What is new in ShoreTel 13?

There are a number of major enhancements to ShoreTel in Version 13. Most enhancements have been related to bringing ShoreTel SIP into compliance with the standards accepted by the SIP community at large. Though there are enhancements for other features like the SA-100, this release is notable for what it does NOT announce. The marketplace is demanding enough but the issue of having your development agenda driven by an outside company must be dreadful! In this case, Microsoft dominants many of the decisions that ShoreTel must make with respect to the priority of features and releases. So how tightly is ShoreTel bound to Microsoft? Why have they not followed the path chosen by CISCO and others to move to an “appliance” built on Linux?

Historically, ShoreTel server side functionality was driven by Microsoft. Simple issues like changing FTP port numbers between 32 bit and 64 bit servers might seem like trivia, but it is maddening for change management. Microsoft products continue to drop support for their older computing model that used CSIS and TAPI in favor of the Client Application Service or CAS model. We saw the first effects of this in Version 11 with the release of the Communicator for Web. In Version 13, CAS support has now been extended to Communicator for Windows. In fact, Version 13 ShoreTel no longer supports TAPI, CSIS or MAPI and for this reason ShoreTel will no longer run on Windows 2003! At the end of the day, how long until ShoreTel cuts its dependency on Microsoft completely? We think this is something that the company must do if not to remain price competitive, then to control its own product development priorities!

ShoreTel SIP meets RFC 3264 Compliance!

Actually, ShoreTel adopted SIP before any other major competitor outside the Asterisk community. The early adoption of SIP meant that ShoreTel had to design solutions before the community had solidified around a standard. Time goes by and here we are more than a decade later and SIP has had many changes, while ShoreTel’s Enhanced SIP was not in step with these changes. Version 13 is all about bringing ShoreTel SIP into compliance with key areas if SIP and making a SIP trunk feature equivalent to a PRI trunk. This is accomplished through compliance with changes in the Session Description Protocol and the creation of “Media Proxy Ports”.

SiP is used to setup calls. The actual media stream between the end points is handled by other protocols, namely RTP. When a SIP end point generates an INVITE it might send a session description (i.e. SDP) of how it would like the call to take place, indicating its capabilities and preferences. The other end might accept the INVITE with or with our modifications of the SDP thus the Offer/Answer definition of RFC 3264. ShoreTel historically had no way to deal with the SDP information treated this as an “INVITE with no SDP”. The usual response to this type of INVITE would be to send back a SDP, but ShoreTel generally responded with “Not acceptable here”. With the release of Version 13 ShoreTel will now be fully complaint with RFC 3264 and play nice with the other kids in the Offer/Answer game.

Once the SIP parameters have been established, the media stream is generally setup between the end points. This means that the actual voice packets are going between the two connected phones. Now if you think about this a minute, you will understand almost intuitively why features like Call Recording, Office Anywhere, Monitor etc. did not work on SIP trunks using earlier ShoreTel versions. If the media is streaming between my end point and your end point, who is listening for any DTMF tones that might indicate we want to activate a feature? How would you play Music-on-Hold?

Enter ShoreTel Media Proxy ports! These will be switch resources set aside to enable a point at which ShoreTel can mix or “mesh” media streams. This means that features that previously could not be activated on a SIP trunk should now work. On switches that can support Media Proxy Ports (not all ShoreGear switches can) you will find a new option in the drop down menu for configuration ports to enable “SIP Media Proxy”. The proxy is actual for one SIP trunk and a media proxy so it wipes out 5 SIP trunks or 5 IP phones. The ShoreTel 220/T1/E1, 220T1A , T1K and E1K can also be used to provide SIP media proxy functionality. You will find a new check box that allocates all configurable ports on that switch to this function. For this reason, currently a switch that supports a PRI can only support 20 channels. On the other side of the coin, you were replacing that PRI with SIP anyway right? The good news is SIP trunks will have feature parity with PRI trunks and these ShoreGear switches can be re-purposed.

