Shoretel 6, the latest version of ShoreTel Inc.s distributed IP telephony platform, places new emphasis on interoperability, reliability, security and usability, making it an attractive alternative for small and midsize businesses looking for an advanced voice platform.
Released last month, ShoreTel 6 supports SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), which enables the system to work with an array of third-party end-user telephony devices. The upgrade also adds presence capabilities for remote users via Office Anywhere, as well as encryption for improved security for calls within a ShoreTel network.
ShoreTel 6 pricing starts at $200 per user, which includes the use of extension software, mailbox software, unified messaging and desktop call control. There are additional costs, detailed below, for the central and end-user hardware devices. When compared with telephony systems from vendors such as Zultys Technologies Inc., ShoreTels system is relatively pricey.
The ShoreTel system uses a distributed architecture to ensure scalability and uptime for business-class networks. The network requires a central ShoreWare Server and its included Jet database to provide many advanced telephony applications and voice mail. Customers may deploy redundant ShoreWare Servers to enhance system reliability. Meanwhile, call control and trunking are handled via distributed ShoreGear switches. We could also attach analog phones to the switches. Most management tasks are performed via the ShoreWare Director Web-based GUI.
eWEEK Labs tested ShoreTel 6 in a multisite environment, simulating a WAN connection between a primary and a secondary office location. To simulate the connection, we used Shunra Software Ltd.s Shunra Virtual Enterprise, which added realistic throughput, latency and packet-loss conditions between sites in our testbed.
We installed the ShoreWare Server (the server software is provided free with user licenses) and a ShoreGear-120/24 voice switch, priced at $4,995, in our primary location. We then installed a ShoreGear-60/12, priced at $2,995, at our secondary location. The ShoreGear-120/24 supports as many as 120 client phones or 24 trunk lines, while the ShoreGear-60/12 supports 60 clients or 12 trunks.
On each switch, we configured a pair of analog loop start trunks for connectivity to the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). ShoreTel 6 also supports PRI (Primary Rate Interface), analog DID (Direct Inward Dialing), Digital Loop, Digital Wink Start and SIP trunks.
The ShoreWare Server, which customers install on their own server hardware, runs either on Microsoft Corp.s Windows 2000 Server or Windows Server 2003. In the future, wed like to see ShoreTel offer a detailed hardening guide to help administrators lock down the server as much as possible.
The ShoreGear switches, which are based on Wind River Systems Inc.s VxWorks, handle most call control features for the ShoreTel network. With Version 6, additional call control functions have been moved from the ShoreWare Server to the ShoreGear switches to enhance reliability. In tests, when our ShoreWare Server lost network connectivity, we still were able to place calls within the network and to the PSTN, place conference calls, use the intercom, redial, and transfer calls.
We were happy to see the improved resilience of the ShoreTel platform because we needed to reboot the ShoreWare Server several times when services mysteriously failed, particularly as we attempted to configure a second network connection on the server for out-of-band management.
With version 6, shoretel introduces SIP support, providing SIP-based tie trunks to another IP PBX or an analog gateway and adding support for third-party client devices. eWEEK Labs believes the latter will be particularly important as enterprises move to adopt wireless VOIP (voice over IP) technologies down the road. Unlike vendors that offer a completely SIP-based platform, however, ShoreTels own phones are still not SIP-based, instead relying on MGCP (Media Gateway Control Protocol) for call setup and teardown.
We had to configure a SIP trunk for each SIP device we connected. We were worried about the effect this would have on the scale of our network, as each ShoreGear switch can accommodate a limited number of trunks. This was not a problem, however, as ShoreTel 6 allowed us to configure five SIP trunks for each logical port we used on the switch. The license for each SIP trunk costs $50.
In tests, we were able to connect a pair of SIP-based voice-over-Wi-Fi phones to the ShoreTel network. With both Zyxel Communications Corp.s P-2000W Version 2 and Hitachi Cable Ltd.s Wireless IP-5000 Wi-Fi phones, we could place and receive calls within the network.
The new Office Anywhere feature allows users to maintain presence within the ShoreTel system, even when traveling off-site. Unlike more traditional follow-me functionality that attempts to locate a user at several different preprogrammed locations before forwarding an incoming call to voice mail, Office Anywhere lets remote users forward calls to their remote location while continuing to leverage ShoreTels telephony features.
Office Anywhere requires that remote users have a data connection back to the ShoreTel network and a PC that is running the ShoreTel Call Manager desktop call application.
From Call Manager, we input a cell phone number to which the ShoreTel system would forward incoming calls. With Office Anywhere forwarding calls to the cell phone, we could still use Call Manager to transfer the call to another ShoreTel user, conference in other parties or park the call in queue. We could also use Call Manager to initiate calls from the ShoreTel directory. Weve come to expect all this of VOIP systems from inside the network, but ShoreTel 6 is a very robust solution for an out-of-office user.
Deploying Call Manager is also much easier with ShoreTel 6. We could create Windows Installer packages (.msi files) and distribute them behind the scenes via Microsoft Active Directory Group Policy objects. This allowed us to ensure that users had the latest software, without requiring them to perform the install themselves or necessitating that they have local administrative permissions.
ShoreTel 6 also let us configure encryption systemwide, although this feature is supported only on newer ShoreTel switches and phones. The feature uses Diffie-Hellman to generate new keys for each call and uses a proprietary algorithm to encrypt the payload. Encryption can be applied only to the entire network, rather than to particular segments or user groups. Administrators should also be aware that encryption will be stripped away for calls to SIP devices or the PSTN to maintain interoperability.
Most management functions are performed from ShoreWare Director, a Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Services)-based GUI that controls the entire network, including all ShoreWare Servers, ShoreGear switches and ShoreTel phone devices. Along with ShoreWare Director, the ShoreWare Server includes a number of small but very useful utilities, including an application that helped us isolate and troubleshoot problems with our trunks.