Hey we are looking for a new phone system and i was wondering what other people out there where using?
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There are three vendors that offer very good phone systems, Cisco, Microsoft, and ShoreTel.

There are probably a few more decent or OK systems out there, though none of those have quite the ecosystem of support and solutions as Cisco and Microsoft, ShoreTel is pretty close though.

I'm with @shigbee in being no fan of Avaya.

Now, how to choose?

If your telephony needs are simple, your environment is complex or distributed or largely Cisco anyway, and your budget is small, choose Cisco; simple configurations from Cisco are available at lower cost than ShoreTel, especially when you plug entry-level infrastructure into routers and other such equipment you need anyway.

If your telephony needs are moderate and your budget is moderate, and if your network is not all Cisco, choose ShoreTel; minimum configuration costs more than minimum Cisco configuration, especially in complex distributed Cisco networks, on non-Cisco networks the additional cost is less dramatic, and for a little more cost many more features are included than with minimum Cisco configuration.

If your telephony needs are complex and your budget is generous, choose Cisco; at the high-end, Cisco has more functionality, more scalability, and more flexibility than ShoreTel.

But wait, what about Microsoft? I hear you cry. Well, that's a bit tricky. Microsoft is new, exciting, bleeding edge, and even less traditional than Cisco and ShoreTel (never mind Avaya, which is a throwback to disco days). If your business is all about the phone stuff, then Microsoft may not be a good choice just yet. If your business is not committed to Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint and Office, Microsoft is probably not the best choice either. If you are going to be using Exchange and SharePoint and Office, if you are not standardizing on Cisco for your network, if your technical people are more comfortable with Microsoft software than network or telecom hardware, if you want some of the latest and greatest features at reasonable cost and are willing to forego some traditional (old fashioned) telephony features, well then, Microsoft Lync is where it's at.

I've used and administered all three of these systems (recently we transitioned to Microsoft Lync with Polycom phones), and you can't go wrong with any of the three. If you don't have a strong preference let them compete for your business, good luck, and have fun.
Answered 03/30/2012 by: Michal.Simek
Senior Purple Belt

  • Hi Michal/shigbee,

    Could you elaborate on your experiences with Avaya? We are looking to upgrade our old CS1000 phone system and Avaya has been touted as the way to go. I'm keen on Lync but not sure if the enterprise voice side of it is quite there yet.

    Cheers. Dave
  • The enterprise voice side of Lync is not quite up to par with Cisco, ShoreTel, or Avaya, but it is getting pretty close, and it provides a lot of other useful functionality that is less complete, less integrated, or more costly with the other systems. Some examples of Lync issues are lack of support from Polycom for the Lync devices they make along with less than stellar support from Microsoft, lack of some basic functionality such as phone number management, flaky and incomplete device management, as well as lack of advanced features such is unified provisioning of users for UC and UM--kind of nonsensical to enter the same info into AD 3 times through 3 UIs.

    As for Avaya, I have never administered one of their systems, though as a user I have seen enough to recommend avoiding them. Some examples of Avaya shortcomings include: Computer applications for phone control and soft phone are far less user friendly than any of the three vendors I recommend, and they do idiotic old-school phone stuff under a modern veneer, such as concatenating numbers entered into separate extension and PIN fields in a computer UI into a single numeric string sent to the back end, which ends up violating the law of least astonishment. Many Avaya phones appear to be of high quality and sound good, but despite some decent displays and plenty of buttons with LEDs and such, usability is at least as bad as their computer software, and much less friendly than any of the phones from Cisco, ShoreTel, or Polycom. Some of their infrastructure components are oddly archaic as well, such as SIP clients requiring a separate box in the rack, rather than just software or license options on one back-end box.

    Having even less experience with Nortel than Avaya, I can only guess that some of the current Avaya one-X stuff may be a decent upgrade from a Meridian CS1000 system, but why upgrade just a little when you can upgrade to a far more modern system with significantly more functionality and usability?

