Zultys Wins 2014 Product of the Year

Zultys MXvirtual wins Best Unified Communications platform in 2014

We’ve been saying the Zultys MX telephone system is pretty cool for some time.  The good folks at ‘Internet Telephony’ magazine agree – they recently awarded Zultys with the 2014 ‘Unified Communications Product of the Year’ for the MXvirtual product.

Rich Tehrani, CEO of TMC, is quoted as saying:

“I am excited to proclaim Zultys as a 2014 recipient of TMC’s Unified Communications Product of the Year Award for their innovative product, MXvirtual. Our judges were very impressed with the ingenuity and excellence displayed by Zultys in their groundbreaking work on MXvirtual.”

Which tells you nothing about why the award was given, but definitely makes this a legit post, since I used a quote from someone else.  Mind you I lifted that quote entirely from the Zultys press release.

I would hazard a guess that the MXvirtual was chosen for the award because it is the only telephony platform that has an identical user and administration experience no matter how you deploy it.  Whether you rent the phone system hosted in a Zultys-managed environment in a traditional cloud telephony model, install the phone system in a data center or your server cluster, or use a Zultys-branded server installed in your office, nothing changes on the feature and functionality side of things.  In a completely unique-to-Zultys configuration, you can even have these different configurations networked together, so your hosted phones can failover to a local server.

Other advantages of the MXvirtual platform include SIP-at-the-core architecture that is unlike the competition, where it is SIP at the product edge, usually involving a conversion somewhere.  Customers should care about this because conversion means latency, and latency – lag in sending data –  is the enemy of a pleasant-sounding telephone call.  There are few things more frustrating than a phone call where it feels like you are slowly shouting into a well, hearing your own echo.

Being built using SIP from the ground up also means we can deliver on the promise of a shared standard.  Pick the phones you like, from any manufacturer that supports SIP. Connect to a SIP service provider and make your phone calls over the internet, instead of using gateways and carrier edge devices to use old T1 and PRI technology on a 21st century phone network. It means the most choices for deploying phones, which are the most expensive part of the installation, and the best user experience and audio.

Points on Industry Research

Cat on a phone, calling Extenda

Working in an industry that is not exactly front and center of the tech world means that we get pretty scant mainstream press coverage and have surprisingly little data about our favorite subject, ourselves.  In practice, this means I have to fire up those ol’ Statistics 101 and critical thinking neurons all the time to question industry research. Often this research is dragged into the sales process, used to prove a competitor is the Most Awesome. I want to take a look at just one such report to show how a headline statistic thrown out by a vendor might not be as helpful as they want us to believe.

Nemertes Research provides research for a variety of enterprise software and technology verticals and markets, and is oft-cited by a certain competitor we seem to run into on every deal.  Their 2013 report “Operational Cost Drives Stark Differences in First-Year Telephony, UC Costs” is actually pretty interesting and, on balance, a great overview for an IT or C-level manager thinking about biting the bullet and implementing a phone system from this century, or the underling hoping to build a business case for just such a move.

Where companies have to be careful is when vendors use the findings of an independent consultancy report to buttress arguments made when trying to take your money earn your business. For example, this report shows that NEC and Shoretel have a very low total cost to a business in the first year of implementation. The consultants have thoughtfully calculated not just the actual phones and whatnot you would need off the bat, but first year maintenance, the time your staff spends on the implementation times their pay, and other things typically considered ‘soft costs’ and left off the vendor proposals.

Upon closer inspection, it is important to note that there is a very small sample size to draw from.  I would not fault Nemertes – goodness knows it is hard to get this information out of busy IT people who are probably huddled in a corner in the fetal position after finishing their VoIP implementation. Nonetheless, the survey was based on what appears to be 211 valid responses to uncover information about 7 brands, so about 30 responses per brand or so.

