ShoreTel officials spent years developing the technology behind a common platform for the company's cloud-based and on-premises collaboration products and last year launched the first parts of its Connect hybrid unified communications offering.
Connect OnSite is the on-premises solution, while Connect Cloud is the unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) offering. Now ShoreTel officials are rolling out Connect Hybrid Sites, enabling customers to mix and match the UC services and applications they use across multiple sites.
Hybrid UC—the ability to run collaboration technologies both on-site and in the cloud—is getting a lot of attention from businesses. Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, has said that 80 percent of respondents in a survey said they were interested in adopting hybrid UC. Analysts with IHS Infonetics in 2015 said that more than half of the respondents in another survey said that by this year, they will be running at least some of their UC services over private or public clouds.
ShoreTel officials said the Connect platform—which includes a common code for both on-premises and cloud-based deployments—is the easiest way to hybrid UC. It's good for businesses that want to migrate to the cloud or want to keep their on-premises system in the main office but want to add cloud UC capabilities to remote office locations without taking on extra capital expenses.
"It allows people to adopt the cloud at their own pace," Rich Winslow, senior director of product management, told eWEEK, adding that it can be done "without needing extra equipment on premises."
Other collaboration vendors, including Cisco Systems and Unify, with its Circuit platform, also are broadening their hybrid cloud capabilities. However, Winslow said that most competitors still are offering separate cloud and on-premises solutions. In an interview with eWEEK last year, ShoreTel CEO Don Joos said, "We have a common platform, while others have platforms that are common."
The key differentiator for ShoreTel is the common code and common interfaces that give customers the same user experience both in the cloud and on-premises, and now enable businesses to easily move between them, Winslow said.
"There's a lot value here because of the way we deploy the hybrid model," he said. "It's the exact same code in the cloud and the exact same code on-premises."
With this common code, businesses can configure Connect in multiple ways to best fit their needs and future plans and span them across multiple locations, officials said. It automates directory synchronization, offers a common dial plan that enables extension-to-extension dialing, and brings feature parity to mixed deployments.
Along with bringing remote cloud sites into an on-premises environment, there are other benefits to the Connect model, Winslow said. New accounts, such as seasonal or remote workers, can be added without straining IT operations, while companies can bring Connect OnSite to locations where cloud services aren't available. In addition, all employees have the same user experience, whether on-premises or through the cloud.
On the business side, companies can better plan their collaboration future, leverage the flexibility inherent in the model to grow the communications environment in line with changing business needs, and ensure that communications over the system are secure, with 100 percent of the voice traffic encrypted.
Helping customers move to the cloud makes sense, given the trend in that direction. Analysts with BCC Research said in a report last month that the UCaaS market will grow 22.5 percent a year through 2020, increasing from $6.5 billion in 2015 to almost $18 billion by 2020.
"Although challenges in its adoption are still a concern, UCaaS is expected to give the UC&C [unified communications and collaboration] market its needed boost," BCC analyst Nandita Bhotika said in a statement at the time.