ShoreTel ShoreGear-120

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ShoreTel's ShoreGear-120 is a VoIP (Voice-over-IP) system aimed primarily at medium- to large-sized businesses ranging from 50 users upwards. It is a 1RU rack-mountable device with two Ethernet connectors and one socket for breaking out up to 50 analogue phone lines.

ShoreTel currently have three models on offer which include the 40/8, 60/12 and the 120/24. The model numbers correspond to how many IP or analogue phones the device supports.

With resources shared between IP and analogue phones on each ShoreGear switch, you need to balance how many of each you will use -- for every analogue phone you plug into a 40/8, you lose capacity for five IP phones. As another example, if you used seven analogue phones, you would only have capacity for five IP phones. This ratio of analogue and digital phones is due to the extra work each switch has to do in regards to digitising analogue signals, requiring a lot more work compared to just routing and switching IP traffic as is the case with IP phones. In fact, IP phones tend to communicate with each other rather than push traffic through the switch, unless it is a call routed to an external network.

How we tested
A ShoreTel representative delivered and setup the ShoreGear-120 for us with four ShoreTel IP phones. We were also supplied with a laptop running Windows 2003 Server with ShoreTel's "Workgroup" server which provides additional functionality to the system such as voicemail and auto attendants. We evaluated its functionality and ease of use as part of this review.

What's inside
The ShoreGear-120 is one of the most versatile VoIP solutions we have seen lately with the ability to scale to an impressive 60 switches per site and can centrally manage up to 200 sites. There is a catch however; there is a hard limit of 10,000 phones regardless of the number of sites and switches so it is definitely something to keep in mind if you're implementing this in an already large company that is growing quickly.

The ShoreGear-120 itself is an appliance. It doesn't have any moving parts and has a small amount of flash memory for storing settings and basic auto attendant features. Because of the lack of moving parts, ShoreTel assured us that the opportunity for a switch failing is extremely low. Each switch has dual Ethernet ports for redundant connections to the LAN.

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In addition to having a low failure rate and dual LAN connections, you can configure the ShoreGear switch to a hot-spare configuration where a spare switch will immediately fill in for a failed one without manual intervention. There is also redundancy for outbound connections. For example, if your Internet connection goes down, the Switch will automatically route new calls via the PSTN network.

ShoreGear switches in their basic form support SIP trunking to a provider for access to outside lines but you can also purchase ShoreGear Gateways which add various connectivity options such as E1 and BRI. In order to use voicemail and an auto attendant, you will need a PC-based server running Microsoft Windows Server 2000 or 2003.

The supplied ShoreTel phones were very easy to use, with most features requiring a single press of a dedicated button -- such as conferencing -- which then prompts you on the phone's screen. The speakerphones are loud and very clear and most of the higher end phones have separate hook controls for headphones or a speaker to use the phone without constantly disconnecting the headphones.

Verdict
The ShoreGear-120 starts at AU$3,025 which is more expensive than Avaya's new IP Office 500. ShoreTel IP phones are priced from AU$220.

There are pros and cons with ShoreTel and Avaya's offerings but at the end of the day, we think a customer's final decision will come down to the capacity, cost and business features. They are both very close in some regards and cover different areas of need in other ways -- we suggest looking at both solutions to see which fits best.

ShoreGear's solution is more cost effective from 50 users up and the centralised management is impressive and easy to use. Warranty contracts are negotiated with individual ShoreTel partners and can range from one to five years, as well as from business hours only support through to 24/7 support.

Overall, we were impressed with ShoreTel's ShoreGear Switch solution and the only things we would like to see fixed is the big hit on capacity when using analogue phones.

Rating
3 out of 5
Interoperability
3.5 out of 5
Supports SIP trunking to a provider for external calls as well as SIP to the LAN for SoftPhones. Supports analogue phones but at a large cost to IP phone capacity.
Futureproofing
3.5 out of 5
Supports 60 switches per site and up to 200 sites but there is a hard limit of 10,000 ports in total, regardless of the number of switches and sites.
ROI
3 out of 5
A good product which we feel is a little on the expensive side, but the extra cost can be justified with the excellent centralised management and ease of use.
Service
2.5 out of 5
Warranty and support is negotiated with the vendor you purchase from and how much you want to spend. Warranty periods range from 1 to 5 years and vary from business hours to 24/7.

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