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October 30, 2014

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A Close Look at ShoreTel Sky

In our last post we discussed the reasons why a cloud-based IP phone system makes sense for many organizations. A cloud-based solution delivers business-class telephony features without the upfront investments associated with an on-premises system. The service provider houses most of the equipment and provides the resources and expertise needed to support the system, relieving customers of the headaches associated with ongoing maintenance and upgrades as well as the risk of equipment obsolescence.

 

Because the service provider monitors the system around the clock, a cloud-based solution also provides a high degree of confidence that performance issues will be resolved quickly. Robust security protects against cyber threats while redundancy and failover capabilities help ensure system availability.

 

While these benefits are well proven, not all cloud-based IP phone systems are created equal. ICG’s engineers evaluated various cloud-based phone systems and found that ShoreTel Sky delivers key features that stand apart from competitive offerings.

 

For example, many service providers utilize core technology licensed from a third party. ShoreTel developed and continues to enhance the Call Conductor software at the heart of the Sky platform. By engineering its own phone system software, ShoreTel is better able to innovate and respond to customer needs without relying on a third party. Because the technology is all from ShoreTel, support teams have intimate knowledge of all components, from the ShoreTel Sky platform to devices and applications. In addition, an all-ShoreTel solution provides investment protection by ensuring smooth upgrades and future support.

 

ShoreTel’s approach to hosted VoIP provides seamless integration with a wide range of cloud and unified communications applications for an enhanced user experience. ShoreTel also provides an API for integration with other packaged solutions or home-grown systems.

 

The Call Conductor software was engineered for reliability. In addition, ShoreTel’s Tier III data centers feature redundant call-handling equipment and carrier network connections for high availability. Customer configuration data is backed up daily and server virtualization is used to quickly restore to new hardware in the event of a failure.

 

Service quality is ensured through the use of private circuits via managed routers. Best-of-breed firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems protect against threats, and all customer communications are secured with robust authentication and authorization and encryption.

 

The ShoreTel Sky end-to-end experience includes white-glove implementation with a dedicated account team, custom-designed call configuration, best practice guidance, procurement of phone numbers and private circuits, and end-user and administrator training. This is all delivered on a platform developed, hosted and managed by the ShoreTel customer support organization.

 

At ICG, we are proud to offer ShoreTel Sky to our valued customers. We believe that ShoreTel Sky offers the right mix of features, performance, quality and price backed by ShoreTel’s comprehensive support. Let us show you why ShoreTel Sky is the compelling choice for your cloud-based IP phone system, and design a solution that precisely fits your needs and budget.

October 23, 2014

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Why Your Phone System May Belong in the Cloud

Many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are using some kind of cloud services, such as storage, disaster recovery and email systems. But there’s another business tool that few SMBs realize can be moved to the cloud — the company phone system. When you break it down, phone system functionality is just an application and voice transmissions are a form of data. As a result, your phone system can be cloud-based just like virtually any other component of your IT infrastructure.

 

Cloud-based IP telephony offers a number of business advantages that are consistent with other cloud services when compared to an on-premises solution:

 

  • Minimal upfront costs. Many SMBs are already using VoIP-compatible phones, and the only other hardware investment may involve some switching and routing upgrades. Capital expenses with cloud-based VoIP are minimal.
  • Lower operational costs. Managing, maintaining, upgrading, supporting and securing your phone system – and all associated costs – become the responsibility of the service provider.
  • Pay as you go. Pay for the seats and services you need now and add more as your company grows and business needs change.
  • Enterprise-class technology. Take advantage of the service provider’s sophisticated telephony technology and features – the kinds of tools few SMBs can afford to purchase themselves.
  • Faster time to value. Changing to cloud-based VoIP telephony is simple, fast and seamless, enabling organizations to quickly deploy the new system and its productivity-boosting features.
  • Improved security. Long a major roadblock to cloud adoption, security is actually more robust with a cloud-based phone system, which uses a private internet connection to secure conversations.

 

One common misconception about cloud-based IP telephony is that the voice quality is inferior to a traditional copper line. Most of these problems were more accurately attributable to connectivity issues. Organizations evaluating cloud-based phone systems should worry less about false misconceptions and focus on cost savings, functionality, simplicity of use, and choosing a provider capable of aligning a system with your business needs.

