ShoreTel has begun the phased rollout of its newly developed platform, ShoreTel Connect, which will function as a common platform for cloud, on-premises and hybrid deployments. ShoreTel describes the new solution as a “monumental” release that blends the best of ShoreTel’s earlier premises-based IP-PBX software and its unique distributed architecture (plus some new capabilities) with elements from its cloud-based solution, including redundant data centers, a 24×7 help desk, 911 location services, billing systems and other cloud-related assets (acquired when ShoreTel purchased M5 Networks in 2012).
The result is ShoreTel Connect, a single platform that can be deployed at a customer site or accessed as a cloud-based subscription service, with the same user experience, features and applications regardless of the deployment. This is a boon for ShoreTel in terms of product design (a single software stream or code base for both premises and cloud solutions), for ShoreTel’s sales team and partners that will require training on only one solution, and for ShoreTel customers who will be able to flexibly mix and match on-site equipment with cloud solutions as appropriate for their business needs.
ShoreTel is on-target with the new Connect hybrid cloud and premises offer. Such solutions are rapidly entering the market as the traditional telecom vendors recognize the value in offering customers (1) the flexibility in subscribing to hosted/cloud services for some applications and using on-site solutions for others and/or (2) the ability to network the two solution types (cloud and on-premises) for feature parity across all locations regardless of the deployment. ShoreTel has hit on both strategies with the new Connect HYBRID Applications and forthcoming Connect HYBRID Sites. More on all of the Connect solutions below.
The ShoreTel Connect Portfolio
ShoreTel Connect was first introduced to ShoreTel’s partner community in April 2015, and partners are now officially “quoting” the following: a new on-site IP-PBX (Connect ONSITE), a new cloud-based unified communications service (Connect CLOUD) and a new multi-channel contact center solution (Connect Contact Center), as well as cloud-based applications for customers with premises-based system deployments (Connect HYBRID Apps). A hybrid networking capability that enables the networking of cloud and premises deployments (Connect HYBRID Sites) is expected later this year.
- Connect ONSITE is a new premises-based system that 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 as a single system image. With Connect, ShoreTel introduces an all-new user interface (more on the user licenses and bundles below), 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.
- Connect CLOUD is the hosted version of Connect ONSITE, with all system components and software located in ShoreTel data centers rather than at the customer site. Customers simply pay a monthly subscription fee to access all telephony and unified communications, eliminating the expense and hassle of purchasing, installing and maintaining any system equipment within their business location. Connect CLOUD is available to new ShoreTel customers and will replace the company’s earlier ShoreTel Sky cloud service over time.
- Connect Contact Center is a redesign of ShoreTel’s earlier multi-channel contact center solution, with some new capabilities and, perhaps most importantly, with deployment either on-site or in the cloud (ShoreTel’s earlier cloud call center offer was an informal, inbound, voice-only offer). Notable features of Connect Contact Center include a new agent Web experience, an integrated chat capability and remote connectivity without the need for a third party VPN; the solution supports up to 1,000 concurrent agents.
- Connect HYBRID Apps currently includes two standalone cloud-based applications, HYBRID Fax (an email-to-fax service) and HYBRID Scribe (a voicemail transcription service). These applications, available since 2014, can be accessed as-a-service by customers that deploy the new ShoreTel Connect ONSITE system or that have an earlier premises-based ShoreTel IP-PBX with the latest R14.2 software. The Standard CLOUD user bundle also includes voicemail transcription (more on the new bundles below).
- Connect HYBRID Sites will enable multi-site organizations to deploy an on-site system (Connect ONSITE) at some locations, while subscribing to the cloud service (Connect CLOUD) at others, tying all locations together as a single network with feature transparency and common applications among all users regardless of the deployment model. ShoreTel Connect HYBRID Sites is expected to be available later this year.
Three User Bundles
ShoreTel has devised three Connect user bundles, with varying levels of features and functionality and priced accordingly, either as a one-time user license for Connect ONSITE (starts at $199) or as a per-user recurring monthly fee for Connect CLOUD (starts at $34.99).
- Essentials is the most basic user bundle or license. It includes a user extension and voice mailbox, as well as ShoreTel’s Professional UC client application that enables presence, instant messaging and two-party video, along with voice communications (built-in soft phone) and 8-party audio conferencing. Web collaboration (4-party) is supported via the optional ShoreTel service appliance (for Connect ONSITE) or as part of the user bundle (for Connect CLOUD). Users can also take advantage of ShoreTel’s Web & App Dialer for simple click-to-call functionality and basic mobility in the form of twinning or simultaneous ringing to an alternate device.
- Standard builds on the Essentials bundle to add three additional capabilities, namely the ShoreTel Connect Mobility client application for iOS and Android devices (a full mobile client based on the company’s earlier ShoreTel Mobile application), Remote Phone (for ONSITE users) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) integration, including salesforce.com and other CRM applications. Web collaboration (25-party) is supported via the optional ShoreTel service appliance (for Connect ONSITE) or as part of the user bundle (for Connect CLOUD). The Standard CLOUD package also includes ad-hoc call recording and voicemail transcription.
- Advanced is the highest user level and builds on Standard and Essentials to add ShoreTel’s Operator UC client application with call coverage features, such as extension monitoring, drag and drop call transfers and call pick-up, as well as instant messaging and presence status information to consult users before transferring a call. Web collaboration (100-party) is supported via the optional ShoreTel service appliance (for Connect ONSITE) or as part of the user bundle (for Connect CLOUD). The Advanced CLOUD package also includes full-time call recording and unlimited archiving.
ShoreTel has its plate full with the rollout of Connect over the next several months, including a simplified and enhanced channel partner program set to launch in November. At present, ShoreTel Connect is available only to new customers, with plans for migrating existing ShoreTel customers to be revealed later on. ShoreTel is not ready to give specifics, but we can expect to see future developments around the user experience and more hybrid solutions which are quickly gaining popularity as a way to ease a variety of business challenges. Stay tuned.