Cisco goes crazy with collaboration

At this week’s Cisco Partner Summit, Cisco made several announcements, including Cisco Spark Flex Plan, Cisco Spark Depot and Cisco Hybrid Spark Media Service

Remember the Prince song Let’s Go Crazy? “Are we gonna let de-elevator bring us down? Oh, no let’s go! Let’s go crazy, let’s get nuts.” The famed singer and poet sang about not letting others bring you down. Instead, go crazy and get yourself out that downward spiral—at least that’s my interpretation.

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Cisco collaboration has gone through a similar trend. A few years ago the Cisco Collaboration Business Unit was in a free fall, and people were pointing to Microsoft, Google and startups such as Slack as being Cisco killers. Since then, the company has punched back and completely turned the business around to the point where it has now seen something like 12 consecutive quarters of growth. 

This week at Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco, Cisco indeed went crazy with its collaboration portfolio and made a dizzying number of announcements. Here are the highlights of what Cisco announced:

Cisco Spark Flex Plan

Since his arrival to Cisco, Rowan Rollope, senior vice president and general manager of the Collaboration Business Unit, has talked extensively about simplifying the products. Over the past couple of years, almost all Cisco products have had a facelift and are significantly easier to use. 

Cisco has now taken the concept of simplicity and extended it to the way customers buy the products. With the current pricing model, customers need to pay for things like Jabber, Call Manager, WebEx, Meeting Server, Spark and other products independently. Some are purchased via a subscription and some are perpetual. The new Cisco Spark Flex Plan is a single contract that enables customers to buy any Cisco Collaboration product with a single subscription that starts at $21 per month per user. This includes anything under the Cisco Collaboration umbrella.

Spark Flex Plan also lets customers seamlessly migrate from an on-premises solution to a cloud version or change products with no financial hit, as the licenses are portable across products. 

Cisco Spark Depot

Think of Cisco Spark Depot as a Cisco Spark “App Store” where customers can find business applications that are integrated with the product. At time of launch, there were more than 60 products in Cisco Spark Depot, including Salesforce, ServiceNow, Box and Redbooth. 

The integration lets customers do Spark things without having to leave the application they are in. For example, a user could create a Spark room right from the Salesforce application. This should be of particular value to mobile users. If I’m at my desktop, having to flip between applications and cut and paste information is a pain but manageable. When mobile, having to move in and out of applications makes doing any kind of multi-application process something that’s just not feasible. Over the past two years, Cisco has become much more technology-partner friendly, and I would expect to see more innovation in this area. 

Cisco Hybrid Spark Media Service

Public clouds and on-premises deployments each have their strengths and weaknesses. This new product gives customers the best of both worlds because it enables a local media node to communicate with the Spark cloud service to calculate the best location to deliver a meeting from. As an example, if 10 people were on a Web conference with seven in a single location and three remote, the local users would connect to the on-premises node and the other three would connect into the Spark cloud. This should give each user an optimized audio, video and web experience, while lowing the amount of bandwidth going to and coming back from the cloud.

New SMB products 

Cisco introduced a new management portal for its Business Edition 6000. It’s all-in-one collaboration product for midsize companies. One of the issues customers and channel partners have had with the product is the lengthy set-up time; the new configuration interface promises to reduce that by 60 percent.

The company also announced a small business version of the product: the Business Edition 4000, which is aimed at deployments that have fewer than 200 users. This is a strong addition to the portfolio, as this segment accounts for about 50 percent of the overall market. This is Cisco’s first true small market product, giving its channel partners a competitive offering.

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