How to Upgrade your ShoreTel System!

The actual task of upgrading your ShoreTel system from one software version to the other is “brilliantly simple”.  The process, however, requires attention to the   detail!  Any software upgrade will challenge your “change management” process!  It is a complex process with many moving parts and it is up to you to understand what those parts are and how upgrading your software will effect those parts. Even a small ShoreTel deployment has many touch points beyond the upgrade of the server software.   How many servers do you have in your deployment?  Do you use CSTA?  Citrix? Vmware? Are you on a 32 bit platform?  Is it the right version to support the new Version of ShoreTel?  What hardware do you have in your deployment that might no longer be supported by the new ShoreTel software upgrade?  These are only a few of the more obvious questions you should be asking!

Where do you get answers to these questions?  It is essential that your review the ShoreTel Release and Build notes prior to attempting an upgrade.  These notes are an invaluable source of  information that can provide needed detail on all key issues related to your upgrade.   ShoreTel also provides “tips and tricks” and with V13 there is a new compatibility tool available.   Compatibility guides, firmware lists, bug fixes as well as “known issues”  will be outlined in these documents.  Together with the system administration guide and planning  guide, these documents are absolutely essential for your review before attempting  an upgrade.

Have you backed up your configuration?   There is no excuse for a system administration professional to attempt an upgrade without a backup of the system configuration, database, prompts and everything you need to restore a system from bare metal!   (See also ).   Do you have a written upgrade plan?  Team assignments?   “Hands and feet” available at each site?  Have you reduced the time needed to do this upgrade by previously downloading the required software?   This is a “resume creating event”!  After all how do you explain not having a fallback strategy?

You will have alerted your User group to check voice mail messages before the upgrade and you will have provided them sufficient notice of the “maintenance window”  during which time the system will be unavailable.   Sometimes it is a good practice to call forward your main line to an alternative answering point during the upgrade!   Make sure the users know in advance about any new features or required  behavior they should expect post upgrade as nobody likes surprises!  We also recommend a “post cut” help desk be established and that the User group be made aware of the resouce when the system returns to service, post upgrade!

We generally create a folder for our downloads and unpacking.  Get your software distributed out to each of your servers before hand, it will save you time!   The actual task list is very straight forward.   You will upgrade your HQ server first, during which time you will have an operating phone system without voice mail and automated attendant.    When this server comes back on line, upgrade your distributed servers next.   Some may argue that you should finish the HQ site first, but we recommend that you get all servers upgraded and communicating before upgrading the firmware in your ShoreGear switches and phones.  If you are going to find an upgrade issue, it will be with the servers, so lets get that behind us before addressing firmware!

Next upgrade your ShoreGear switches. Logging into the ShorewareDirector administration portal will enable you to see that the switches are online, but not communicating with the server as they are in “yellow” alert as the result of a firmware mismatch.   Just restart them, the firmware will automatically be downloaded and installed.  Depending on the number of switches, don’t restart them all at once!  Switches across the WAN are the most vulnerable, as any break in communication during the firmware download will cause your switches to become stupid!  You will need an appropriate serial cable to recovers, so that needs to be on your “required tools” list prior to upgrade.

As your switches come alive with a Green indication and the correct firmware, start to reset your phones.  Your phones register with a specific Shoregear switch, so make sure that switch has completed its upgrade before restarting your phones.  When restarted they will automatically download and install new firmware.   You can restart the phones from inside ShorewareDirector!

If you have taken the time to adequately review your deployment using a “change management” methodology, created the necessary backups, prepared in advance with a written upgrade plan including team assignments, you should have no trouble!    The old Carpenters adage rings true: measure twice and cut once!

Compare ShoreTel ECC and CISCO UCCX Contact Centers!

As Contact Center implementation consultants we get to work with both ShoreTel ECC and CISCO UCCX.   The fact of the matter is they are both really excellent solutions and very similar in many respects.   Historically, ShoreTel has had a single administration portal for the deployment of their iPBX solution.   You go to one portal to define your Users, Gateways, Call Flow, Automated Attendants, Workgroups and Voice Mail.   Add a User in ShorewareDirector and that user has a voice mail box, is instantly in the online Directory and it is “brilliantly simple”.    CISCO has always been bit more challenging to configure.  You have multiple Administration portals,  the Call Manager Users are not necessarily in the Unity Voice Mail and you most definitely go to different portals to administer these systems.   Gateways are programmed in addition to being created and registered with  the Call Manager and multiple servers are the rule regardless of the number of sites.

