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A lot's been going right for ShoreTel lately.
From a bulked-up product set to a retooled channel program, ShoreTel's been making strides in the networking and UC channels, and while it's still a relative minnow compared to some of the shark-like vendors that dominate the space, its claims of winning mindshare among solution providers and gaining market share are being taken seriously.
"It's a very cool product [set], and everyone who sees it loves it. It's got a little sizzle to it," said Don Gulling, president of Verteks Consulting, an Ocala, Fla.-based solution provider. "There's also a great community of resellers. Everyone's excited about it and you don't see the stupidity and backbiting you do in other places in the channel."
"They compare to Cisco and Avaya and their ROI over a period of years, including support and maintenance, is a much better value," said Trinh Pham, chief marketing officer and vice president of sales at OCx Network Consultants, a Denver-based solution provider. "With the economy being the way it's been for the last couple of years, companies and government entities are much more open to looking at options with reduced cost."
Verteks and OCx are two examples of VARs that have thrown their support behind ShoreTel as the company carves out a position as a robust, lower-cost, channel-savvy alternative to the UC and IP communications titans, including Avaya and Cisco.
ShoreTel, in turn, has tapped into that channel momentum much more forcefully than in the past. In a move designed to make its channel strength more visible, ShoreTel in early January entered two-tier distribution in the U.S. and Canada with ScanSource Communications and Westcon Group. Around that time, it also revamped its Champion partner program to fine-tune the requirements for its Authorized, Silver and Gold tiers of partners, and add more formalized training and certification.
It's next big move, however, might be the most important yet. In October 2010 ShoreTel acquired Agito Networks for $11.4 million, a game-changing buy for the upstart UC vendor. It begat a Mobility channel program at ShoreTel almost right away -- something ShoreTel sees as a compelling route to enterprise-level business customers that might have brushed it off as an SMB-focused niche vendor in the past.
Founded in 2006, Agito's focus was UC products that integrate with an enterprise's existing PBX infrastructure to enable voice calls over VoIP connections -- a one-two punch that extends enterprise UC systems to the mobile edge but also cuts costs on international calls and makes enterprise-grade mobile communications less of an IT hassle.
Crucially, ShoreTel preserved one of the Agito mobility platform's most compelling features: it includes PBX and UC support for not only ShoreTel systems, but those of most of ShoreTel's UC technology rivals, too.
"It interoperates with Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, all of them," said Tom Hamilton, senior director, worldwide channels at ShoreTel. "That's where we're seeing a lot of interest because it complements UC practices customers have in place and gives them a cost savings. It's a technology lever to pull that they may not have had otherwise."
Solution providers saw the potential right away, ShoreTel said.
"It's a big deal," Verteks' Gulling said. "It's going to hopefully make ShoreTel more competitive in enterprise deals, because when you get into 1,000 seats and up, [customers are] looking at Cisco and Avaya, the two 800-pound silverback gorillas in this space. We've won a lot of deals against them. We're pushing mobility because no one had what Agito had, and now that's in ShoreTel mobility. Other folks will catch up, so it's very smart for ShoreTel to say, 'What do we have that's special and unique and different?' Because they won't have it forever."