Where I will fault all of these industry consultancies is with the release of their data sets. None of them release their data sets with the report. I find it so odd that companies are allowed to produce statistical claims, and have these claims repeated for real dollars, and there is no peer review of the data behind the claims. I have no doubt the data is valid, but I took enough statistics and econometrics to know that you can also justifiably lop off outliers – as the survey takers state that they did – to change your results, in the name of proper data modeling.  I am not singling out Nemertes at all – I am pointing a finger at the weird tech shadow world of report writers that aren’t regulated and aren’t really held accountable for peer review of their work, for stats that are wildly off, for bad predictions, and bias towards specific brands and solutions.

Of these 30 responses, the Avaya and Cisco responses seem to come from pretty large companies.  The median size of the Avaya sample company was over 1,000 users, and for Cisco, over 500 users.  In my world (moderately successful Mitel/Zultys/NEC dealer in the 2nd biggest city in the US), customers of this size would be my VIPs.  And my VIPs tend to have very robust, sophisticated call centers attached to their phone systems that drive up costs of implementation, or in the case of  this survey, the per seat costs. In fact, both of these companies are very active in the contact center market, much more so than NEC and Shoretel, companies that do not have a robust native contact center option at the time of this writing.

The survey does break down costs further in by brand and for <1000 and >1000 users. That Avaya has start up costs of $1,000 a seat, far ahead of the other brands, in the sub-1000 user market makes me wonder if they did have some contact center apps in these installations. When I compete with Avaya, they are not typically twice as expensive as my products, if we are pitching to the same requirements.

Meanwhile, the winners of the Total Cost of Ownership challenge, NEC and Shoretel, have median company sizes in the survey of… well we don’t know.  We know the NEC range is 6 to 1,500 endpoints (phones), and the Shoretel range is 85 to 1,850 phones.  The largest Cisco system in the survey is 175,000 phones(!), for some contrast.  If we assume a price tag of $500 a user, netting $87.5M, a single Cisco sale did what Shoretel as a company does in a quarter.  My point is that these companies are playing in very different leagues. As an NEC dealer, I can tell you that the 6 phone NEC is dirt cheap, and will not ship with much that an enterprise user would recognize – there is no desktop video conferencing or real-time chat/supervision/reporting baked into the deployment.

There is a lot of great information when you dive into the operational costs, and specifically the information on Microsoft’s Lync solution does match up to what I hear from customers.  Namely, like an Italian car from bygone eras, they are not so expensive to install, but extremely expensive to keep up.  In the case of Microsoft, it is not so much reliability as it is that the mechanics are expensive, though this may come down if Lync really takes off as a viable phone system competitor. The report notes that third party spending on Microsoft is high because the product is new, but I would add it is also because the product is sophisticated and outside the wheelhouse of your more typical IT shop that focuses on SMBs and knows Exchange, AD, Server and the desktop just fine, but that might not have the requisite certifications to even get support on the Lync product.  Microsoft professionals with the alphabet soup of certifications on their business card and the pedigree required of high end IT shops tend to charge a lot more per hour.

Similarly, Cisco’s high SmartNET costs show up in the data, and Avaya, NEC and Shoretel are not terribly expensive to keep up down the road, making me feel that the data here matches up to my extensive though still necessarily anecdotal experience. So maybe I just proved a victim of confirmation bias, and you can chuck this post in the bonfire, too. The takeaways I have for a reader of this post stand; question the headline statistics on these reports, and view these stats as a helpful snapshot of general trends, and not the be all and end all on the topic.

Cheaters. Telephony edition

So I was looking at improving our company’s inbound lead generation (see: the blog you are reading) and started kicking the tires on various services such as Marketo, KISSmetrics and Hubspot.  I click on Hubspot and, lo and behold, Shoretel is the video case study, front and center on their website.

I am an avid admirer of Shoretel’s marketing, and I think they more than any other company shook up my industry’s stale approaches when I started in my role 10 years ago. We were being trained to show up on site, do a headcount, play up the one or two features that our system excelled at, and turn around a quote quickly.  Cisco was winning deals at the time just by having the Cisco logo on a business card, but the bloom was off their rose by the early-to-mid 2000’s. Shoretel came in with a great, rehearsed demo, some marketing slicks from consulting companies no one had ever heard of, and their people spoke to different constituencies extremely well. Where Cisco was a Rube Goldberg machine and traditional PBX manufacturers appeared steeped in the dark arts, Shoretel sold on ease of use and simplicity. They also opened up conversations about architecture and disaster recovery that old-line phone guys really wanted to avoid for fear of looking like the dinosaurs that they were.

