Cisco Spark brightens up with more cloud comms connections

With the next iteration of the Spark group messaging and content sharing service, Cisco is promising to make more Hollywood imaginations into reality for offices.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO---Months after initially lighting up, Cisco's Spark is spreading across the networking giant's portfolio as it strives to become a more well-connected collaboration platform.

"We would be crazy not to do that," reflected Chris Wiborg, director of collaboration portfolio marketing at Cisco, about connecting Spark to more of the tech giant's cloud and networking products.

Ahead of its official unveiling on Tuesday at Cisco's Collaboration Summit, Wiborg elaborated to ZDNet about the evolution of the Spark app into a platform, outlining three primary components for this week's launch: establishing a fully-grown communications platform (versus just an app), tapping into the broader Cisco portfolio and growing a developer community.

Spark's group messaging and content sharing features have already been in use for some time now, and they have factored into enterprise services deals with other major tech brands such as Apple and Telstra. Business clientele pay via subscription, per user per month.

But the next level for Spark stems from Cisco's acquisition of Tropo earlier this year, which came with a platform for integrating SMS and voice calls into applications.

Thus, with the new version of Spark, users could move a video call from a Cisco room conferencing system to a mobile device and then back to the room with a few swipes.

"Every call has the potential to become a meeting," Wiborg posited about the new Spark platform. Wiborg also highlighted the brainpower that came along with the acquisition, characterizing the new employees as developers building for developers.

Rowan Trollope, general manager of Cisco's collaboration technology group, made a more fanciful comparison in a blog post, hinting Spark reflects more of the technological dreams on television finally coming to life.

"On TV shows, no one is ever searching for a conference dial-in and in the movies when the hero rushes out of the conference room her video call instantly transfers to her phone without missing a beat," Trollope quipped.

Admitting that real life isn't like the movies, Trollope argued Spark could make such communications experiences possible in everyday office situations.

Wiborg briefly acknowledged a few competitors as well - specifically RingCentral, BlueJeans and Slack.

But he defended that what sets Spark apart is the collection of "hybrid services," which he touted will extend the value of a previously existing IT infrastructure by tapping into pre-existing unified communications investments while leveraging cloud abilities.

More simply, Spark is supposed to automatically understand and offer potential links between on-premises servers hosting calendar and conferencing apps with the cloud.

Cisco Spark was designed for companies of all sizes, but Wiborg clarified that some calling components and subscriptions often differentiate between enterprise and SMB customers.

Cisco Spark for Developers, which includes select services and open APIs, are scheduled to become available today.

The complete Cisco Spark is scheduled to launching first in the United States during the first quarter of 2016. Other markets are expected to follow over the next year, but some Spark Hybrid Services will debut during the first quarter as well across 21 countries.

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