    I can think of only one exception where Avaya might make sense, and that would be some ginormous multinational business that relies heavily on voice and needs massive call centers and such, I suspect that beyond certain scale Avaya probably has more mature and robust solutions than ShoreTel and Microsoft, and while Cisco has a lot of scalability, I don't know if their VoIP stuff has matched and surpassed all of what Avaya and their partners offer.
    • Thanks Michal - some food for thought there.
  • As someone who has installed many brands, through our acquisition side of the house bought thousands of surplus system, has had lots of contacts with many technicians during installs, selling parts, or taking systems out, I would say hands down the highest satisfaction rate is with ShoreTel. I have asked at least a thousand customers over the past 13 years why they replaced their old systems, and in only a handful of instances was the ShoreTel product ever mentioned in a bad way. On those rare occasions when it was mentioned, it was either a feature they now had to have and ShoreTel did not have it, or a dealer that just did not know what they were doing or became unresponsive to the customer. I believe it has been a total of three times that what I was told was ShoreTel themselves just could not fix or get things to work right for a customer to where they finally replaced it with something else. I haven’t heard one of those in the past two years, I think they have their act together enough to work through most issues in a timely manner these days. Funny enough Michal was one of them and he can tell you I asked him that same question, why was he selling his old ShoreTel to us and in his case like most they were acquired by someone else bigger and they happen to be using another brand at corporate and corporate almost always wins that battle.

    The three brands Michal happened mentioned we deal with all of them. If you are a Cisco shop, have a Very good IT group, (I did not say good, I mean really really good) you might be able to get it do what just an average person can make a ShoreTel do. As for Avaya unless you are trying to re-use your old Avaya and now Nortel handsets and just put the brains in and keep junk endpoints because of costs I see no other reason to install theirs unless the customer wants it, or the IT/telecom staff are well trained in it. By far I think Avaya has the most features available and as someone else mentioned if you had a huge scattered organization with more then 20,000 users and possibly hundreds of sites, Avaya is still the king in that area. ShoreTel can do them and has a handful, Avaya can and has thousands of them. If you want to visit a site about ShoreTel like ITninja and ask questions about ShoreTel you can go to a forum we run www.shoretelforums.com (this is not run by ShoreTel, it is run by BTX so your answers will not be filtered pro or con). Or you can ask me at rwensmann@btxchange.com. Happy hunting - Randy
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I would have to agree with Michal's assessment as well.
Working for an integrator, I have had the opportunity to deploy ShoreTel, Cisco, and Lync systems. I've also done many integrations of OCS/Lync with Avaya, Cisco, ShoreTel, Mitel, and even NEC.
Lync is a bit of a departure from the “traditional” PBX. It is almost entirely software, with the exception of a media gateway for PSTN lines if you need them (as opposed to SIP trunks). And, most importantly, it has been built from the ground up as a multifaceted unified communications tool that centers around the user’s PC. Microsoft developed new dynamic codecs for audio (RTAudio) and video (RTVideo) that can self-adjust to network conditions. And you have many communication methods bundled into one solution – instant messaging, voice, video, and web conferencing. Appealing to many companies is how easy it is to work and communicate securely wherever you are. With what they call ‘Edge Services’ deployed, your users can run Lync and Lync devices from anywhere – Starbucks, customer sites, home office, etc – and all of that communication is encrypted and secure (even voice and video). It’s VPN-less, but secure. Of course, it seamlessly ties into Active Directory for user management and authentication; has built-in integration to the entire Office suite; and is easily scalable and redundant – especially in a virtual environment. The ROI on Lync really rises when you are already a Microsoft shop and have an Enterprise Agreement with Microsoft; or if you are looking to offset costly fees for hosted web or audio conferencing services by bringing them in-house with Lync.
At this time, however, Lync relies on third party solutions for call center type environments; and requires Microsoft Exchange as its voicemail platform.

If you find that a more “traditional” phone solution is needed. I have an affinity for ShoreTel. The solution is simple, elegant, and very easy to administer. ShoreTel gives you the best bang-for-buck in my opinion. My understanding is that Cisco support contracts can be expensive/cumbersome; and depending on the reseller you use, ShoreTel support contracts have a lot of flexibility in them.
Whether you go with ShoreTel, Cisco, Avaya or others… adding Lync as the UC tool to tie in user presence, instant messaging, and web/audio conferencing is a great way to go. And the almost ubiquitous support for Lync integration by all of these vendors speaks to that.
Answered 04/03/2012 by: david.bristow
White Belt

