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Microsoft Lync and ShoreTel UC: A Competitive Analysis

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The Unified Communications (UC) industry is expected to grow by 30 percent between 2013 and 2018. As UC in the cloud becomes an increasingly popular delivery method, companies are seeking to develop new product offerings that will excel within previously established markets, venues and customer base.

Microsoft is perhaps one of the most recognized brands in the world, but its entry into the enterprise

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The Unified Communications (UC) industry is expected to grow by 30 percent between 2013 and 2018. As UC in the cloud becomes an increasingly popular delivery method, companies are seeking to develop new product offerings that will excel within previously established markets, venues and customer base.

Microsoft is perhaps one of the most recognized brands in the world, but its entry into the enterprise voice space is relatively recent compared to veteran IP telephony vendors. Microsoft established its Unified Communications Group (UCG) in 2006 to spearhead its efforts into IP telephony. Since then, the group has released versions with increased capabilities and functionality, most recently with its Lync 2013 product. In contrast, ShoreTel has been a staple of the UC industry since 1996 – with consistent market growth, product innovation and application enhancements.

This whitepaper examines how these two companies compare, both product offerings and go-to-market strategy.

What is Unified Communications

The desire for a faster, easier and media-rich connection linking employees with companies gave rise to the unified communications industry. IP telephony, email, audio/video/web conferencing, mobile phones, and instant messaging are a few of the technologies that are now standard requirements for enterprises of all sizes, Seamlessly integrating these capabilities in real-time with existing and emerging business applications, enabling collaboration regardless of location, is the current driver for providers.

The collection of Unified Communications components vary by provider, however the most common are:

  • An Internet Protocol (IP) network – a group of computer hosts that share a common physical connection and use IP for communication
  • An IP telephony capability, often referred to as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – phone service using the Ethernet, router and the Internet
  • Integration software – desktop software to enable integration of services and applications
  • Mobile options – soft phones or smart phones to allow easy access from anywhere
  • Security features – integrated elements to ensure restricted access to the network
  • Instant messaging – real-time communication between employees, partners and vendors
  • Conferencing – video, audio and web-based meetings
  • Presence details – the ability for users to view other’s availability in real-time
  • Collaboration tools – ability to share documents and make real-time updates

The recent launch of Microsoft Lync 2013 will no doubt make an impact in the UC market. A comparison of Microsoft’s products with those of ShoreTel is detailed below.

A brief history of Microsoft’s Unified Communication strategy

Microsoft launched Live Communications Server in 2003, replacing the presence and IM features of Exchange 2000. Microsoft branded the product as “a manageable and extensible Instant Messaging (IM) solution and platform.”

After a couple of modifications, it renamed the product Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007 with the addition of VoIP, voice and conferencing features. In 2010, it renamed the product Lync, touting it as “the next generation of Microsoft’s unified communications software that enables people to connect in new ways, anytime, anywhere.”

Its newest release is Lync Server 2013. In 2013, Gartner rated Microsoft as “Promising” in its study2 of top UC vendors, the third highest possible rating, behind “Positive” and “Strong Positive.” Perhaps one of the reasons the company only faired average is that Gartner sites Lync implementations to be complex and requiring “significant IT staff resources and channel partner integration expertise.”

ShoreTel’s approach to Unified Communications

ShoreTel entered the IP telephony market in 1996 and made its first installation of a distributed IP PBX with desktop applications and web management in 1998. By the end of 2000, the ShoreTel solution included unified messaging, presence, distributed voicemail, integrated workgroups and an international dial plan. Intercom, soft phones, Find Me, web client, monitor and barge, and Windows terminal services were added in 2003.

Over the next decade, ShoreTel’s capabilities and features expanded to provide one of the most robust unified communications platforms in the industry, including PSTN failover, mobility solutions, enterprise contact center, video conferencing and cloud service delivery, to. In 2013, Gartner gave ShoreTel the highest rating, “Strong Positive,” for Unified Communications for the SMB Market in North America; ShoreTel is the only company to receive that highest ranking for four consecutive years.

Side-by-side comparison of Lync 2013 and ShoreTel

Lync 2013 consists of Lync Online, a hosted version not requiring any customer premises equipment; Lync Hosting Pack v2 (LHP), a multi-tenant version for service providers; and Lync Server, the on-premises version of Lync.

Lync Online

Lync Online is hosted in Microsoft’s data center and costs $2 to $5.50 per user per month, making it specifically targeted to SMBs. It can also be purchased as part of Office 365. It includes:

  • Lync-to-Lync IM, voice and video chat
  • Lync meetings
  • Lync mobile

While Lync Online offers strong Lync-to-Lync and meeting features, its reliance on service providers for enterprise voice features and PSTN calling make it difficult for businesses to use it as a replacement for existing telephony services.

