Centrinity debuts latest FirstClass Gold

With so many employees on the road, unified messaging has become an essential tool for some enterprises. And with the latest version of its FirstClass Gold, Markham, Ont.-based Centrinity Inc. is hoping to not only ensure that people get their messages no matter where they are, but that network administrators have less to worry about.

Traditionally, Centrinity (formerly SoftArc/MC2) has been focused on the education market — the reason being that schools and districts have a lot of people, said H.E. Scott Welch, chief evangelist with the company. And building an e-mail collaboration system, whether for an entire school or for an enterprise, is an easier task when using the Centrinity product because administrators can support up to 100,000 users on one server.

“We have a customer — and we don’t recommend this — but we have a customer that is running about 275,000 students on one single personal server,” he said.

FirstClass Intranet Server (IS) Gold is the company’s cross-platform collaboration software product which features intranet and Web access, intranet and Internet e-mail messaging, private and group calendars, and Web publishing capabilities.

The FirstClass Gold Unified Messaging, which shipped early in July for existing customers, is scheduled for release next month through integrators, ASPs and telecommunications companies. The offering integrates e-mail, voice and fax messages into one inbox on the user’s desktop, Welch said. He explained that all of these messages are then retrievable through any communication device. So, for example, users could retrieve their e-mail by phone or pick up their voice-mail through their inbox on their desktop.

“What they are doing with this release is something that’s unique in terms of being able to deliver unified messaging on top of a platform that has the scalability and performance that will not be slowed down by the unified messaging requirement,” said Mark Levitt, research director with IDC Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

Stewart Lynch has been using the FirstClass product for nine years, and recently implemented the latest education version of it at School District Number 38 in Richmond, B.C., where he is the director of instruction, technology and information services. There were a few reasons why the Centrinity offering was chosen, he explained.

“The primary and the initial reason for using it was to facilitate the collaborative discussion environment for teaching staff to discuss and exchange ideas on teaching,” Lynch said. “But at the same time to give us a vehicle at the administrative level to be able to communicate with all the staff — teachers, support staff, clerical staff — and basically cut down on the paper flow.”

But what really impresses him is the ease of management. He explained he is currently using one server for approximately 50 schools in the district, with people all connecting simultaneously, and has yet to experience degradation in performance.

“The fact that I am a director of instruction here at the school district with a lot of responsibilities and that I sort of manage this off the side of my desk is a testament at how simple it is to manage,” he said.

IDC’s Levitt said the management aspect of the product is definitely a benefit.

“If you asked someone that has been managing an Exchange or a Domino system if they want to put voice-mail on top of e-mail, and then fax on top of that system, often you get a look of fear in their eyes. They know it’s difficult enough without those things,” he explained.

The only problem Levitt pointed out is that the interface the company uses is not standard.

“Their interface looks different, and it takes some time to get accustomed to. But once you do, the interface is fairly intuitive and easy to use, as long as you accept the fact that it’s not the same as what you’re used to in other applications.”

FirstClass IS Gold, for enterprises and higher education, and FirstClass Collaborative Classroom Gold for middle schools, are priced on a per-user basis and are now available. According to the company, perpetual, one-year and three-year renewable user licenses are available, which include maintenance and support for one to three years. The FirstClass Gold Unified Messaging option is available for an additional US$300-$400 depending on the size of the user’s site. The FirstClass client is available for free on a CD or can be downloaded from the Centrinity Web site at www.centrinity.com.