 

There are several concerns with a cloud-based IP telephony solution that you don’t encounter with an on-premises system. When you move your phone system to the cloud, you’re basically turning over control to a third-party provider, and you must rely on Internet connectivity to keep your phones working. As users and usage grows, so will your monthly costs, and you’ll be tied to the hardware and software used by your provider.

 

With an on-premises system, you have total control of your phone system. A growing business has the flexibility to make changes whenever necessary. If you have well-defined processes, on-premises telephony ensures that your system is aligned with those processes. If you need contact center functionality, cloud-based solutions haven’t quite caught up to their on-premises counterparts.

 

Cloud-based and on-premises IP telephony both have their pros and cons. If you’re looking to reduce capital costs, conserve strained IT resources and add new features to your phone system, you may want to consider a cloud-based solution. Contact ICG to learn more about how your organization can benefit by moving your phone system to the cloud.

 

October 16, 2014

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Is It Time for a Network Refresh?

On average, bandwidth consumption and data volumes in the data center double every 18 months. The number of devices accessing the network doubles every 30 months. Is your network infrastructure built to support such explosive growth?

 

Many networks are not. The refresh cycle for enterprise networking equipment keeps getting longer and has now reached a six-year high, according to Dimension Data’s Network Barometer Report 2014. In fact, half of network switches, routers and wireless devices are either aging or obsolete. Devices that are past end of sale are considered “aging,” while those past end of support are considered “obsolete.”

 

Many organizations have delayed upgrades in an attempt to squeeze every last drop of juice from their legacy network equipment. However, even though certain components of your network infrastructure may still be working, older technology could be preventing your network from properly supporting the latest technologies and growing numbers of users and devices.

 

High-performance Wi-Fi is essential for most enterprises, yet a rapid increase in mobile device density is making it difficult to keep up with heavy bandwidth demands. The wired network plays a key role in wireless LAN performance, particularly with the new 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard. Organizations will likely need to not only rethink wireless network design but to upgrade their wired network, which will in turn make the wireless network function better.

 

Meanwhile, bandwidth-heavy technologies such as virtualization, cloud computing, mobility, video and big data are contributing to an immense increase in network traffic. Aging networks simply lack the capacity, flexibility and performance these technologies demand.

 

In addition to better supporting the wireless, VoIP and virtualized environments, an up-to-date network infrastructure delivers several key business benefits:

 

  • Productivity will be enhanced when employees have access to more reliable connections, inside and outside of the office.
  • Your network will be able to support innovative services and new product features and functionality.
  • Your network will be more efficient, more cost-effective and easier to manage.

 

Fortunately, lower prices for Ethernet technology are making a network refresh more economically feasible. In addition, cloud-based configuration and administration tools are making it easier to manage the network infrastructure. Network switches that provide Power over Ethernet capabilities support wireless access points and VoIP equipment without having to run AC power to each of those devices.

 

The ICG Network Infrastructure team has proven expertise in the design, configuration, installation and support of best-in-class network solutions. Let us assess your network infrastructure to determine if it’s capable of supporting wireless, VoIP and virtualization and other state-of-the-art technologies. A network refresh may be necessary to take your organization to the next level.

October 9, 2014

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How Managed Services and the Cloud Improve Branch Office IT

In a previous post, we discussed the importance of providing branch offices with the same end-user experience, the same access to applications and data, and the same level of security as the main office. The lack of onsite IT staff and the complexity of applications, networking and management systems at branch offices make this a tall order, resulting in lower productivity and increased risk.

 

More and more organizations are turning to managed services and the cloud to overcome these challenges and manage branch office IT more effectively. Managed services turns over branch office IT management to an outside team of experts, while Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and other cloud services shift the responsibility of implementing and maintaining core infrastructure to a service provider.

October 2, 2014

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Are You Struggling to Manage Branch Office IT?

The two biggest IT priorities for organizations with branch offices are providing a consistent end-user experience and improving security. But while most remote sites have basic IT infrastructure and services, they typically rely on the main office for IT resources and support. Failure to provide branch offices with the same capabilities as the main office can drag down productivity and increase risk for the entire organization.

 

Branch office users require the same level of performance and secure access to applications, data and services as the main office. They must be able to securely collaborate with other employees and have the same level of responsiveness when IT issues arise. At the same time, data must be backed up and regulatory compliance must be maintained.