ShoreTel offers its hosted VoIP via ShoreTel Sky. It is conveniently priced on a per-user basis, making it attractive for SMBs. It includes robust enterprise voice features and provides users with a seamless, tightly integrated end-to-end experience.

Lync Online vs. ShoreTel Sky


Lync Online

ShoreTel Sky

Customer Impact



• No native enterprise voice


• Some enterprise voice features may be available through Microsoft partners

• 90+ Enterprise Voice


• Lync Online cannot provide enterprise voice features on its own. Businesses must rely on partners, which increases the cost and complexity of the service



• Microsoft has shifted its strategy with Lync Online several times

• ShoreTel Sky has provided hosted voice services since


• Investment in Lync Online can be risky, given Microsoft’s frequent shifts in strategy

• ShoreTel Sky has a long history of providing business voice services to customers


• Tiered credit SLA starts at


• Office 365 uptime has not exceeded 99.99%

• Office 365 has experienced several widely-publicized outages since 2011

• ShoreTel Sky provides customers with a 99.99% SLA

• Office 365 has a history of outages, since the service was launched in 2011.

• ShoreTel Sky’s SLA provides credits if service availability is less than 99.99%

Lync Hosting Pack v2

While the IM/presence and meeting capabilities of Lync Hosting Pack v2 (LHP) are mature, it is deployed, maintained and updated by the service provider. The quality and reliability of LHP services strictly depends on the service provider. LHP is targeted at SMBs and mid-market firms. It includes the same features of Lync Online, as well as PSTN calling and enterprise features, provided by service providers. It does not have advanced enterprise voice features such as call park and remote call control.

Lync Hosting Pack v2

See table on next page



Lync Hosting Pack

ShoreTel Sky

Customer Impact


Company Background/ Financial Stability

• Many LHP providers are small firms

with limited financial transparency

• ShoreTel is a publicly traded company with extensive cash reserves and little debt

• ShoreTel’s financial transparency provides customers with confidence in their environment


• Few LHP service providers offer an


• ShoreTel Sky provides customers with

a 99.99% SLA

• ShoreTel Sky ensures mission-critical

voice services are available

Customer Service

• It is often difficult to assess the level of service provided by an LHP service provider

• ShoreTel Sky publishes its support metrics, including average time to respond and resolve issues

• ShoreTel’s Net Promoter Score is the

highest among its peers

• Customers can be confident of

ShoreTel Sky’s customer service record

• It is unlikely that LHP providers will offer the same level of visibility into their service history, making invest- ment in these firms risky

Product Updates

• LHP providers are responsible for

updating and maintaining software.

• Customers will likely have no assurance that their service provider is using current versions of LHP software

• ShoreTel Sky continues to invest heavily in innovating its call control platform

• ShoreTel Sky customers can be confident they are using the current version of ShoreTel software

• LHP customers may be stuck on older versions of LHP software until their service provider invests in an upgrade

• Many LHP providers are still offering hosted Lync 2010

Installation, Training & Support

• Unknown, varies by provider

• ShoreTel Sky installations are managed by professional project managers

• Call flow setup is included

• On-demand support & training are

available with the push of a button

• ShoreTel Sky provides customers with comprehensive installation, training and support

• LHP providers are unlikely to offer the same level of support to their customers


• Varies by LHP provider

• Since hosted PBX services are separate from LHP services, customers will likely need multiple administration interfaces to managed PBX and UC services

• Additional services, such as contact center, are provided by third-parties and require separate admin interfaces

• ShoreTel Sky Portal provides customers with an intuitive web-based interface for managing Sky services internally

• ShoreTel Sky provides customers with

a simple interface for all services

• LHP customers will likely be forced to use multiple interfaces for hosted PBX services, Lync and additional services such as contact center

Enterprise Voice

• LHP lacks integrated enterprise voice features, such as call park and remote call control

• 90+ Enterprise Voice features

• ShoreTel Sky has a mature enterprise voice feature set that is critical for high volume call environments

Contact Center

• None, requires third-party software

• ShoreTel Sky is available with a tightly

integrated contact center offering

• ShoreTel Sky’s integrated contact center offering saves installation and integration costs

Audio Conferencing

• Must be enabled by a third-party

audio conferencing provider

• On-demand and scheduled conferencing options

• ShoreTel Sky’s integrated audio conferencing capabilities reduce integration costs

Application Integration

• Support varies by LHP provider

• LHP lacks an integrated contact center solution, increasing the cost and complexity of application integration projects

• ShoreTel Sky enables integration with CRM, ERP and Applicant Tracking systems

• ShoreTel Sky and ShoreTel Sky Contact Center provides comprehensive integration with business applications

• LHP relies on third- party providers

and/or service providers


• Hosting partner must purchase Subscriber Access Licenses on the behalf of customers

