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This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

Today Cisco introduced Spark Room Kits, enhanced
Spark security, an update to the Spark Hybrid
Media Service and expanded Spark care

The industry’s largest collaboration show, Enterprise Connect, gets underway this week in Orlando, Florida. The show has become the place for vendors to show off the latest and greatest, and the week started off with Cisco announcing some new products and updates to existing ones.

Cisco’s collaboration business has been on quite a roll of late, as it has released a number of new solutions, including the game-changing Spark Board, which was unveiled earlier this year.

Over the past couple of years Cisco’s collaboration strategy has revolved around making it dead easy for customers to leverage the Spark cloud with an experience that is unparalleled. Cisco started with the Spark app, then added phones and most recently the previously mentioned Spark Board.

Introducing Spark Room Kits

Now Cisco is adding two Spark Room Kits to extend the experience into meeting rooms of all sizes.

The Spark Room Kit is designed for small/medium rooms of up to seven people and is comprised of an all-in-one device that includes a camera, speakers and microphone. The Room Kit Plus is for larger rooms of up to 14 people and includes a separate quad camera bar with four individual cameras for a better experience in larger and deeper rooms. Both are designed to attach to a standard HD screen and transform the display into a video collaboration system.

The devices register natively with the Spark Cloud and can literally be set up in minutes. Customers that aren’t using Spark can register the Kits to their on-premises systems. Cisco has put a tremendous amount of effort into simplifying the onboarding process. What used to take a significant amount of engineering time is now a fully automated process so easy that IT doesn’t even need to be involved.

The Room Kits are loaded with features to make meetings more efficient so people can get to work faster instead of fiddling with a bunch of disparate systems that creates a disjointed experience and wastes time. The features can be categorized in the following broader categories:

  • Smart meetings. An integrated Ultra-HD camera enables a better meeting experience through automatic framing and speaker tracking. Instead of showing the “bowling alley” experience where the long table dominates the screen, the Spark Kit will zoom in on the active speaker or frame the display intelligently. The devices also auto wake when people come in the room, auto pair with consumer devices, have a single click to join scheduled calls and will soon include voice recognition.
  • Smart presentations. The systems support dual screens, dual content sources, wireless sharing and support content to be displayed in 4K.
  • Smart integration. The system can keep track of the number of people in the room during and between calls, so businesses can analyze how the rooms are being utilized and make adjustments if necessary. The Spark Kit also uses standardized Bluetooth pairing and Wi-Fi for fast connectivity. Cisco also has some APIs in beta for app developers.

Customers could deploy a Spark Board and Spark Room Kit in the same conference room in what Cisco is calling “companion mode” where the Board is used for content sharing and/or white boarding and the Kit used for video, allowing remote and in-room participants to see each other.

The two Spark Room Kits will be available this month. The list price the Room Kit and Room Kit Plus are $3,990 and $7,990, respectively, plus a $99/month subscription fee. The companion mode referred to earlier will be available later this year.

Cisco enhances Spark security

Cisco is one of the top cybersecurity vendors and has taken this expertise and extended it to Spark solutions. Since it’s initial release Spark has been the most secure of all the workstream communication and collaboration (WCC) products. All content is encrypted and decrypted using dynamic keys from a Cisco Spark Key Management Server (KMS), which creates, stores, authorizes and gives access to the encryption keys that the Spark uses.

Customers that require additional data privacy now have the option to own and manage the encryption keys by installing the KMS on premises. This should have high appeal to regulated vertical industries such as healthcare and finance because it enables organizations to own and manage their encryption keys.

Spark Hybrid Media Service update

Cisco also announced an update to the Spark Hybrid Media Service. First introduced in November 2016, the service lets customers put a Hybrid Media Node on their network to provide local media processing for on-premises attendees in Spark meetings. For example, if a user is doing a video call with someone in the same location, the traffic never leaves the site. The theory is why send the traffic to the cloud and back unnecessarily? By keeping the traffic local, it cuts down on WAN/internet bandwidth and improves the overall user experience.

The Hybrid Media Service now lets people SIP dial into Spark Meetings. The Cisco Spark spaces will have a persistent SIP URI, allowing users to join meetings from any standards-based SIP hardware or software client. There are millions of SIP compliant clients and endpoints deployed, and now customers can use them to easily join a Spark session. Customers can use this as part of a migration strategy or even to try it out with no risk, as all of their existing investments can be retained.

Spark care expanded

Lastly, Cisco has expanded the use of Spark for customer care where help desks and small teams can communicate with external and internal constituents using web chat and call back. The service includes a customer care user workspace and reporting with customer feedback. Spark care is priced at $17 per user per month based on an annual subscription.

Over the past few years Cisco has been releasing new collaboration products at a torrid pace. It is one of the reasons why it is back on top of the market and pulling away from the competition. The fully integrated cloud, plus hardware, plus software solutions enable Cisco to innovate quickly and create products with a simple user experience that allows users to collaborate without the technology getting in the way.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.

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