Despite the Cloud, Part II

by Sandra Gustavsen

Business communications manufacturers are putting a lot of R&D into building out their cloud unified communications (UC) offers. Their commitment to “cloud” is strong, and for good reason as we witness the continued migration from traditional on-premises telephony and UC installations toward subscription-based services to access these solutions. Nevertheless, these vendors continue to roll out enhanced hardware and new software releases for their on-site phone systems. And, even a few brand new premises-based IP-PBX systems made their way into the market over the past year.

Market analysts confirm a steady decline in the enterprise telephony market globally as businesses hold off on new phone system (PBX) purchases (e.g. see reports from Infonetics and MZA), yet the installed base of TDM, converged and pure IP-PBXs remains a significant opportunity in terms of software and support contracts and the potential to upgrade these to more advanced technology or as part of a hybrid cloud migration. Incidentally, vendors that have developed both premises- and cloud-based solutions using the same software stream are in a particularly good position since any new software releases will benefit both solution types.

Since 2015, five of the vendors we track actually introduced a new IP-PBX system. This is down from the prior year’s review (there is some overlap since two of the new hardware models from Cisco and Panasonic made their debut in the early part of 2015 and were included in the last review) and another tell-tale sign of the march toward UC in the cloud with its appealing budgetary and strategic advantages (e.g. predictable per-user monthly fees, reduced capital expenses, fewer IT personnel, flexible scale, consistency across a network, ease of adding future innovations, etc.).

Below are “recent” IP-PBX entries. The majority target the small and mid-sized business (SMB) market, except for ShoreTel’s new Connect ONSITE premises-based system which, like its predecessor, scales to fit small to large businesses by supporting up to 20,000 users in a single system image.

New Premises-based IP-PBXs Since 2015

Cisco’s Business Edition 6000S became generally available in January 2015. This all-in-one business collaboration platform is built into a Cisco 2921 Integrated Services Router (ISR) with a Cisco UCS-E server blade on which five pre-configured and “essential” virtualized applications are running. BE6000S targets the low-end of the mid-market or branch offices with 25-150 users and introduces a smaller scale, more cost-effective version of the full Business Edition 6000 virtualized telephony platform designed for mid-market organizations with up to 1,000 users. Cisco’s BE6000S fills a gap in Cisco’s product line, following the January 2014 end-of-sale of the company’s line of on-premises business telephony platforms for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs). See the write-up Cisco Introduces Business Edition 6000S for Smaller Offices for more detail.

Panasonic released the KX-NS700 communications server for SMBs in the U.S. in February 2015. The system offers scale and functionality over and above the company’s earlier KX-NCP500/1000 and KX-TDE100/200 converged digital/IP systems. The KX-NS700 supports 288 extensions, including up to 160 analog or digital extensions and up to 128 IP extensions. Notable features include built-in voicemail with email notification (expandable via licensing), an embedded call center capability and license-activated One-Look Networking software that connects multiple KX-NS700 servers and the earlier, higher-capacity KX-NS1000 server as a single system with centralized administration and reporting. See the write-up Panasonic Targets SMBs with New KX-NS700 Communications Server for more detail.

Allworx’s new Connect series entered the market in March and April 2015, representing the company’s third generation of IP phone systems for small and mid-sized businesses. Connect, with faster processor speed and the latest System Software 8.0, enables additional functionality over and above earlier Allworx systems such as the Allworx Reach Link device handover capability, native Gigabit Ethernet interfaces and enhanced security (HTTPS encryption). There are five Connect models for different capacity requirements: Connect 731 (to 180 users), Connect 536 (to 50 users), Connect 530 (to 50 users, no analog ports), Connect 324 (to 20 users) and Connect 320 (to 20 users, no analog ports). See the write-up Allworx Introduces Third Generation IP Phone System, Allworx Connect for more detail.

ShoreTel began the phased rollout of its newly developed platform ShoreTel Connect in September 2015. ShoreTel Connect is designed to function as a common platform for cloud, on-premises and hybrid deployments, with the same user experience, features and applications regardless of the deployment. Connect ONSITE, the name of the new premises-based system, retains and builds upon ShoreTel’s earlier IP-PBX functionality and unique architecture with distributed application servers for management and distributed voice switches for call control and trunk and station connections, supporting up to 20,000 users in a single system image. ShoreTel has introduced an all-new user interface, plus a number of new capabilities, including a new Edge Gateway security device, Remote VPN phones, redesigned Director management software and a new series of double density “ST” Voice Switches, to name a few.  See the related write-up “ShoreTel Addresses the Hybrid Cloud with New Connect Platform” for more detail on Connect ONSITE and the other Connect solutions (Connect Cloud, Connect Contact Center, Connect HYBRID Apps and Connect HYBRID Sites).

Vertical Communications expanded its Summit product family in November 2015, adding a new higher-capacity model for medium businesses. The new Summit 800 IP/TDM hybrid phone system supports up to 400 users in single system or to 800 users by connecting an expansion unit. With Summit, popular telephony functionality is built-in, including voicemail and auto attendant, e-mail notification, Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Web-based administration. More advanced capabilities, such as click-to-call, a mobile client for Android or iOS devices and a softphone for Windows PCs, are embedded and easily license-activated without the need for any add-on software (five licenses of each are included). Call Recording and an IP Attendant can be optionally added. Vertical introduced the first Summit system in 2014 as an IP key system suitable for businesses with 5-50 users with scale to 140 extensions using one of four basic system units and one expansion unit. Both Summit systems can be part of an IP network (up to 250 sites) with Vertical’s small SBX IP and larger MBX IP key systems.