Brents IT Blog

Random thoughts by an IT GOAT


Shoretel: Two years in review

So in my post talking discussing the finer points of different VoIP systems, I stated that I was moving forward with the Shoretel Phone system purchase.  So below are my thoughts and experiences with the various products we purchased from them.

T1k units, the units used to transfer PRI connections to VoIP.  These units work pretty much flawlessly.  I have had to reboot a remote unit two or three times since we bought it, but I am not completely sure it was the devices fault it was non-responsive.  We had four more units at our main office that have never been rebooted.  When I ordered a new unit, it had some issues but was quickly replaced by the VAR and no issues have arisen on the new unit.

Shoregear 30/50/90 units, the actual PBX units located onsite at each location that manage the handset connectivity to the main system.  Occasionally we have to reset a unit at a site and during our last upgrade we had one unit that we had to telnet to and reboot manually.  Again, never had to reset one of these at our main site, so I wonder if its just the fact that units we had to reset were remotely.  For the record, there has only been one site where I have had to reset the shoregear unit more than once in the last two years.

Handsets, the 115,230, 560 phones have generally worked without issue.  We have sent back about 8% of the phones we bought for repairs.  They were repaired and sent back to us without issue.  Some of the phones we may have sent back may not have had an issue, it may have been the switch port which we figured out later.  A simple reset of the PoE switch usually clears any port issues.

Shoreware Director server has been more of an issue.  While it has excellent controls over the system and can now be virtualized in version 11 which we just upgraded to, the MySQL database seems to be like most windows based MySQL databases, subject to corruption.  Over the past few years we have had page groups just stop working, workgroups stop ringing, and schedules that become ignored.  We have had to repair the database or reset entries several times in order to get these things working again.   Another issue we have that services that control these features and other feature become flakey or stop randomly.  While it doesn’t happen on the weekly basis, each month is different, some are quiet and some require weekly reboots.  When we upgraded to version 11, many things stopped working at randomly within a week.  We were told to run a installation repair which would also run a database repair.   In the weeks since, things have been somewhat quiet.  Initially after this process many settings just stopped working which required us to manually touch each setting and “re-save” it.  Luckily this intitial stage didn’t last long and as I said, things have been quiet.  Who knows it could have been rampant corruption all along and the new version has addressed these issues.

Shoreware conference bridge is the conference server they sell with it.  It works just fine for conference calls, but with all the restrictions we have on PC’s, things become more difficult when we try to get desktop sharing working.  The server itself is quite easy to setup and manage though installing the right certificate was a bit of a pain.   I can also say that we have only rebooted that server maybe 5 times since its been online.  I should mention that I went to Enterprise Connect and had seen their new conference bridge appliance that should be replacing the server you have to buy.  The new version is leaps and bounds ahead of the current conference bridge.  Being that the new version requires the hardware appliance, I am curious how they are going to handle customers who are under support contracts and can upgrade for free.  Hopefully its just a server swap and they deal with selling the old hardware, there cant be that many people out there with these.

Shoretel Call Manager is the client used on the PC desktops.  In the version 11 its now called Shoretel Communicator which I believe is more apt given its feature set.  Anyhow, ever since we deployed the clients, all my users have learned it well.  I have not had one complaint about it not working properly or having issues.  Usually the only feedback I receive is complaints about the lack of user requested features.  We happily submit the useful ones to our VAR and the people from shoretel who call me every now and then to discuss their product.  It was so popular at one point that I had one user training other users how to use it before we even officially released it.  Personally, anything it lacks is generally high end items that only few people would use.  I should also mention that it comes in an MSI which you can deploy using GPO, though if you have terminal servers, there are some slight configuration changes that are necessary to ensure it works for all users on that server at the same time.

Enterprise Call Center server is the last item on my list.  This separate server just works.  The only time I have rebooted this server is during an upgrade.  What I can say though is the call center manager client installed on client PC’s is a bit flakey at times and thus requires a little fineness to get working 100% occasionally.   The reporting is also very helpful once you understand how to produce reports.  While not a simple task, the information that can be gleaned is quite substantial and I highly recommend you learn it.   There is also a realtime reporting feature they have which is locked into a very unmallable GUI.  While these realtime reports are useful, getting them to fit on a screen in a useful way can be challenging at best, but does work.  The last section is the actual management of the call center call flow, this is a bit challenging.  I think the setup has good intentions and plenty of flexibility, but the execution is just horrible.  If you have to deploy one of these for a call center, lean heavily on your VAR to install and setup this system, otherwise you will get lost very quickly in the setup/configuration.  The other annoying thing about the ECC is that there is no way to stream music as hold music.  There is no text to voice and the queues rely solely on the shoreware director server.  BTW the tie-in with shoreware director is not complicated but extremely unintuitive.

Overall, I would give the phone system a 95% satisfaction rating ( database issues on the downside, ease of use and ability to quickly learn it on the plus side ), the conference bridge a 80% satisfaction rating(mainly because of the desktop sharing issues), the ECC a 90% rating because of its complexity and the handsets 98% because of their ease of use, features and reliability. 

For those who would like to know, we use HP Procurve PoE switches(12,24,48 port depending on site).  These switches are easy to manage, have a lifetime warranty and generally just work.  They get a 98% rating in my book.

Final thought:  If you are looking for an easy to setup and easy to use phone system, shoretel should be high on your list to review.  If its outside your price range, I recommend trixbox/elastix/asterix/pbx-in-a-flash with polycom phones and digium or ADTran T1 to SIP devices.  Just make sure you know linux or know someone who does and can work on your phones if there is an issue.  Though with asterisk, everything is generally done on the web gui most of the above mentioned distributions install. 

Slight Addendum:  One word of warning for those who think they can integrate other non-shoretel branded SIP based hardware, its an uphill battle.  Unless you have enterprise support you cannot deal directly with shoretel for support and some of the devices they say they support work but not all the features work which may compromise your project.