.

The term "fax server" also refers to the software that makes a computer act as a fax server. Fax servers are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac computers - although a Mac would make an unnecessarily expensive fax server.

Many software-based fax servers run in the background, sharing a computer with file or printer servers or even a human user. If your office has relatively light fax traffic, a shared arrangement may work and save the expense of buying more hardware. But the more servers and users you cram onto one machine, the slower all the work will go when things get busiest.

Setting Up a Fax Server

In general, setting up a fax server is not much different from setting up a printer. Connect the fax server machine to the network; install the fax server software on it; and plug a phone line (or as many as you need) into the fax modem(s). Typically, the fax server is recognized as another available printer by computers on the network. How the fax server perceives other computers on the network varies from one fax server to another, but the recognition process is usually automatic. Once installed, a fax server can be used in several ways.

Microsoft Office applications can "print" directly to a fax server simply by selecting the fax server as the desired printer. Windows Fax is a built-in component of Windows that makes sending and receiving faxes via a fax server much like doing email.

Fax Servers for Windows, Mac and Linux

Windows NT, 2000, and 2003 Server users often turn to GFI Faxmaker, one of the most popular fax servers for these server platforms. It is designed to take full advantage of Microsoft Exchange, Lotus, and SMTP email features. It is currently priced at $109 per user for 5 to 9 users, ideal for small to medium sized businesses. A free trial version can be downloaded.

4-Sight Fax for Mac and Windows was the first commercial Mac fax server and it is still one of the leaders. It integrates with Mac OS X; a Snow Leopard release is "under development" as of September, 2009. Mac-only and Mac/Win versions supporting a single phone line cost $395/$475 for up to 5 users or $695/$795 for up to 10 users; other price combinations are available up to 10 lines and unlimited users. A free trial demo is available for downloading.

HylaFax is the leading open-source fax server for Linux and other unix-based systems. It is an enterprise-class fax server that can support very heavy fax traffic on a single network machine. HylaFax will run on RedHat, Solaris, SUSE, Mandrake, BSD and Debian (which includes Ubuntu) systems. A large number of network connectors (printer drivers and protocol connectors) are available, which allow users on Windows, Mac and Linux desktop computers to connect to a HylaFax server. And as is typical with open-source software, a robust community of developers and users offers support and addons.

Does your office use a fax server, or are you still in the dark ages of paper-based faxing? If outdated fax technology is limiting your productivity, mention this article to your boss or the IT-staff.

Post your comments or questions about fax servers below...

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Most recent comments on "What Is a Fax Server?"

Posted by:

13 Oct 2009

Good article Bob, very helpful. In addition to the providers you mention, Biscom also offers fax servers and hosted fax services for Windows and Linux.

Posted by:

18 Oct 2009

Very useful! I use Popfax.com internet fax service and it's also a very good one.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2009

Windows also includes a built-in Fax Server. It's included in XP Pro, Vista Ultimate and 7 Ultimate (perhaps other versions, too). Although it's not as flexible or friendly as some of the others mentioned, it's included as part of Windows.

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