ShoreTel Upgrades UC Platform for Enterprise

ShoreTel is adding its own IM and audio and Web conferencing capabilities to ShoreTel 12, and also is doubling the number of users it can support.

ShoreTel is continuing its efforts to become a larger player in the unified communications market, most recently with the release this week of the latest version of its namesake platform.

With ShoreTel 12, announced May 11, the vendor is adding high-definition audio conferencing, Web conferencing and XMPP-based instant messaging to its offering. In addition, Microsoft Outlook scheduling and multimedia recording are integrated into the platform.

ShoreTel also is making it easier for IT administrators to get the various collaboration capabilities deployed, with a simplified setup and configuration process that can get an enterprise up and running in 10 minutes or less. New users can be added with a single click, and with ShoreTel Director, a browser-based administrative interface, the system can support up to 20,000 local or remote users.

It's such ease of use that is a key differentiator between ShoreTel and its larger competitors, according to the company's CMO, Kevin Gavin.

"All of us are good at meeting [end-user] requirements," Gavin said in an interview with eWEEK. "We think we accomplish the same things, but we do it a little bit simpler."

Businesses are looking for easier ways to deploy UC systems, he said. Cisco Systems has built up much of its collaboration capabilities through acquisitions, which created a complicated offering, Gavin said. Avaya's UC products are built atop legacy technologies, which also add layers of complexity. ShoreTel's products take half the effort to keep up and running, he said.

ShoreTel also offers an open architecture. "There's no closed, proprietary innovation," Gavin said.

With ShoreTel 12, customers now can offer employees audio conferencing, Web conferencing and IM integrated into the core platform, which makes deployment and management easier, according to the company. In addition, ShoreTel doubled the number of users the platform can support in a single image, from 10,000 to 20,000, making it a solid option for larger enterprises.

Before, ShoreTel had gotten its audio conferencing, Web conferencing and IM capabilities from Alcatel-Lucent.

The Microsoft Outlook 2010 integration means scheduling and joining audio conferences can be accomplished with a single click on the Outlook menu, and users can start a call or IM exchange though Outlook. ShoreTel 12 also integrates Microsoft Exchange 2010, offering it as an option to act as the unified messaging server. There also is a native application for Apple Macintosh users called ShoreTel Communicator for Mac, a nod to the growing number of Mac users in the enterprise, according to the company.

ShoreTel Communicator also now supports such mobile devices as Apple's iPhone and Research In Motion's BlackBerry smartphones. ShoreTel grew is mobile capabilities in October 2010, when it bought Agito Networks for about $11.4 million. Agito's products were designed to help businesses extend their UC capabilities onto smartphones.

Gavin said ShoreTel plans to aggressively grow its UC platform, with major releases coming out every nine months.

ShoreTel 12 will ship in June. ShoreTel officials showcased the new UC platform at the Interop 2011 show this week in Las Vegas.