Sutus' SMB Networking Appliance Gains Features -- And Fans

Networking upstart Sutus earlier this month introduced a number of new features to Business Central, its communications-in-a-box offering. The two-year-old product, which spans everything from IP-PBX to firewall functionality, is intended as an all-in-one for small businesses craving full-featured voice and data solutions -- and it's earning Sutus lots of fans in the channel.

New as of this week are subscription services for advanced e-mail security, including antispam and antivirus, and the Sutus Connector application, which offers click-to-dial, caller ID pop-up prompts and other interface-based communications controls. Also new are networking features such as out-of-office assistant, e-mail forwarding and e-mail inbox quotas that max out at 16 GB.

The company, which was founded in 2003 in Vancouver, Canada, emerged from stealth mode nearly three years ago with the first of its Business Central offerings. It has since proceeded to expand the functionality and capabilities of the appliance -- with everything from routing and VPN remote access to Web server and messaging features -- while keeping costs low and deployment simple, all managed from a single Web-based interface.

It's an idea that has gained traction, according to Sutus executives, especially in hard economic times where small businesses are investing in IP networking solutions to keep costs down but don't want to pay for features they don't use and don't want to manage cumbersome technology that requires modules and new investments to upgrade. Sutus' solutions are tailored for businesses of multiple locations and between three and 25 users per location. They are aimed at VARs comfortable with selling a one-box appliance and delivering managed services on top of it.

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All told, a smaller business can set up with the full Business Central 200 solution for between $2,000 and $3,000 initially, depending on features. The box itself isn't cheap, but it's a relative steal considering what SMBs would need to pay for individual feature sets and appliances, especially when they can add alarm systems, security cameras, servers and other small-business devices as "plug-ins" for use on the Sutus box.

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"It's taking a very complex offering and making it simple. One user interface ties it all together: drag, drop, point, click. It's easy," said Shawn Chute, Sutus executive vice president. "We don't nickel-and-dime our customers. When they pay for a solution, they get that solution, and they don't have to buy modules. We're not putting a lot of features on there that we have to charge more for."

Sutus will bring out new versions of the hardware by year's end and will continue to enhance the feature sets, software and security, the company said. Sutus is also allowing VARs to private-label their sales, a type of deployment Chute said has grown dramatically in the past six months.

The simplicity message has resonated with Sutus' channel partners, many of whom see the Business Central offering as a true SMB alternative.

"We were really impressed with it," said Tom Palmer, president of AdrenaSpeed Solutions, a Danville, Calif.-based solution provider that became a Sutus partner in 2007. "The biggest plus for me is having an appliance that I can support remotely, and for which I can fix and troubleshoot 99 percent of the issues. I could be sitting on a beach in Hawaii supporting all of my customers, and do adds, moves, changes and everything I need from the road."

There's a lot of purported "VoIP-in-a-box solutions" out there, Palmer said, but the management and flexibility from Sutus are what hooked him. "And then there's the issue of can you develop the changes needed for customers," he said. "It's not like with Cisco where you're stuck with whatever the release is and what the products are right now. It's very flexible."

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Deryck Jones, president of OnDemand Communications, a Woburn, Mass.-based solution provider, said he found Sutus a good fit for his managed services and VoIP businesses, which include offering both telephony services and the operational support for those services.

According to Jones, who caters to SMB and Fortune 500 customers alike, about 40 percent of OnDemand's revenue comes from small business, driven in large part by his Sutus pipeline. He's one of a number of Sutus solution providers who private-labels the offering under his own brand.

"As a small-business person myself, it's all about getting partnerships right," Jones said. "Our branding is on it, and I see it as we're both trying to leverage our brands. They've been really supportive of that."