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ShoreTel Connect ONSITE: Product overview

With a simple deployment model, the recently revamped ShoreTel UC platform is well-suited for multisite organizations and looks to contend with other major vendors.

Editor's note: This article is part of a buying series on unified communications. The features in this series describe the evolution of UC and its use cases, as well as the important criteria to consider when buying a UC service. The series also compares the top UC products in the market. This article gives an overview of ShoreTel UC products.

The ShoreTel Connect ONSITE is a UC platform targeting small to large enterprises. The latest version, introduced last year, has been redesigned to align with today's demanding users and work environments, making the system more reliable, flexible and expandable.

With the ability to scale up to 20,000 ports (users and SIP trunks), support hundreds of remote sites, and offer well-designed redundancy models, the ShoreTel Connect ONSITE seems well-suited for multisite organizations.

The revamped Connect ONSITE shows ShoreTel is moving forward and catching up with other big players in the UC market. ShoreTel was recently named a visionary in Gartner's UC Magic Quadrant.

ShoreTel Connect is an end-to-end service that provides hardware- and software-based IP phones, voice switches/media gateways and high-end applications that enhance the overall capabilities of the system and services. A key characteristic of the Connect ONSITE is its simplicity and ease of deployment, as large installations can be done quickly.

With the recent upgrades to its flagship product, ShoreTel has managed to gain some attention in the UC market.

The ShoreTel Connect ONSITE runs under the Windows Server operating system, supporting 64-bit versions of Windows 2008 R2, SP1 and Windows 2012 R2. The product provides full support for Hyper-V and VMware environments, therefore covering the major virtualization platforms used in data centers.

ShoreTel has tried to keep licensing simple by providing three levels of user licenses: Essentials, Standard and Advanced. The main difference among the licenses is the Essentials license does not include access to ShoreTel's Connect mobility app, remote phone license, Salesforce CRM or operator functionality. The Standard license provides access to all services except operator functionality, and the Advanced license covers all features.

The Connect ONSITE phone systems include, among other things, IP PBX telephony services, desk phones, mobility app and a robust system administration program.

Connect Director simplifies network management

ShoreTel Connect Director for ONSITE is the Web-based application used to configure and administer IP phones, voice switches, and all voice and collaboration applications throughout the network. With the Connect Director, IT administrators can easily manage multiple PBX systems and configure voice switches and IP phones with little effort.

For example, if a voice switch is installed at a remote branch, Connect Director will quickly identify the new device and make the necessary changes so it can operate. Administrators can quickly create route patterns and send specific dial-strings out the trunks of the newly installed voice switch.

Newly added users can be automatically assigned an extension and mailbox without any user intervention. Through the same interface, administrators can also select the collaboration capabilities enabled to every user, including audio conferencing, Web sharing, instant messaging (IM), presence and much more.

The Connect Director also has built-in reporting and monitoring -- an essential feature for critical enterprise environments. Administrators are presented with a single-screen view of the entire enterprise system. This setup helps identify, report and correct any problems in a timely manner.

With the extensive monitoring features, administrators can measure resource use, help save costs and avoid service interruptions or outages due to high VoIP traffic. Trunk link utilization; network performance tracking across WAN links; auto attendant group reporting; and call quality information such as packet loss, jitter and delay are just a few of the features monitored by the Connect Director.

The ShoreTel Connect Client allows users to take advantage of the UC services offered by ShoreTel Connect ONSITE. Services such as Web conferencing, IM, presence, conference calls and more are all accessible via the ShoreTel Connect Client residing on each user's desktop.

Mobile app extends communications, productivity

The ShoreTel Connect mobility app extends the office phone and UC services to the mobile user, no matter where they are. The app is compatible with Android and iOS devices, and uses the same interface as the desktop version.

ShoreTel Connect mobility supports secure real-time transport protocol for both voice and UC signals, offering an additional layer of protection. The mobile app can also use wireless Internet and 3G/4G networks to help keep costs down.

With its built-in VPN, users are not required to continuously re-authenticate, saving a lot of frustration and problems, while at the same time simplifying administration for smartphone devices. The app offers a wide range of services, including IM, desktop sharing, video conferencing, CRM integration and more.

Connecting remote users without a VPN

The ShoreTel Connect Edge Gateway is an appliance designed to simplify remote access for mobility clients and IP phone devices, such as the ShoreTel 400-series.

With the edge gateway, companies don't need a third-party VPN solution and VPN client. This saves users and IT departments a huge amount of time and support tickets because the enterprise uses only one solution for its UC services.

Technologies such as reverse proxy, network address translation, remote access secure tunneling, session traversal utilities for NAT, and others are fully supported by the ShoreTel edge gateway. As with all ShoreTel products, configuration and administration of the edge gateway can be done via the Connect Director.

With the recent upgrades to its flagship product, ShoreTel has managed to gain some attention in the UC market. ShoreTel's straightforward approach to a UC system has attracted many customers and confirms a bright future for the company.

Next Steps

Read a review of the ShoreTel Dock phone and mobility product.

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Read more about ShoreTel's mobility solution.

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