Thursday, October 9, 2008

My Jazinga Review

I�ve been trialing Jazinga for a while now and have waited for the most recent updates to get this review done. I�m really enjoying using it, and it�s become my default telephony system. I use that word loosely, since I work solo, and am not exactly a typical PBX user. I don�t have anyone to transfer calls to, but there are many other features that make my life better and my work day more productive.

Before sharing my thoughts about Jazinga, I didn�t realize the most obvious thing about Jazinga until sitting down now to write about it. I�m a marketing guy at heart, so these things keep me up thinking more than most other people. Jazinga is a catchy name for a company, and it�s just hit me that the product itself doesn�t have a name, so by default I don�t know what else to call it. Maybe it�s time for a name-that-product contest???

I�ve gotten to know the Jazinga folks pretty well now, and in case you�re wondering, yes, they�re very typical of a tech startup � heavy on engineering and light on marketing. That�s ok by me � at this stage it�s much more important to get the technology right, and in my books, they�ve done a great job there. The marketing and branding will come, and along the way, I�m sure they�ll come up with a clever name for their offering. I hate to call it a product � seems so pedestrian � and it�s only partially correct, so giving this a name will be trickier than you might think. I�ll leave that hanging out there for now, and move on to my review.

I�ll start by saying that other beta users have reviewed Jazinga already, and they�re more techhy than me. You can find these posted on Jazinga�s website, and there�s some good commentary about what�s under the hood. I�ll focus more on what�s outside and my everyday experiences.

As others have noted, Jazinga is an interesting a hybrid � the box is a both a router and an IP telephony system. You basically get all the features of a PBX and QoS, as the system is able to prioritize voice over your broadband connection. Not only does that give you reliable service, but the audio quality is noticeably better than regular VoIP. For small businesses, this strikes me as a very important selling feature.

From a buyer�s point of view, Jazinga is a great value. They�ve used a lot of open source, which helps keeps the price down, and provides flexibility for adding new features and self-provisioning. It�s about as end-user centric as you can get, and ease of use is another hallmark of Jazinga. The earlier reviews have all picked up on the ease-of-use angle, and I can certainly vouch for that. Setting up the system takes little time, and is largely self-provisioning, so it�s ideal for SMBs, as they typically don�t have much in the way in-house IT support.

Not only does Jazinga come with all the telephony options you�d typically want to see, but they are continually adding new ones. It�s very easy to set up an auto attendant with greetings for each employee, and then customize how each person wants to receive their calls. For me, the conferencing feature has the most utility. It�s easy to set up, and very handy for initiating concalls on the fly. The only downside is that callers have to dial in to a toll number, but these days, most people don�t have a problem with that.

Another great thing about Jazinga is that it�s extensible. It�s built to keep taking new features, and end users don�t have to pay extra for these. The most recent releases - beta 1.11 and 1.12 � have some noteworthy additions:

- Status screens in the Administration UI to monitor your Internet connection and system configuration

- Forwarding of voice mail to email

- Addition of portals for individual users. Previously, only system administrators had portal access. This means end users can now access their voicemail via the portal and update their personalized settings.

- System configuration and backup settings can now be saved to the desktop, giving end users more control and access to their communications tools.

- Two new calling features to make the telephony service more valuable to SMBs:

1. Dial around � you can now call into and through Jazinga from any phone, anywhere and save on long distance charges.
2. Callback � another way to do this, and works like other mobile VoIP callback services.

To use Jazinga, you need an IP phone, and they support all the major brands � Cisco, Linksys, Aastra, Polycom and Snom, so it won�t be too hard to get this going. Once you see it up close, you may wonder why anyone would need a PBX. Aside from being easy to use, you feel empowered right away, as each end user can customize their greetings and call control preferences - and just as easily change them as their needs dictate. It�s also fun setting up the front door, which is where you record your IVR greeting prompts for each extension and conferencing options. Then you can add your own music on hold and really make it your own.

Being open source, Jazinga has made it easy to keep adding features without increasing your costs. That�s a pretty strong driver, as the system always stays current and keeps getting more powerful with each release. SMBs have never really had it this good before.

This would be enough for most IP telephony solutions, but Jazinga is thinking further out, and this is where it gets more interesting for me. For SOHOs and some SMBs, many, if not all end users will be home-based. Jazinga can very easily be used as the hub for both home and business communications. No reason why your landline � analog or VoIP � can�t be hooked up, giving you PBX features in the house. How about that? Think of the fun you can have with your greeting prompts � �for the kitchen, press 7�, or �for Mom, press 6�. How can you not want to do this?

Let�s take this a step further. Once you�ve got home and business all running off Jazinga, why stop at voice? Here�s where the magic of open source comes into the picture. With wireless IP running all over the house/office, you could provision all kinds of other services � remote printing, FMC handoffs, etc. Let�s not stop there. As we start broadband-enabling all kinds of devices and machines, the possibilities really open up, especially around smart home-type services. Think about starting the roast remotely, controlling the thermostat or monitoring your home security or surveillance systems.

I�m getting a bit ahead of the game, but the likes of Microsoft are well along that path, and Jazinga could become a perfect hub solution sooner than you think. You just have stop thinking about this as just an intelligent telephony router. When you do, you then need to start wondering why service providers aren�t running to partner with Jazinga. Not just telcos, but anyone with a wire into the home � ISPs, cablecos, utilities, etc. Lots of possibilities here for sure.

It�s a very important part of the puzzle, simply because Jazinga isn�t a service provider. You could certainly buy the box retail or through a distributor channel and just go with the BYOB model. That works, but then it�s just a sell-through box solution for Jazinga. That�s ok, but then it starts to sound too much like Ooma, who I�ve written about � and still use. It�s a great service, but like Jazinga, it�s just another box on my desk, and I really don�t give it a thought. That�s too passive a model for me.

I�ve been saying this about Ooma from the beginning � the service provider is their best friend and route to market. Let them brand Jazinga and roll it out to their subscribers as a total package. That makes so much more sense to me, and is a real win-win for both parties. Think about how effective that would be for any carrier trying to break through the clutter in the SMB space. I know Jazinga is thinking this way too, so give it some time, and I�m pretty confident this will be a much bigger story going into 2009.

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