Sutus Business Central 200This post is written by VentureBeat’s Matt Marshall and was sponsored by small-business IT solutions provider Sutus.

At VentureBeat, we pride ourselves on being a scrappy startup while practicing old-fashioned journalism. That means we spend a lot of time on the phone.

Our writers are glued to their smartphones, of course, but it’s nice to have an alternative to bad reception and dropped calls. So when we moved into new digs in San Francisco in February, we decided we needed real phone lines.

Traditional phones were out of the question, though: They’re way too expensive. While consumer phone lines have gotten dirt cheap, big phone companies still rake in money from businesses. And because we’re in a high-rise building, downtown, we were facing big installation fees.

Luckily, I’d gotten to know the folks at Sutus after they presented at DEMO Spring 2010. Sutus offers a small-business server in a box — data, networking, and voice-over-Internet-Protocol telephony. They offered to give us their Business Central 200 for free, and even helped us get some Polycom VOIP handsets, and we agreed to write about our experience with the product.

Installation went off without a hitch, and our sales operations guy set up extensions and voicemail through a Web-based interface. Voicemails get forwarded to reporters’ email inboxes, which is way more convenient than checking it the old-fashioned way. (I’m not sure anyone actually checked our voicemail when we were in our old office and had a single conventional phone line.)

We could have gone with a purely Internet-based VOIP solution, but there’s something reassuring about having a critical function like your phone lines running off a machine you can actually see. Okay, call us server huggers. But really, the Sutus server could be anywhere: The important thing is it’s dedicated for our use and under our complete control. It’s essentially a private cloud-computing service. Mix in the public cloud services we use, like Google Apps, and we’re actually practicing what we write about — a hybrid cloud solution as a transition to moving everything to the cloud.

And it’s supremely flexible — as we add writers around the globe (we have contributors everywhere from Finland to New Zealand these days), we could add phone extensions to give them U.S. numbers in a snap. With softphone apps, we could route calls to their computers and they wouldn’t have to pay international long-distance fees. That’s a huge savings.

Business Central is built to run the entire phone, network, and data infrastructure for businesses such as ours. So my biggest critique is that it has so many functions that we just haven’t found the time to learn them all. But I know that when we’re ready to start taking advantage of, say, its email, file-storage, or CRM features, we won’t need an IT guy to set them up: We’ll just roll up our sleeves and dive into the Web interface to configure what we need. — MATT MARSHALL