Cisco expands the reach of Spark, in the cloud and on premise

New security options, new hardware, and new capabilities and services for the Spark Platform are designed to help customers making their way to the cloud.

Cisco on Tuesday is rolling out an expansion of the Spark platform, including new security options, new hardware, and new capabilities and services

The expansion of Spark demonstrates how Cisco plans to evolve into a subscriptions-based business. It also shows Cisco's confidence in its unified communications business at a time when fast-growing companies like Slack and internet giants like Google are changing the dynamics of the collaboration and communications space.

The new offerings also all underscore how Cisco plans to bring its existing customers to its subscriptions-based business.

"One of the things that's most important to us is helping our customers map out their journey to the cloud," Angie Mistretta, senior director of collaboration marketing at Cisco, told ZDNet. "We're also making sure we don't lose sight of how we can carry those on-prem investments forward and make them work well together.

To make Spark meetings more accessible, Cisco is improving the Cisco Spark Hybrid Media Service. Rolled out in November, it lets customers deploy Cisco Spark meetings on premises, in the cloud or both at the same time. Initially, the service was limited to Spark-connected devices. Starting in May, it will support any on-premise registered Cisco endpoint, as well as any standards-based SIP hardware or software client.

"Users can now literally join a Spark meeting from any device or screen," Mistretta said. "This is a great thing for customers who have made on-premise investments" in things like video conferencing infrastructure. Customers can now try Spark meetings with basically no risk.

Cisco plans to keep making Hybrid Media Services more robust, Mistretta said.

Next, starting in June, Cisco is giving Spark customers the ability to own and manage their encryption keys by installing a Cisco Spark Key Management Server (KMS) on-premises. The option should benefit customers with stricter privacy requirements, such as those in regulated industries.

Cisco Spark, built as an enterprise-grade platform, has end-to-end encryption for data in-transit, at rest, and in use. All content is encrypted and decrypted using dynamic keys from a KMS. For customers who aren't going with new the on-premise option, Cisco keeps dynamic keys stored in completely different data centers than content.

Cisco on Tuesday is also rolling out new hardware, the Spark Room Kit and the Room Kit Plus. Both attach to standard HD screens and offer the "highest quality videoconferencing experience," Mistretta said.

room-kit1.jpg

The Room Kit is an all-in-one device equipped with a camera, speakers and microphones. It's designed for rooms of up to seven people. The Room Kit Plus, which accommodates rooms of up to 14 people, has a separate quad camera bar with four individual cameras.

Both devices come with smart capabilities, such as the ability to count and track the number of people in a conference room during and between calls. This can help facilities managers get a better understanding of how well spaces are utilized.

The devices are fully cloud managed and are designed to connect natively with Cisco Spark, but they can also register on-premises. The Room Kit is available this month with an MSRP of $3,990 in the US, plus subscription fee of $99/month. The Room Kit Plus will be available in May for $7,990 plus a fee of $99/month.

Lastly, Cisco is introducing new customer care capabilities to the Spark platform with a service called Spark Care. It's designed for small working groups of about 20 people, like small help desk teams, who need to manage internal stakeholders or external customers.

With Spark Care, users can engage with their customers via a web chat program powered by Spark, or customers can put in a request to get a call back. Because it's a cloud-based service, agents can use it anywhere rather than sitting in a call center. The agent gets a consolidated desktop view of call handling, pending contacts and a record of previous engagements with customers.

Spark Care is designed for customers, Mistretta said that were looking for call center options that "are easy to deploy, that aren't terribly costly," while offering sufficient care services. "There was nothing really in that gap," she said. Cisco Spark Care will be available in April for $17 per named user per month, with an annual subscription.

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