Things to Consider When Evaluating an Enterprise-Class Business Telephone System:
The following are a list of features that are fairly unique to ShoreTel. From an architecture standpoint, they’re all pretty important – especially in a multi-site environment. It’s a bit wordy (like me) but all very important. Again, Inflow is a ShoreTel Partner so we might be a little biased; however this is a great guide to use when evaluating VOIP Business Telephone Systems and Vendors.
- Single system image – thousands of users, sites, voicemail, ACD groups, etc – all administered from one web-based administration console. This isn’t to be confused with a web application that allows you to go in and “touch” multiple systems. With ShoreTel, I add a user, click save, that configuration gets burned into the flash memory of every appliance on the network, and instantly you can dial that user from any site, get system-wide presence management, etc. Also, you want to avoid multiple administration consoles for every component on the system (voicemail, phone system, ACD groups, paging, presence, etc). You want all of this, including all locations to be administered once with a web console. This keeps your admin time down by orders of magnitude over other systems.
- Ease of Administration – Have a system so elegant and easy to administer, you can learn 98% of all troubleshooting, administration, etc with one four-hour class. Other systems – often times a one-week training session for the voicemail, another week class for the phone system, another for the presence server, etc. ShoreTel’s claim-to-fame is the absolute simplicity to use and administer the system.
- Distributed call processing 100% of the time –With ShoreTel, every appliance on your network has the entire database burned into flash memory. So every appliance is a complete phone system in of itself. There is no central server or “brain” that makes all call processing decisions. If any appliance becomes unavailable, the phones registered to that appliance can simply re-register to another appliance (anywhere on the network). If that site loses connectivity to the rest of the network, it will operate completely independent, making and taking calls with 100% features set (not a scaled-down version of the features). Due to the nature of the architecture, there is no additional configuration, “special mode’, servers, etc to make this happen.
- Solid-State Processing – Like the old Nortel PBXs, the processing with ShoreTel is solid-state. This means that your core call processing doesn’t rely on spinning media or a mechanical device. Anything that has server-based dial tone call processing has a meantime between failure of 4-5 years. ShoreTel has solid-state processing, no spinning media, and a purpose-built Operating System (VX Worxs, the same used in pace makers, anti-lock brakes, etc)
- N+1 Redundancy – The ability to add one additional appliance, anywhere on the network, and double the redundancy of your entire system – network-wide.
- Carrier-Class – Out of the box, ShoreTel processing has a documented uptime of 99.999%. With the addition of one extra appliance – 99.9999% uptime and a MTBF of 15+ years
- Distributed Voicemail with Single Administration and fail-over: The ability to keep Voicemail traffic local to sites, but not have to administer multiple voicemail systems. ShoreTel has distributed voicemail capabilities, but all of the voicemail functionality work together as a “single voicemail”. However, if voicemail becomes unavailable at a site, voicemail resources at another site automatically take over. Again, because ShoreTel is truly a single system (all devices have the entire database and are completely aware of every other device) this is possible.
- Distributed Paging: The ability to easily page from one site to another (via telephones or an overhead speaker system) WITHOUT additional servers, administration, etc. Each ShoreGear appliance has a paging output jack – it’s that simple. This is important for emergency situations
- Rich 911 Notification Application: The ability for the system to automatically notify multiple users, network-wide, of a 911 call – giving them the full details of the exact location (room, phone, building, etc).
- Open Standards Based – The system should be able to interoperate with any network equipment (switches and routers), business software, protocols (SIP, G.729, TAPI), etc. Don’t have the telephone system manufacture dictate your IT policies and strategies (example – you need to purchase all Cisco routers and switches, and then pay SmartNet until you die). You’ll also want the system to have an easy, inexpensive programming interface / Software Developer’s Kit (SDK) to pragmatically integrate third-party applications with. ShoreTel is fully standards-based with a fantastic SDK.
- Failure Scenarios: Make the vendor explain how their solution “self-heals” with a WAN failure, dial tone failure, LAN failure, power failure, and actual phone system failure.
- No “Planned Obsolescence” – With ShoreTel, you’re going to get a 15+ year lifespan out of the equipment. Again, ShoreTel is appliance-based, not server based. Servers realistically only have a 4-5 year lifespan at the most. Make sure you factor this into your “Total Cost of Ownership” with other manufactures.
- Dial Tone Creativity: This is more Inflow that ShoreTel. That being said, it’s still an important part of the design. Can the vendor bring in dial tone across existing network infrastructure (Ethernet, MPLS, T1, etc)? We can. Can the vendor fail dial tone to another IP connection (commodity-grade Internet for example) if the primary network connections goes away? We can. Can the vendor fail dial tone across locations to other IP connections or analog devices automatically? We can. Can the vendor suggest dial tone packages in which you’re only billed when using them (great for summer break, Christmas, etc)? We can. How long has the vendor been designing, deploying, and supporting SIP solutions? As you know, we consider ourselves the experts in this arena with hundreds of customers and years of experience with SIP.
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