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Hi folks. I'm actually a ShoreTel dealer, so a bit biased, but I generally tell it like it is. I agree with much of what Michal says in his post. I think it's a fairly simple equation. Cisco has the most "cool" integrations (into Webex, into their video products, etc). It also has great scalability but it is also, by far, the most expensive and most complicated to manage. As a VAR, I can't afford the resources necessary to sell and maintain Cisco's Enterprise products. Cisco also offers a wide array of voice products, most of which are completely different from it's main Communications Manager product. So, depending upon your size and growth, you may be in two or three Cisco products at the end of the day. Avaya is similiar. Great voice products, not as much integration as Cisco, but lots of Voice features. However, there are again, two main product lines: IP Office for the small/medium enterprise and then Aura/Communications Manager for the Enterprise. Completely separate products. Grow out of the IP Office and scrap that investment and move to Aura. ShoreTel, on the other hand, has only one voice product that scales from 1 to 10,000 users (and bigger if you want to cobble two or more systems together). It's very easy to manage, easy to use, quite flexible and offers a very good feature set. Feature by feature, it probably loses to Cisco CM and Avaya Aura, but it's also 30% less expensive over the long run and does have it's own cool stuff that no one else can do, like it's mobility router (Fixed Mobile Convergence) that is super cool. I'm happy to chat with anyone that might want more info. The aforementioned Michal was a customer of mine before his company, Kace, was acquired by Dell. I think he'll tell you that I'm a no pressure sales guy. I will tell you what I think about particular products, the good and the bad, and leave you to your decisions. Email is sstrochak@xtelesis.com if anyone wants to get in touch.
Answered 04/03/2012 by: sstrochak
White Belt

  • @sstrochak - thanks for you input
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*** Full Disclosure - I work for a Microsoft Gold UC Partner that sells Microsoft Lync/UC

I think if your organization is largely/completely on PC’s that Lync is a great Enterprise voice option. The voice quality can be on par with Cisco/Shoretel provided you have the appropriate resources (i.e. sound cards in systems, headsets/handsets, etc). Personally, I'm for getting rid of the handset and going to headsets (USB or Bluetooth) which can dramatically reduce the cost to deploy the new system.

At one client, they are predominately Mac and we have discovered that the call quality and reliability of the Mac client isn't as great as the Windows client. Microsoft is aware and I know that the Mac Client for Lync will be getting an update at some point to fix these issues. If you are largely Mac it is something to be aware of.

I have another client that has used OCS as their main production voice system since R1 and we are now in the process of transitioning them to Lync from R2. The only real lack of features within the Enterprise Voice side sit on the true advanced feature sets, i.e. call handlers (though this can be mostly solved in Response Groups, it’s not perfect), Call Center functionality (this goes to the 3rd party today), etc. Microsoft matches up nicely on the per user functionality, i.e. Call Park, Hold, Transfer, etc.

Going back to the idea if you are a PC based group, Lync can bring a lot of functionality to your organization with very little effort. As many companies become more and more agile and users start working from whereever they are, Lync can enable them by giving them presence information and voice from anywhere.

To get the same features with Cisco definitely costs more not to mention the fact that their solution isn't as integrated quite as nicely as Lync is (single client, etc).

Another plus for Microsoft Lync is that all of the server roles can be run in a virtualized environment. This allows you leverage your existing infrastructure (if you are running Hyper-V, VMware, Xen, etc) to build out your Lync setup. With Cisco, you have to be running VMware on their UCS platform in order to be under support if I remember correctly.

Again, I’m biased and have been using Lync/OCS as my primary phone for 2-3 years. I think that Lync can be very competitive when it comes to the amount of systems needed, redundancy, etc.
Answered 04/03/2012 by: AdamBall
White Belt

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At our main office we have avaya but not a big fan of it, at one of the smaller offices we have shortel and like it much better. We are also looking at Microsoft Lync server i think it use to be called MS unified communications.
Answered 03/30/2012 by: shigbee
Second Degree Black Belt

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Ring Central (*sighs).... Its ok
Answered 03/30/2012 by: dchristian
Red Belt

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We have Mitel phones and have no issues with them.
Answered 04/02/2012 by: ckubaska
Fourth Degree Brown Belt

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