An 'establishing shot' I believe of where Vader chokes his lieutenants.

An ‘establishing shot’ I believe of where Vader chokes his lieutenants.

All that said, I compete with them every day, and could write a novel trashing their product. But instead, I want to return to our dive into this fun marketing piece from our pals at Hubspot.

Our story begins here at Shoretel HQ, where existing marketing approaches from competing providers is not working for our dear friends.

Cut to an interview with a VP or EVP of marketing at Shoretel who is the star of this show. We learn more about driving inbound leads and the great set of tools provided by Hubspot.

The Wizard

The Wizard of Marketing

There are lots of great shots of what appear to be this guy’s home office, since the corporate glass and steel box did not seem to have any balconies overlooking a forested valley.  I certainly thought that I would work from home rather than that Inatel-looking cubicle farm we saw in prior shots.


Lower right is the two tone smoking gun

Then, as if seeing the lady of the lake emerge from the fog and mist, we see glimpses of, what, it can’t be… but it is.  A Cisco phone at this guy’s house. B-b-b-but I thought this was a Shoretel employee?  Is Hubspot haunted? Shaggy? Thelma?


No dear reader, this is video proof that Shoretel Sky uses Cisco phones, and not Shoretel phones. And proof that bad feng shui (working with one’s back to the window) leads to bad things such as blowing your cover, exposing the filthiest secret of all.  Soylent Green is people, and Shoretel Sky does not appear all that Shoretel compatible.

Mitel UCC v3 Released

Microsoft Lync is better with Mitel

Mitel’s seamless, classy integration into your Microsoft Lync environment

It is official, June 30 is the release date for the new version of Mitel’s UCC suite of applications, UCC v3.0.  This is a big release by Mitel standards with a lot of changes. We are excited about a few key elements.

As previously noted, Hyper-V support is here, as is VMware vSphere v5.5 support. This is a great solution for companies that are used to the way our competitors deploy their phone systems and applications: with a menagerie of servers or multiple virtual applications to manage and keep running.  This solution consolidates messaging, user deployment and unified communications applications, as well as off-site TeleWorking and security, to a single virtual instance.

Speaking of user deployment, the UCC v3 allows for a simple user rollout by linking to Active Directory.  This greatly speeds up deployments and makes it simple to manage your Mitel system.

Multimedia capabilities have also been extended to the smartphone, with peer to peer video available via the Mitel smartphone app. I expect personal grooming to be improved across all of my customer base once video calling becomes a standard part of business communications.

Integrations across the enterprise are expanded with this release as well.  Lync deployments will benefit from enhanced Mitel integration.  Google, Office 365 and Salesforce users will also find that there are a number of enhancements on the Mitel platform for their use, including calendar integration with presence, email integration, as well as click-to-call, presence and IM integrations. We see more and more adoption of these platforms and less traditional integration to on-site CRM software.

With the initial UCC release, Mitel did a great job of fixing the most irritating part of their platform for vendors and customers: their licensing.  The old alphabet soup of confusing licenses and license dependencies was poured into the trash, and replaced with 3 super simple license bundles: Entry, Standard and Premium. Now, a 4th tier (Basic) has been added, for users that just want a phone, while Entry users can see coworker presence on the bundled PC and web app. Right out of the gate, customers with a single UCC Standard or Premium license get a 10-port conference bridge license at no charge, too.  This makes it very difficult for Shoretel, Cisco, Avaya and NEC to compete. Each of these manufacturers needs to add an external server or, in Avaya’s case, a sorta-virtual-sorta-dedicated-server-image, to provide secure dial-in conferencing. But then again, these manufacturers really are in love with the miniature server farm model.

Zultys killing it in mobile integration

The latest update to the Zultys Mobile™ application (v4.0) extends existing tools like real-time Presence, Instant Message (IM), Presence Notes, Single Number Contact, Call Handling and more right to your Android for increased productivity, enhanced customer service and cost savings.

