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Know Your ShoreTel Hybrid Options

Over the past year, ShoreTel has introduced a steady set of improvements to its premises-based UC solution and its main cloud-based UC service. The result is some rather interesting hybrid possibilities that have gradually become available. So let's look at them all in the form of timeline:

August 2015 – ShoreTel Connect launches in the U.S. This includes:

February 2016 – ShoreTel Connect Hybrid Sites launches in the U.S. Distinguished from Hybrid Apps, as the original hybrid option is now called, Sites lets businesses have some users get call control from Connect Onsite systems, while others get it from Connect Cloud. All users share a common dial plan, and IT provisions and manages accounts through a single portal.

March 2016 – ShoreTel Connect Cloud and Connect Hybrid expand to Canada.

April 2016 – ShoreTel Connect Cloud Contact Center launches. This is a hosted option to ShoreTel Connect's otherwise premises-based contact center solution.

June 2016 – Contact center becomes available as a Hybrid Apps option, letting businesses with Connect Onsite subscribe to ShoreTel's cloud-based contact center service. (If the cloud-based and hybrid contact center offers sound familiar, you probably heard about it on No Jitter a year ago August. ShoreTel talked about them back then, but didn't make each available till this spring and summer.)

Drilling Down into ShoreTel Hybrid UC

Now that we have a better idea of what was introduced when, let's explore each of the three delivery options in a bit more depth, keeping hybrid UC clearly in focus along the way.

But first I want to draw attention to the "brilliantly simple" approach ShoreTel has taken to branding. Onsite, cloud, hybrid -- how the solution is adopted is encoded directly in its name. And no more having to ask, "Hybrid can mean lots of things, so what do you mean when you say it, ShoreTel?" Hybrid Apps is for communications apps made available in a hybrid fashion; Hybrid Sites is for core call control available as a mix of hosted and prem. Can't get much clearer than that.

OK, on to the drill-down.

ShoreTel Connect Onsite - As mentioned above, the common base of code underlying both Connect Onsite and Connect Cloud is what enables their adoption in a hybrid model. This is how ShoreTel supports a single directory, extension dialing, and caller ID between Onsite and Cloud deployments.

Both deployment models share a three-tier pricing and packaging model: Essentials, Standard, and Advanced. Pricing of course differs, since the Onsite plans assume a one-time capex purchase, whereas the Cloud plans are per-user, per-month subscriptions. But plan names are identical, as are the differences between them, with more advanced features (basic vs. full mobile client, CRM app integration) and greater conference scalability (from eight to 100 participants) supported on the more expensive plans. So businesses moving toward hybrid UC can easily make the same set of features available to end users regardless of whether they're homed to premises-based systems or to the cloud-based service.

ShoreTel Connect Cloud - As mentioned above, ShoreTel's Connect Cloud service is available in the U.S. and Canada today, with expansion plans into the U.K., presumably sometime in 2017. ShoreTel offers an impressive 99.999% uptime guarantee in its service-level agreeement.

ShoreTel has adopted an Agile development model for Connect. That means it enhances and updates the software continually, so Connect Cloud always runs the latest "version." But businesses adopting hybrid don't necessarily need to have exactly the same iteration of the software running on their Connect Onsite switches and appliances and whatnot. Connect Onsite can run an older version of the software than Connect Cloud, and the two can still be integrated to support hybrid deployment scenarios. This way a business doesn't need to continuously update its on-premises UC software so it matches the same software revision used by the hosted service.

It’s important to note that ShoreTel has other hosted UC services besides Connect. Though the company doesn’t lead with it, ShoreTel Sky is still running in the U.S. and Canada. It isn’t actively sold anymore, though many ShoreTel-hosted UC customers are still on it. And in the U.K. and Australia, ShoreTel has launched other hosted UC services that are separate from Connect Cloud. These other services may one day be consolidated into Connect Cloud service. But for now they’re operated separately.

ShoreTel Connect Hybrid Sites - ShoreTel customers are likely to adopt Hybrid Sites in two ways:

Pricing for Hybrid Sites involves a monthly recurring fee based on the number of simultaneous calls needed. ShoreTel currently offers no high availability or back-up option for Hybrid Sites. That is, a ShoreTel Connect Onsite customer cannot have a duplicate call server in Connect Cloud standing by to take over in the event of a connection or system failure. In this case, customers typically use the inherent capabilities of the premises-based distributed architecture for redundancy.

ShoreTel Connect Hybrid Apps - It's probably best to think of ShoreTel Connect Hybrid Apps as optional cloud-based add-ons for an otherwise premises-based solution. So a business has call control software onsite, but subscribes to one or more comms apps that ShoreTel hosts. Businesses shouldn't try to do anything more complicated than this.

For example, Connect Contact Center Hybrid is intended to provide a cloud-based contact center application for an otherwise on-premises ShoreTel telephony system. All agents are registered to the app in the cloud, which is where their dialer, queuing, recording, and other customer support capabilities come from. The application is not "internally hybrid," if expressing it that way makes any sense. That means a company can't use two contact center apps, one on prem and another hosted, with different agents associated to each but managed as a unit. Said in another way, a company can have an on-prem contact center app as well as a hosted contact center app, but these are entirely separate apps with distinct call queues, separate call records, etc.

Separately, certain ShoreTel applications are available to Connect Cloud customers, but not as Hybrid Apps add-ons to Connect Onsite services. Specifically, these are:

ShoreTel plans to build out the set of Hybrid Apps in its portfolio. I'm guessing that some or all of these are on the immediate roadmap. Also on the roadmap are IM and desktop video conferencing as hybrid apps. Both are supported by the on-premises and cloud iterations of the ShoreTel solution. But users homed to one are essentially isolated, unable to message or video conference with users homed to the other.

So that's where things stand when it comes to ShoreTel and hybrid these days -- perfectly valid hybrid offerings actively marketed. (Go to the ShoreTel website and you're immediately presented with links to the company's hybrid UC solutions.) With all the different systems and services and deployment options, I'm not sure ShoreTel can use the "brilliantly simple" descriptor anymore... but hybrid UC isn't a simple proposition, and simple UC solutions will struggle to meet enterprises' complex communications needs. So before long it might be time for ShoreTel to put the "brilliantly simple" messaging behind it.

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