When it gets down to the Contact Center, both companies have very similar implementations.   For example, both companies use a separate server to run the Contact Center run time engine, manage agent states, store configuration data, usage data, scripts and prompts.    The system use the CTI strategy of Route Points to logically interconnect the host PBX to the Contact Center and they both have separate  administration interfaces.   Both Systems require you to define your Agents twice, once in the iPBX and then again in the Contact Center, though CISCO has an import capability.  ShoreTel is clearly migrating toward a single browser interface for the entire product line, but currently, you open one portal for the PBX and another for the Contact Center.   CISCO does the same thing and clearly does not think that  multiple administration portals is  a market requirement.

ShoreTel has a straight forward license model for the ECC.   You get a fully feature contact center to which you just add agents and IVR ports.   Email, Chat and Campaign dialing are options, but everything else, at least with Version 7, is included.  Pricing is simple and easy to understand.  Real time reporting, historical reporting and the ability to do custom reporting are standard platform features. Integration options include DDE, Triggers and Active X.   CISCO is a bit more complex in its packaging offering Standard, Enhanced and Premium packages. The Standard package, however,  provides all that is required for a fully functioning Contact Center.   The Standard package does not provide CAD or CISCO Agent Desktop.  CISCO has the ability for phones to subscribe to XML based services and Agents use that option to log in, log out and generate wrap codes.   CISCO provides all IVR ports in the base system, where ShoreTel has ten packs to grow IVR ports as required.

From a sizing perspective, the CISCO UCCX supports 400 Agents and 400 IVR ports, while ShoreTel boasts 1000 agents and 250 IVR ports.  I used to operate with the understanding that I could have a maximum of 150 IVR ports on a single server and would required a three server solution for 300 IVR ports and Agents.    I was not able, thought I did try diligently to get ShoreTel product management to confirm the server requirements and specify Busy Hour Call Handling, but could not get anyone at ShoreTel to respond ( DrVoIP is not a ShoreTel partner, so why bother?  Then again, we are not a CISCO partner either and they sent us truck load of documentation,  lab licenses, Virtual Machine Templates  and answered all questions).    If you do the arithmetic with 1000 agents and a maximum of 250-300 IVR ports, something does not add up?   IVR ports are used to prompt and collect as well as source media streams for music on hold.  Clearly if you have 1000 agents, nobody is holding and 250 IVR ports may be more than appropriate.   Why the large disparity in Agent and Supervisor sizing for these two solutions?

The ShoreTel ECC Script Editor is a powerful little box of goodies and just gets the job done!   Clearly, there are always ways to improve capabilities, but I have yet to encounter a client requirement that we could not resolve with the ECC tool kit.   I would like to see the ability to import and export scripts; run the editor when not connected to the server and a simple record to file capability.  XML document processing and HTTP triggers could be improved, but again, we have always been able to meet the client requirements and at the end of the day that is what it is all about.   CISCO has a script editor that is also very powerful and offers options for XML document processing and configurable HTTP triggers.  We particularly like the ability to run the editor while disconnected from the Server.   Makes travel time more productive for us consultants!

CISCO has a number of desktop applications to support both Agent, Supervisors and Administrators.   We value the fact that the applications are downloaded from the UCCX server via a web page.  CISCO phones have a native ability to subscribe to XML services and a display large enough to make this a viable option.  In many UCCX deployments not Agent Desktop application is necessary.  ShoreTel provides an Agent and a Supervisor desktop application.  The desktop Agent application is currently a two EXE solution, one for the ECC application and one for the ShoreTel Communicator.  Again, ShoreTel has done an excellent job of integrating the two desktop applications, but there are in fact, two applications running on your desktop.   Some end users like the smaller Agent toolbar anyway, so I vote to keep it as a desktop option!  CISCO has a powerful tool named the WorkFlow Administrator which enables the creation of Agent buttons, work flow processing, web page push that enable a range of optional agent capabilities without the need to grant administrator rights.

Both systems have a long history and have undergone many changes in packaging and functionality.   ShoreTel is about to release Version 8 and CISCO is at about the same level.  The ShoreTel engine is running on a Windows server, where CISCO has migrated away from Microsoft to a Linux platform.   ShoreTel uses MySQL and CISCO uses Informix for the configuration, activity and repository database functions.   There is no reason that you could not have multiple ECC or UCCX servers on a single PBX.  In fact, why not?    They would not share the same Agent database or inbound trunk groups, but that may not be necessary in a large multi-site enterprise spanning the country or globe in which there are multiple business units.

We find both Contact Center solutions to be powerful, fully feature and very capable of handling blended activities at very aggressive price points.  Though it may be such that you choose a PBX based on the Call Center, it is more likely that you will select your Call Center based on which vendor PBX you select!    In either case DrVoIP can help develop your Contact Center call flow and scripting!