ShorTel goes big in hosted VoIP: A Q&A with CEO Blackmore

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How about the hybrid world? Is there a need for a mixed premise/cloud solution?

Yes, and we've actually allocated some serious engineering talent to develop a hybrid architecture. That was put in place a couple of months ago. The reason you need a new architecture is for all of the security and other needs, and making sure the apps operate seamlessly. For example, if you're running a conferencing app you don't need to know whether it's being served through the cloud or served on-premise. So we are working on that. We think it's an exciting opportunity.

The first app will probably be out around July next year, and we can then also port apps that we currently have on-premise. So you can either sell a pure cloud solution, a pure premise solution or a hybrid. An application, for example, could be mobility in the cloud but everything else on-premise. Another example would be, you pick and choose around your facilities, like the headquarters could be on-premise because the CTO still believes that's the right thing, but all of the satellite offices could be in cloud and you could still do all your unified communications, sharing of information, it's seamless.

You guys built your reputation on unified communications and a couple of years ago you went out and bought Agito Networks for the mobility piece, so where do you hang your hat today? Do you still position yourselves as a UC company or lead with mobility or a blend of both?

We're still clearly a UC company, but UC is evolving and I think your question about mobility is a good one because the mobile user is extraordinarily demanding. They want the same set of facilities as if they were sitting at their desk and they had a sophisticated desk phone linked to Microsoft Outlook.

We've taken Agito's code, enhanced it a lot, and today we're winning a lot of premise sales because of our mobility capability. We also ported mobility to cloud and that was the first evidence you could port a premise out to cloud. We did it in 90 days and it's up and running and we've already got orders and people using it.

So what we're focused on is the experience of the mobile executive or salesperson or road warrior. Because we think that's the big win in UC applications going forward. We've got a very good reputation today for doing UC at the desk and also making it a very simple application to run from an IT perspective. What we want to do is have that brilliantly simple and high expectation of usability and the same sort of graphical user interface provided in mobile UC.

Do you get questions about mobility in most every engagement at this point?

Every engagement. And the interesting thing is our connect rate on desk phones has stayed rock solid. In other words, it's not like new customers are flipping from desk phones to mobile devices. They're keeping roughly what they would have bought in the past in desk phones, but they're then adding mobile devices so people have a choice. But very rarely do we get a sale now without the bring-your-own-device option, and people can pick an Apple or Android or even BlackBerry for that matter, but it's almost all Apple and Android.

Is the Agito code what is powering your mVoIP capability, which, if I understand it right, lets someone on a cell call walk into an office and have that call handed off via Wi-Fi to the VoIP infrastructure?

Yes, and that is one of our biggest selling capabilities, because it's a very good handoff, and the competitors don't always have such a good handoff. I use this every day. My home happens to have a pretty weak 3G signal, so I tend to use the Wi-Fi device in my home to support my mobile device, which is an iPhone. So if I'm on my cellphone at home and connected by Wi-Fi, when I leave to get in my car it flips to 3G, and when I get to the office it will flip back to Wi-Fi. So that is a big plus. It lowers your roaming charges and makes it very simple to use, and if you travel internationally at all it saves you a fortune.

It also gives you flexibility. Sometimes in hotels people are using a lot of data and the 3G circuits get overloaded so you can't get a signal or you get dropped. I just hook up to Wi-Fi in the hotel and then I'm up and running. So I'm often having a great conversation and I can see everyone else around me getting angry with their cellphone because they can't connect. It's a great app.

In terms of collaborative capabilities, where does video fit in?

It's an interesting subject because I think video is at an inflection point. Today we partner with Polycom and LifeSize, and in ShoreTel 13 we enhanced the connectivity so it's much easier to use, much simpler to set up. But I think there's a lot of cloud video capability coming of age. It drastically lowers the cost of connecting video, whether you're going tablet to room, tablet to tablet, room to room. We are looking at what we put in the cloud. We would not develop our own video there, we'd pick somebody else's video to save time, but we do believe cloud video is really cool. And then obviously if you could offer that as a hybrid, so a premise customer can then connect via the cloud, that's even better. The connectivity is perhaps not quite at the same level yet as it is on premise, but it's close enough that people will use it. So I think that's an area which is evolving very rapidly. [Also see: "Why video and the cloud don't mix, according to Cisco"]

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