ShoreTel Connect CLOUD Review – End-to-End UCaaS Completes the Circle
Unified Communications as a Service ShoreTel Connect CLOUD review
Wherever you stand on the great on-premises PBX versus cloud debate, no one can deny the impact the cloud has had on the UC industry.
For some, the concept of farming out provision and management of a business’s communications network to third party providers marks a watershed in the history of telecommunications. With no hardware servers to buy, or software to install and configure, or systems to wire, champions of the cloud hail it for offering an altogether more simple, cost effective, flexible and scalable approach to UC and telephony.
PBX hardware advocates, on the other hand, suggest that cloud services are unable to supply the depth and range of features a quality server can. They also raise questions over security and argue that ownership affords a higher level of control over your comms infrastructure.
As the debate rages on, some vendors are choosing to have a bob each way with their product portfolios, which of course makes sound commercial sense. One such is ShoreTel, which has developed its flagship Connect phone and UC platform to offer both an on premises and a hosted cloud option.
The Californian vendor claims that Connect CLOUD is unique in the market because it is the only complete end-to-end UCaaS solution available. It bases that on the fact that Connect CLOUD is not just a software platform licensed to service providers, who then host the system on behalf of end users. ShoreTel maintains control over service provision itself.
ShoreTel claims that, through Connect CLOUD, it can “replace separate telco, carrier and service providers,” offering customers “a single point of contact for your call plans, phones, installation and support.”
So, what does ‘end-to-end UCaaS’ offer to the customer that other services do not? We will try to unpick exactly that in this review, as well as look at the fey features and functions of the system.
Please bear in mind, the opinions expressed in this review are those of the author only. UC Today does not play any role in the promotion, marketing or sale of any particular brand or product.
What Can It Do?
ShoreTel Connect CLOUD is a fully hosted business communication service managed and provided directly through ShoreTel itself.
Through a subscription license, the customer buys access to ShoreTel’s virtual network, which is built out of virtualised versions of the Connect system products – ShoreTel ST voice switches, UC applications, core and distribution routers, account databases. Everything is hosted remotely by ShoreTel at its own operations centres, accessed via an IP connection.
Because the whole system is virtualised, and at its core is based on ShoreTel’s own considerable hardware resources, there is virtually no limit to the number of users you can plug into Connect CLOUD. It supports a number of ShoreTel desk phones from the IP400 and IP600 series, as well DECT sets and the BB 424 operator button box, which has a 96 line capacity. All of these are plugged straight into the LAN / WAN.
It provides a standard range of business class PBX and telephony functions such as call control, call routing, voicemail, automated attendant, system directory and conference calling. Subscriptions also include access to the Connect client, a browser interface which offers the following UC and user interaction features:
- A suite of collaboration tools including IM, audio, web and video conferencing, desktop sharing and point-to-point video.
- A softphone for turning PCs and laptops into a fully functioning IP phone.
- On-screen directory with presence and one-click buttons for launching IM, voice and video calls.
- Event scheduling and conference management.
- Conversation history.
- ICS and Microsoft Outlook calendar integration.
- Call monitoring and supervision.
- Centralised administration via a web browser.
A mobile client for iOS and Android also extends all call handling and UC features to mobile phones, so users really can use the network wherever they are. The mobile client provides automatic handover between desk phones and mobile, one-touch conference access and ‘dual persona’ separation between personal and business calls.
An optional contact centre suite can also be added to the license as an extra.
The key difference between Connect CLOUD and a typical, fully owned communications system is how it is managed and provisioned. As ShoreTel puts it, they “act as your company’s communications IT department,” from initial configuration of the system to ongoing maintenance and system support.
Network security is built around the sRTP protocol, which provides high level encryption without the need to use VPNs, and applies to communications via the mobile client as well as through desk top networks. Because ShoreTel builds its own architecture on multiple systems, with modular hardware and multi-tenant datacentres, there is always failover support – if something goes wrong with one part of the system, it simply switches over to another, so customers get the highest possible availability levels.
What do we like?
Possibly the biggest advantage of a cloud UC service is how easy it is to scale up (or down). To add new users, all you have to do is log in to the Connect Portal and update the license. Then it is just a case of plugging the end points into the LAN / WAN and entering the new user log in details, which could be done from anywhere – so opening new branch offices, or adding home workers, is as easy as it gets.
ShoreTel’s customer service provision is also impressive. A favourite feature is the fact that you can click a key on your desk phone and get through to a live operator instantly.
Who is it for?
With such easy provisioning and virtually endless flexibility and scalability in terms of network configuration, Connect CLOUD is ideal for any business with widely dispersed offices looking for an affordable and straightforward way to centralise communications. Although its open ended scalability means it can be deployed at enterprise level, it will probably appeal more to midmarket businesses, particularly those growing rapidly or those operating international branch offices.
What is it compatible with?
Connect CLOUD can be plugged into popular third party platforms such as Salesforce, NetSuite and a wide range of CRM applications.
How much does it cost?
There are three service plans available, Essential, Standard and Advanced. Contact your ShoreTel reseller for details.
UC Today Opinion
ShoreTel first made Connect CLOUD available in the US a couple of years ago, but dragged its heels on a roll out in the UK – possibly waiting to see how its self-administered, end-to-end UCaaS model went down in its home market first. UC Today welcomed the decision to finally introduce the Cloud version to the UK earlier this year, and we redouble that welcome now.
Ultimately, the PBX versus cloud debate needn’t be either/or. In our opinion, customer choice is more important, and with its ONSITE and CLOUD versions, Connect provides as much choice and flexibility as any business communications brand currently available. The decision to provision its own hosted cloud service, with centralised customer support and a network of licensed engineers, is a bold step by ShoreTel. It will be interesting to see if other vendors follow suit, and how that shakes up the hosted provider market should it happen.
Have you had a chance to use Shoretel Connect CLOUD yet? Or are you a ShoreTel reseller? What are your thoughts on the product? Please leave your comments in the section below, and if you know anyone who might be interested, why not share this article with them on social media and get them involved too.