ShoreTel Connect ONSITE Review – Breaking Down Barriers for On-Premises UC
ShoreTel Phone System Review
In today’s Telecoms market, scalability is an increasingly important factor in product differentiation.
And with the arrival of software architectures and remote virtual networks, old rules about what types of product suit businesses of different sizes are starting to be broken down.
One company driving this trend is ShoreTel. With Connect ONSITE, the Californian multinational seems to be attempting to rewrite the rules on how easy and straightforward it is to build large, complex, distributed networks from on-premises unified communications platforms.
Connect ONSITE is an IP phone system in its truest sense – more than a single product, it is a family of products which offers an end-to-end business communications solution, encompassing endpoints, platform software and advanced UC applications.
At the heart of the Connect ONSITE architecture are the ShoreTel ST series of phone and trunk switches. Although available as hardware, these software switches – not servers, in ShoreTel’s terms – are the reason why ShoreTel can claim Connect ONSITE can be scaled from 10 users to 10,000, smashing previous expectations on PBX system deployment.
In this review, we will look at exactly what Connect ONSITE can do, and scrutinise the claims for open scalability offered by the ST switches. As always, please bear in mind that the opinions expressed in this review are those of the author only. UC Today is an independent news and insight service for the UC industry and does sell any particular brands or products.
How Does It Look?
The ST Voice Switches are available in seven hardware versions, each of which comes in a 19” rack-mountable 372mm x 212mm x 42mm chassis. They are all branded with two horizontal black and orange bands, with the ShoreTel logo in the top right. All feature two 10/100/1000 ethernet ports for WAN / LAN connections, with a varied number of additional analogue and /or digital ports, USB ports and various other connections.
What Can It Do?
The Connect ONSITE architecture is built out of three components before you start adding endpoints – an ST series voice switch, an application server and a ShoreTel Edge Gateway.
The seven hardware versions of the ST switches all offer something different in terms of available extensions and trunks. They support between 100 and 500 IP phones directly, some include analogue trunks, some digital trunks, some SIP trunks. The ST1D and 2D only support digital and SIP trunks, with no direct IP extensions.
The basic system architecture is that you install a switch for every site in your network. These are then linked through a peer-to-peer connectivity system built on open standards protocols, so you end up with a distributed network that can be administered as one from a straightforward web interface. You can add as many sites and switches as you want, and if you want to save on hardware, the ST software can be virtualised and run on a x86 compliant data-centre server.
The software based application server provides access to the administration platform, ShoreTel Connect Director, and the ShoreTel Connect desktop client. A single server can support up to 10,000 users. The Edge Gateway is a WebRTC compliant virtual access point for remote connections, meaning home and mobile endpoints can link into the system securely without the need for a VPN.
Connect ONSITE supports a wide range of ShoreTel desk and wireless phones, including:
- The IP 655 for executives and conferencing
- The colour display IP 485g
- The BB424 operator button box
- The ShoreTel Dock for iOS mobiles
- The 930D portable DECT phone
- The IP420 and IP480g for basic / general purpose use
The system offers the expected range of business telephony functions, including call control, call routing, voicemail, automated attendant, system directory, conference calling and much more. Via the ShoreTel Connect client, it also delivers as standard a wide range of UC tools like IM, audio and web conferencing, video calling, presence and web desktop sharing, with built in additional collaboration features which include:
- An events wizard for setting up calls and conferences
- A raise hand feature to manage conversations
- Quick access to key contacts and groups through a favourites feature
- An agenda timer for tracking meeting progress.
All of this is available from within a single interface, so you don’t have to keep opening different apps. It integrates with Outlook, AD and ICS calendars, and through a web client all UC tools can even be shared with external contacts.
There is a mobile client for iOS and Android, allowing full access to the application suite on mobile devices, including full IP office phone call handling features.
There is also a wide suite of optional extra applications available, including a contact centre platform for businesses of all sizes, enhanced IVR campaigns and workgroup functions for supervisors and agents with advanced call routing features.
What do we like?
The UC applications are a real strength of Connect ONSITE, with a wide range of collaboration and virtual meeting features bundled in with the usual IM, video and audio options.
The interface is well designed and very convenient to use, allowing users to navigate between UC tools easily – if you want to switch an IM chat to a video call, it’s just a single click. The fact that everything is in a single platform means you are not having to navigate between windows.
Finally, the availability of Connect client in a browser version is great for extending UC and collaboration features to external contacts.
Who is it for?
With a sister Connect CLOUD version also available, ShoreTel intends the Connect platform to be for everyone – big or small, single site or many, on location or distributed, the focus is on a software solution which makes it simple and straightforward for any business to deploy. Connect ONSITE is for those businesses which still want to take ownership of their own infrastructure, whether that is in the form of a hardware ‘server’ or software run in their own datacentre. With a maximum of 500 users per box, it offers a sound single site solution for SMEs, but probably shows its greatest strengths when used across multiple sites, simplifying network integration and centralising system control.
What is it compatible with?
ShoreTel Connect ONSITE is designed to be fully compatible with a wide range of line of business software platforms, including Outlook, Salesforce, MS Dynamics, NetSuite, ACT!, Zendesk, desk.com and more.
UC Today Opinion
Because of its focus on simple software integration, ShoreTel calls Connect a “remarkable innovation” in communications platforms. So does it break through the barriers of scale which have always locked on premises systems to certain sizes of business?
Yes it does, but there is a condition. What is true about the system is it offers open ended scalability – as long as you are prepared to keep adding hard switches at every site you open (and buy a new application server above 10,000 users). So in that sense, Connect ONSITE follows a traditional model of linking different servers together to increase capacity, it just makes it easier to do so and has no limits.
This ease of deployment, built on a software architecture, is what makes Connect truly innovative. Coupled with an excellent suite of UC and collaboration features, it is a product which will tick a lot of boxes for a lot of companies.
Do you agree with our thoughts about Connect ONSITE? Have you used it? Or are you a ShoreTel reseller? What have your experiences been? As always, we would love to hear your thoughts, so why not have your say in the comments section below and share this article on social media so friends and colleagues can join in too?