ShoreTel will support “on demand” media proxy as well as dedicated resources. Change and configuration management skills will most certainly be tested here, as the configuration is non-trial. Music-on-hold for example will need to be carefully considered. Historically, MOH could be played by any switch in a site. If you want to play MOH to your SIP trunk you will have to use the ShoreGear switch that is configured as the media proxy. Other items of note are support for Digest Authentication and enhanced fail over detect. The ShoreGear switch can now provide registration credentials when presented with a CHALLENGE request. The ShoreGear SIP Profile now provides for the OptionsPing to test for 5XXX/6XXX network error to mark a trunk group out of service. Major enhancements in ShoreTel SIP!

The use of an Ingate like device is still a requirement. Candidly, a serious enterprise should not be implementing SIP trunks without some form of “border controller” so get over it. SIP Message Normalization, NAT traversal, Pinhole management, network separation and providing for more SIP Channels then you can get on one ShoreGear switch are reasons that you need a border controller. Currently all SIPTrunk certifications by ShoreTel have been completed with an Ingate in the equation.

There are a few changes to the System Administration Interface to facilitate the media proxy configuration. With the death of CSIS, TAPI and MAPI there are also some changes to the Windows Communicator. We will get a video posted soon! As always, comments are invited!

ShoreTel SIP Trunks meet the Scopserv!

Anyone who thinks Asterisk is a toy is not playing in the real world of VoIP Telephony. You may be surprised to learn how many commercial product offerings are built on an Asterisk base. For this reason, we have become more involved in this code base as each day goes by. We are becoming increasingly more interested in its properties, capabilities and proper place in our solutions tool belt. Yes, Asterisk might be “free”, but does that disqualify it from serious consideration? Did “free” limit the acceptance and rapid adoption of Linux, Php, Perl, Filezilla, WireShark and a growing library of other contributions that continue to define new industries?

More often than not, these software contributions have been bundled with support and ongoing research and some amazing products have resulted. In fact, when we think we already know about all the most popular Asterisk Distro’s we stumble over a gem of a solution that is an astonishing implementation of an Asterisk base. A Canadian based company has been making significant advancements in the Enterprise market on a global basis, with a stellar product that far exceeds the offerings of other popular Asterisk distributions. This company has to be the best kept secret in the industry and we are over whelmed at the scope of there accomplishment and the depth of their feature set.

The company that has us so excited produces Scopserv a fully formed iPBX telephony solution. We were introduced to this solution quite accidentally, but after working with this solution, we now see it as among the best implementations of Asterisk in the market today. The solution offers a fully featured iPBX with all of the bells and whistles. The GUI interface is an amazing step forward in the state of the art and includes most of the functionality that others might obtain through third party add-on. The solution provides for “tenant” services and buddies a very complete Automatic Call Distribution solution with advanced graphical web reporting, complete with wrap codes! Phone provisioning can be accomplished automatically and is predefined for most of the popular VoIP phones in the market.

We recently had a ShoreTel deployment in which there was a desire to add SIP trunks and provide for a small remote office. Using the Scopserv, we were able to easily accomplish this integration. The Scopserv provided “friend” connectivity to an ITSP for local DID’s in a remote market. We then created a SIP tie line between the Scopserv and the ShoreTel. The tie line included a number of off premise extensions that were SIP extensions registered to the Scopserv at the branch end of the TIE line. The TIE line easily passed phone calls both ways, enabled LCR access to the remote SIP lines and generally provided to be an excellent solution! There was no need for any external firewall beyond that provided by the Scopserv.

The Scopserv folks have done a remarkable job! They have taken Asterisk to a new level, packaged it with proprietary functionality and wrapped the entire offering within an excellent documentation and support package! The company has a considerably large installed base outside of the US and for that reason, the are virtually unknown in the American market. On a global basis, however, they are doing very well! They have a growing list of success stories and new feature capabilities! To accommodate the 10 minute limit, I have two video clips: one on configuring ShoreTel SIP using the Scopserv as a border controller; and one that reviews the Scopserv in great detail. As always, comments are welcome!