Users can now log into call group or operator roles from their Android phone, allowing these power users to actually step away from their desk without handing the baton to coworkers to answer their calls for them. Inbound contact center agents (or in Zultys-speak, “ICC agents”) and receptionists can handle incoming calls as if they were still at their desk.

Parked calls are now visible on the app, so mobile users can pick up and park calls as if they are in the office, making it much easier to handle calls between users taking advantage of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) capabilities of the MX system and their colleagues in the office.  Similarly, full visual voicemail functionality is added with the ability to set and record voicemail greetings, view deleted messages folder, access group mailboxes, create voicemail-only replies to internal users, and call people back from the voicemail screen.


Requirements include Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich or higher), and the latest MX software build (9.0.4 at the time of writing).  External (off-network) users should be on 3G at a minimum.

Solving Conference Calling

  1. Cold Fusion.
  2. CO2 emissions.
  3. Conference Calling.

Three of the most intractable challenges of modern science that also start with the letter “C”. For decades, humankind has struggled to fight energy dependence on fossil fuels and radioactive waste products, reverse global warming and the destruction of the only habitable planet we know of, and to get three people on a phone call at the same time.

We can all sleep a little easier now, as Mitel’s UC solution for conferencing has cracked the business collaboration code.  Mitel’s MiVoice Conference Phone makes three- or even four-way calling  dead simple. Just touch an icon, and dial a number to make a call.  Then, touch a second icon, dial a number, and the call is automatically joined.  If you want a fourth person on the call, well, repeat the process. No feature codes, no complicated sequence of events, no secret handshakes, combination of button presses or whispered passwords.

Did I mention it runs on Android, features incredible quality 22kHz Wideband Audio, integrates with a built-in browser to web applications, hosts native apps such as Dropbox, OpenOffice for Microsoft Office doc integration, WebEx, and Join.Me, supports an HDMI video output for presentations, has USB connectivity for connecting your PC, features 16 microphones with a 12′ 360-degree audio pickup radius, and of course provides amazing Mitel Unified Communications connectivity?


Mitel MiVoice Conference telephone

Mitel MiVoice Conference unit for innovative, enhanced audio, web and video conferences.

Mitel MiVoice Business 7.0 (Mitel 3300, MCD) Released

The newest release of the Mitel MiVoice Business – variously known as the Mitel 3300 and Mitel Communications Director, or MCD – promises to have a lot of great enhancements for customers enrolled in ExtendaCare or that are enrolled in Mitel Software Assurance (SWA).

Hyper-V Support.

While we don’t have a release date as of yet for the Hyper-V support (this feature is coming with a future v7 SP1 release), the news that Mitel is supporting Microsoft Hyper-V for their flagship voice platform this year is huge news.  Mitel has been VMware-only since 2010, establishing an early lead in this space.  However, many of our small and medium sized business customers are taking advantage of Microsoft’s very inexpensive Hyper-V platform instead of VMware products.  This move will undoubtedly help Mitel compete against Microsoft Lync and create a bigger gap with competitors in this segment of the market such as Avaya, Cisco and Shoretel that are still stuck selling company-branded hardware to customers.

VMWare Lead Extended.

Mitel is extending its lead in virtualized voice with VMWare, a technology Mitel pioneered.  While vSphere/vCloud v5.5 support was introduced with MiVoice Business v6 SP2, now the Small Business package that combines the base call control, MiCollab server and Mitel Border Gateway in a single .ova file has seen its capacity expanded to 250 users, up from 150 users.  In addition, the full size Mitel MiVoice Business can support 5,000 users on a single instance, up from 2,500.  VMware Site Recovery Manager is now supported for scenarios in which a data center instance fails, requiring a failover to a backup data center of the phone system and all of the UC applications.  Temporary call control can be handled by a local gateway so there is no interruption to telephone call handling.

Mobile Phone Integration (“Twinning”) Got Better.