• Existing customer agreements can increase the complexity of licensing, with both service provider and

• Simple, per user


• LHP licensing is complex, making it difficult for customers to understand actual pricing

• ShoreTel Sky’s subscription is

transparent and easy to manage


customer purchasing licenses


Lync Server 2013

Lync Server is the on-premises version of Lync and typically requires multiple servers, including Front End, Edge, Persistent Chat, Mediation, Director and Back End database servers. Exchange UM provides unified messaging capabilities. Lync Server 2013 IM, presence, chat, video chat and meeting features are robust and mature, however it is considered expensive to deploy by smaller firms. The many server roles of Lync 2013 represent a significant fixed cost, as well as variable costs for client licenses. For a high availability deployment, Lync Server 2013 has substantial minimum requirements, decreasing customer flexibility and increasing TCO.

In a recent independent study conducted by Nemertes , ShoreTel was found to have the lowest annual operational cost across the top seven vendors while Microsoft had the highest, more than 400% higher than ShoreTel. Microsoft had one of the lowest capital cost per end unit but the high ongoing operational cost increase the TCO beyond what many organizations find acceptable.

Lync Server 2013 vs. ShoreTel


Lync Hosting Pack

ShoreTel Sky

Customer Impact




• Centralized

• Lync Front End servers deployed at HQ. SBAs deployed at branches

• Distributed or centralized

• ShoreTel voice switches can be distributed across multiple sites

• Lync’s centralized architecture provides less flexibility than ShoreTel. The Lync FE server pool with SBAs at branches will generally be more expensive to deploy

High Availability

• High Availability relies on pooling at HQ and SBAs at branches

• Disaster recovery requires pools at multiple sites

• N+1 redundancy

• Redundant voice switches can be centralized or distributed

• ShoreTel customers have a number of flexible, HA deployment options

• HA Lync Server 2013 deployments are costly and inflexible


• Lync 2013 has significant minimum requirements for an HA deployment that represents a substantial fixed cost for deployments up to about 12,000

• Up to 20,000 users

• Modular scalability enables businesses to add capacity incrementally

• Lync 2013 may be too expensive for businesses up to 12,000 users

• ShoreTel allows businesses to deploy a solution that closely meets users and availability requirements


• Hyper V

• VMware v4.x

• Live movement not supported (vMotion)

• VMware 4.x

• vMotion and other VMware features supported

• Voice Switches can be virtualized with 14.2

• Lync Server 2013 virtualization options aren’t practical for smaller firms

• ShoreTel’s virtualization options provide added flexibility and TCO savings

Investment Protection

• Minimum hardware requirements of Lync 2013 have increased from Lync 2010

• Lync 2010 customers near minimum requirements will need to purchase new hardware

• Additional Voice Switches can be added as needed to existing switches

• Investment in Voice Switches is always protected

• Increased hardware requirements will likely force businesses to purchase new hardware to migrate

• ShoreTel allows customers to scale, protecting prior investments in hardware


Lync Hosting Pack

ShoreTel Sky

Customer Impact

Total Cost of Ownership


Hardware Acquisition


• HA deployments require 20+ servers

• Hardware requirements for FE servers are substantial

• Voice Switches can be added incrementally

• Service Appliances or industry standard servers used for HQ servers

• The upfront investment for Lync 2013 is substantial

• A variety of ShoreTel Voice Switches can be used to minimize hardware costs

Minimum Hardware


• 64-bit dual processor, hex-core 2.25 GHz or higher

• 32GB RAM

• 8+ 10,000 RPM HDD, 2 using RAID 1, 6 using RAID 10

• Medium deployment of 2,500 users requires:

• Intel Xeon 5520 Single Quad Core 2.27 GHz

• 8 GB RAM

• Lync 2013 requires costly hardware for any employment

• ShoreTel hardware requirements vary based on deployment size and are lower than Lync 2013 requirements, even for large deployments

Software Acquisition


• Each FE server requires Lync 2013

• DBs require SQL

• All servers require Windows Server

• Plus CALs for each enterprise voice seat

• Voice Switches require no additional hardware

• Only HQ Server and Distributed Voice Servers require software and Windows Server

• Minimum requirements for Lync include 20+ servers and the software acquisition cost can be substantial

• ShoreTel server and software requirements are less, lowering acquisition costs

Operational Costs

• The cost of Lync internal staff is $217 per user compared to a median of $162

• Lync training costs are $160 per user compared to a median of $100

• Equipment maintenance and the cost of third-parties are significantly higher than the industry median

• ShoreTel operational costs are on average 33% lower than the industry median

• The cost of ShoreTel internal staff is 19% less than the median

• Equipment maintenance is 33% lower than the median

• The cost of third-parties and training are half of the median cost

• Lync operational costs are nearly 200% greater than the industry median and 290% greater than ShoreTel

