If you hadn't heard of Cisco Spark before, it's not entirely surprising. Cisco's attempt to take on Skype and similar collaboration services flew somewhat under the radar, and didn't attract as much attention as some of their other recent ventures.
Spark originally had some very cool features - like seamlessly switching between voice and video, or transferring live calls between multiple devices - but it just didn't stand out. Basically, it had a hard time distinguishing itself in a field that's rapidly becoming cluttered with too many options that all provide very similar voice\video functionality.
Cisco, realizing this, is about to release a bigger, badder, and much more feature-packed Spark that could potentially 'spark' a revolution in software VoIP services all its own.
A Sneak Peek At The New Cisco Spark
So, what hasn't changed? At heart, the software is still a cloud-based communications and collaboration software with a focus on voice, video, and file-sharing. The basic features of the service will still be there, but with a lot of new twists and options.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Hardware integration: Cisco Spark will become part of Cisco voice and video hardware, so that any Cisco device with A\V capabilities will have the ability to join into Spark sessions. This comes with significant administrator bells and whistles, including simple self-provisioning based on QR codes and full cloud-based oversight of implementation and usage.
- Hybrid services: Spark will soon be able to communicate with all other Cisco voice communication hubs, including Communications Manager, HCS services, and Business Edition Series. Beyond simple voice call integration, hybrid services will also include a directory service, as well as an "@spark" calendar service. Similar to "@webex," users can create rooms and send out invitations quickly and easily.
- Open APIs: Cisco Spark will have a much better future when it can be integrated into a wider variety of apps, with plug-ins and new features to match. A full set of open APIs will allow easy applet creation and a wide range of customization options. They also have an impressive list of partners lined up from the beginning, including GitHub, ZenDesk, and Instagram.
Additionally, Cisco has sought to simplify the process of signing up and purchasing Spark access, turning it into a menu of options. Users can sign up for only basic messaging, or either basic or advanced meeting functionality, then add on additional options such as conference room usage or training modules.
While it will offer both cloud- or hybrid- VoIP options, one thing Spark will not offer is PSTN services. Cisco has too many telecoms as customers to step on their toes, PSTN services will still have to come from a company's local provider.
The Future Of IP Collaboration?
The old version of Cisco Spark was nice, but non-essential. (And pretty expensive compared to many other options on the market.) This new beefed-up Spark seems like it has far more to offer, and does a much better job distinguishing itself from other selections which are available. While it requires a significant buy-in of Cisco hardware to use to full effect, Spark will be able to offer a vast range of communication and collaboration options that no third-party service like Skype can seriously compete with.
And while it wasn't covered in their recent announcement, we also tend to suspect that Spark will get integrated in to more than just network hardware, thanks to Cisco's recent acquisition of Jasper, the IoT giant.
What do you think? Is Cisco onto something here, or is the cloud-based collaboration space just too crowded? Let us know below!