Mitel now lets us group up to 4 devices together for simultaneous ringing and handoff.  This means a user could have a deskphone, a mobile phone app, and a softphone put into a single dynamic extension number.  Callers can just dial a single number and the user is able to juggle calls between devices, handoff calls between devices without putting the call on hold, and provide an easy, seamless way for clients to get in touch.

Call Center Improvements.

As you may know, Mitel is making a big push into the contact center and call center.  They have overhauled improved silent monitoring, coaching, barge-in and steal features on the MiVoice Business v7, making it easy for supervisors to, well, supervise.  In addition, the MiVoice Business is now shipping with the ‘Enhanced Ring Group’ option for assigning ACD-type routing of any type to a collection of Mitel phones, SIP phones, outside devices, analog phones and pretty much anything you can think of.

Other Enhancements

As usual with a large release, there were a lot of small changes that nonetheless with delight someone.

  1. Stream music on hold from your network to your phone system
  2. Simplify phone deployment for phones that are for hotdesk users
  3. Simplified user service configuration for faster moves, adds and changes
  4. Enhancements to very large systems (>10,000 users)
  5. Alarms on backup failure and longer error logs
  6. Multiple keymap templates per telephone
  7. Faster configuration automation for new installs

Overall, we are pleased with the upgrade and hoping to see SP1 soon so we can start talking to all those Hyper-V shops that have been left out in the cold by nearly all of the major telecom equipment manufacturers.

In Memorium: Inter-Tel Axxess

May 30 is the end of the line for the Axxess system.  We have hundreds of customers that are still using the system, and have tried to reach out to as many organizations as we could since production stopped in 2011.

We address what all this means to customers here so this post is just my musings on what made this such a great system.

Basically, this system was years and years ahead of its time.  Built on a common, open programming language (C++) instead of the oddball proprietary code of the competition made a world of difference when it came to desktop and software integration with the phone system.

This led naturally to the Open Architecture Interface (OAI).  This interface would be called an API today, and shows that Inter-Tel had an amazing vision for the product that continues today in the Mitel MiVoice Office (former Mitel 5000 and Inter-Tel 5200/5400/5600). Inter-Tel was able to build up an exciting ecosystem of partner companies that could use the OAI to communicate with the Axxess.  A whole ecosystem flourished years ahead of the App Store and Google Play.

The Mitel MiVoice Office is backwards compatible with Axxess and even predecessor Axxent telephones from 1991 without shortchanging users on features or capabilities. It is amazing that some of my customers have had the same phones on their desk for 20 years across three different systems with three entirely different architectures.

One reason that Mitel and Inter-Tel were a good cultural fit was shown throughout this Axxess sunsetting process.  The MiVoice Office was made compatible with all this old stuff from the Axxess, including computer telephony integration software and old IP phones that were more like beta versions given how unreliable they were at the time. I am shocked that they are as committed to their customers as they are, when all of the competition discards systems regularly and mercilessly, leaving their customers in the lurch.

One thing that my technicians at least miss with the Axxess are the hot-swappable cards.  You could be pretty rough on the system and yank out components without turning anything off or otherwise disrupting operations.  VoIP systems have fewer hardware components and generally are far more reliable, but they certainly do not like to have physical components changed out while the power is on.

I think a lot of competing systems today, such as the Shoretel system, actually owe a great deal to the Axxess’ innovative architecture.  The primary advantage they had competing against the Axxess (besides a world-beating marketing department that ran circles around dear sweet Inter-Tel) was processor redundancy.  The new systems used an IP architecture while the Axxess relied on a TDM backplane – so there were several points of failure that IP-based systems just would never have.  However, if you took all of the ShoreGear boxes and stuck them in a chassis instead of an equipment rack, you would basically have a late model Axxess, with T1 cards, IP cards that supported fixed numbers of stations, and analog cards for FXS and FXO ports (think fax machines and traditional phone lines).  In fact, both systems share a weakness that continues to this day: voicemail and call control (on the Axxess 512 and ATM, at least) that runs on a Windows server with all the attendant headaches and vulnerabilities as well as familiarity and popularity that entailed.