• The substantial operational cost of Lync are due to challenges related to integration and sound quality


• Administration complexity increases operational costs

• Multiple admin interfaces

• Certification increases salary costs

• Single admin interface

• MAC-Ds can be performed by average PC users

• Simplicity results in lower admin costs & salaries

• Ongoing administrative costs are lower with ShoreTel due to administrative simplicity

Call Management


Call Handling

• Lync’s only option is do not disturb

• Five call handling modes can be customized

• Modes set manually or automatically

• ShoreTel’s multiple call handling modes eliminate the need to manually change messages and call forwarding rules

Call Park

• Calls put on hold into Parking Lot

• Hyperlinks enable other users to pickup call

• Calls can be parked at extension

• Recipient can be alerted with intercom or page

• ShoreTel provides audible means of alerting recipients

• Lync relies on IM/parking lots


• Options for call park, transfer to other numbers or voicemail

• Consultative, intercom and whisper transfer options for users or voicemail

• Lync’s transfer options are manual and require multiple steps

• ShoreTel provides additional call transfer options with quick access to features


Lync Hosting Pack

ShoreTel Sky

Customer Impact

Other Calling Features



• Recording is limited to Lync to Lync calls, no regular phone call recording outside of meetings

• ShoreTel allows users to record their own calls and calls of other users

• Recordings can be delivered to voicemail or sent via email

• Lync does not support recording regular calls

• ShoreTel provides numerous recording options for internal and external calls

Intercom, Paging, Night Bell

• Not native to Lync but can be enabled by third-party

• Calls can be placed simultaneously to multiple users through the intercom

• Calls can be broadcasted through paging system by dialing page extension

• Site-wide signaling and pickup from dial menu

• Lync customers incur additional expense for these features

• Integration of intercom, paging and night bell features give customer options

Call Intervention

• None

• Various intervention types, including Barge In, Silent Monitor, Silent Coach and Whisper

• The lack of intervention capabilities makes Lync a poor fit for customers with high call volume

• ShoreTel gives customers numerous options



Client Types

Client Access Levels

Client Customization

• Lync 2013

• Lync Basic 2013

• Lync Windows Store App

• Mobile-Windows Phone, iOS, Android and Symbian

• Lync for Mac 2011

• Communicator (Windows, Mac)

• Communicator for Web

• Mobility Client (iOS and Android)

• Lync 2011 client for Mac was only recently updated for Lync 2013 and still lacks some features of the Lync 2013 client


• Single level of access

• Web

• Personal

• Professional

• Workgroup Agent Access

• Workgroup Supervisor

• Operator

• Lync has limited options

• ShoreTel’s multiple access levels enable customers to deploy a solution tailored to end-user needs


• Interface is largely static

• Slight modifications can be made when viewing videos

• Drag and drop window arrangement

• Buttons can be added/hidden

• Toolbars can be rearranged

• Lync 2013 client lacks flexibility and can be confusing for users

• ShoreTel Communicator can be customized for different user roles and capabilities


It is not an all or nothing proposition when it comes to Microsoft Lync and ShoreTel. Organizations already deployed on a Microsoft system may prefer to standardize on that application, rather than force end-users to switch.

ShoreTel Innovation Network Partner, iLink recognizes that every organization has a different approach and a unique roadmap for UC. As a result, no one size fits all, so the iLink integration allows customers using both ShoreTel and Microsoft products in their UC deployment to individually mix and match features of both products.

Remote Call Control

Once integrated with the ShoreTel UC system through the ShoreTel CSTA Server, the Microsoft UC client can control any telephone (analog or IP) connected to the ShoreTel system and trigger telephone calls by clicking on the contact name in the Microsoft UC client. The Lync screen popup for incoming ShoreTel calls is also supported.

Telephony Presence

A Microsoft UC user can now display telephony presence in addition to instant messaging (IM) status to all their contacts, including those in outside organizations federated with them. RCC-enabled Lync users can now “pin” their contacts and call them as soon as they receive notification that they have become available.

Ultimately organizations can leverage existing investments and reduce training requirements, thus improving productivity with telephony presence and alerts.


While Microsoft will inevitably continue to expand its offerings and services, its approach to Unified Communications will likely require heavy reliance on third parties and service providers. ShoreTel’s “end-to-end” solution is developed internally, including phones, advanced features and applications, service delivery platforms and combined with worldclass customer service. When weighing UC provider options, buyers might find that the Lync product’s ongoing system management and operational costs are hard to justify when more robust solutions like those from ShoreTel exist for a fraction of the overall cost.

There are many factors to consider when determining which UC provider best fits a company’s current and future business communications needs. Both Microsoft and ShoreTel are well-known names in the industry, but they differ greatly on their approach and focus toward unified communications.


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