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ShoreTel beefs up UC offering for SMBs

ShoreTel has announced a new version of its IP communications platform that introduces tighter integration between media and new IM and presence capabilities, but it also features integration with Microsoft's outdated LCS platform.

ShoreTel's new version of its unified communications (UC) platform offers new functionality to customers, but the company has also made a curious choice by integrating with Microsoft's outdated Live Communications Server (LCS).

This week, the communications technology firm known for its focus on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) released ShoreTel 8.0. The new version adds integration of voice, email and video with new presence and IM capabilities in a new ShoreWare Professional Call Manager. The product also offers line-side support of the popular SIP protocol.

The product's appeal to the market will be tempered, however, by the fact that ShoreTel has achieved presence and IM capabilities by integrating with Microsoft's LCS. Robert Arnold, senior analyst for enterprise communications at Current Analysis, pointed out that Microsoft no longer actively sells LCS, having introduced the new, more advanced platform, Office Communications Server (OCS). However, ShoreTel said it intends to support OCS in a subsequent release.

At VoiceCon this year, Microsoft promoted its efforts to get leading communications vendors to integrate with OCS. Nortel was the first to go to market with such integration, but integration with LCS does get the ball rolling for ShoreTel's involvement with what Microsoft is doing in UC, Arnold said.

"It does gain them some access to the LCS customers that are out there," he said. "From the reports that I have read, there are tens of thousands of LCS seats that are activated, and you can be sure that a lot of them have not moved to OCS yet. For ShoreTel, it's a big step forward, integrating with Microsoft, in particular as they try to move up to the large enterprise space."

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"ShoreTel developed the new Professional Call Manager as a client application to work with enterprises' existing IM and presence infrastructure," said Steve Timmerman, Shoretel's vice president of corporate marketing. "We launched the product supporting the more mature LCS 2005 platform first, and we will support OCS 2007 in a subsequent release."

The Professional Call Manager client in the new release is a significant improvement for ShoreTel, Arnold said. "[The company now has] a much richer client that does IM and presence and video in a softphone," he said. "It gives them a single interface for all those applications, whereas before they had multiple interfaces or optional integration for a softphone, which was an added cost [for customers]. From a UC perspective, a unified interface is an absolute requirement. If you're going to integrate all these applications, you must have a client that offers a common point of access to them."

Arnold said the video capabilities in ShoreTel's IP PBX 8.0 aren't as robust as offerings from other vendors. In particular, videoconferencing in the new release is limited to point-to-point communications rather than multiparty.

Other companies have stronger enterprise platforms, he said, but what ShoreTel is bringing to market for SMBs this week is still more advanced than the competition's offerings for the midmarket. "On the larger enterprise side of things, I don't think this changes much."

The company also introduced ShoreGear 30, a voice switch aimed at small branch locations. The switch can support up to 30 IP phones or support SIP trunks or devices.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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