In Memorium: Inter-Tel Axxess

May 30 is the end of the line for the Axxess system.  We have hundreds of customers that are still using the system, and have tried to reach out to as many organizations as we could since production stopped in 2011.

We address what all this means to customers here so this post is just my musings on what made this such a great system.

Basically, this system was years and years ahead of its time.  Built on a common, open programming language (C++) instead of the oddball proprietary code of the competition made a world of difference when it came to desktop and software integration with the phone system.

This led naturally to the Open Architecture Interface (OAI).  This interface would be called an API today, and shows that Inter-Tel had an amazing vision for the product that continues today in the Mitel MiVoice Office (former Mitel 5000 and Inter-Tel 5200/5400/5600). Inter-Tel was able to build up an exciting ecosystem of partner companies that could use the OAI to communicate with the Axxess.  A whole ecosystem flourished years ahead of the App Store and Google Play.

The Mitel MiVoice Office is backwards compatible with Axxess and even predecessor Axxent telephones from 1991 without shortchanging users on features or capabilities. It is amazing that some of my customers have had the same phones on their desk for 20 years across three different systems with three entirely different architectures.

One reason that Mitel and Inter-Tel were a good cultural fit was shown throughout this Axxess sunsetting process.  The MiVoice Office was made compatible with all this old stuff from the Axxess, including computer telephony integration software and old IP phones that were more like beta versions given how unreliable they were at the time. I am shocked that they are as committed to their customers as they are, when all of the competition discards systems regularly and mercilessly, leaving their customers in the lurch.

One thing that my technicians at least miss with the Axxess are the hot-swappable cards.  You could be pretty rough on the system and yank out components without turning anything off or otherwise disrupting operations.  VoIP systems have fewer hardware components and generally are far more reliable, but they certainly do not like to have physical components changed out while the power is on.

I think a lot of competing systems today, such as the Shoretel system, actually owe a great deal to the Axxess’ innovative architecture.  The primary advantage they had competing against the Axxess (besides a world-beating marketing department that ran circles around dear sweet Inter-Tel) was processor redundancy.  The new systems used an IP architecture while the Axxess relied on a TDM backplane – so there were several points of failure that IP-based systems just would never have.  However, if you took all of the ShoreGear boxes and stuck them in a chassis instead of an equipment rack, you would basically have a late model Axxess, with T1 cards, IP cards that supported fixed numbers of stations, and analog cards for FXS and FXO ports (think fax machines and traditional phone lines).  In fact, both systems share a weakness that continues to this day: voicemail and call control (on the Axxess 512 and ATM, at least) that runs on a Windows server with all the attendant headaches and vulnerabilities as well as familiarity and popularity that entailed.