Cisco Merges Spark Into WebEx for Streamlined Collaboration

The move means that the collaboration services and applications from WebEx and Spark will now be available on a single platform from Cisco

Digital Tools for Collaboration

Cisco Systems officials for the past three years have promoted Spark as the platform for collaboration among work teams to complement to the networking vendor’s WebEx web conferencing portfolio.

Now the company is merging the two lineups to create a single platform that will offer a broad array of services and applications that share the same infrastructure, the same networking backbone and the same management tool.

The convergence of the WebEx and Spark platforms, announced this week at the Cisco Collaboration Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., means that users will have a single platform for all the collaboration needs that previously were split between the two, which officials said will streamline meetings, making them easier to run and more secure.

This is best illustrated by the merging of the Spark Meetings and WebEx meetings, which becomes a new WebEx meetings platform that includes WebEx Teams that offers the services once found on Spark Teams.

Before this, Spark meetings application were accessed through the Spark Meetings application while WebEx had its own WebEx Meetings app, according to Jonathan Rosenberg, Cisco Fellow and vice president and CTO for the vendor’s collaboration business. Spark users could get to a WebEx meeting via the Spark app, but it wasn’t easy and they couldn’t get all of the meeting features of WebEx.

“With this convergence—it’s all simplified,” Rosenberg wrote in a post on the company blog. “Everything is a WebEx meeting, with a common set of features—roster, meeting controls, PSTN connectivity, and so on. All WebEx Meetings are joinable from either the WebEx Meetings application or the WebEx Teams application. WebEx Teams supports a new type of meeting, called a WebEx team meeting, which takes advantage of the participants in a space to provide a highly secure easy to use new type of WebEx meeting—the team meeting.”

The rebranding of Spark to Webex Teams will go into effect in June.

The convergence of the WebEx and Spark platforms runs deep, including the network backbone, he said. WebEx Meetings had been supported by servers housed in WebEx data centers and linked via the WebEx backbone IP network, which connected customer internet service providers and Cisco’s meeting servers.

Spark meetings used servers in the public cloud. Now all meetings will leverage the WebEx backbone through servers housed both in Cisco data centers and in the public cloud and the WebEx network connecting all of them.

“This means that customers get the best quality, lowest latency experience possible,” Rosenberg wrote. “This is particularly important for video, since the WebEx backbone was purpose built for video meetings.”

Management is another point of convergence. Control Hub, which had been the management tool for Spark that included some basic analytics capabilities. WebEx had another tool that featured better analytics. Now Control Hub supports both WebEx Meetings and WebEx Teams and will have improved analytics gleaned from the WebEx capabilities.

Cisco officials also are using the hybrid media service that was in Spark—and enabled customers to deploy servers on-premises to for the audio, video and content share streams in Spark meetings—for any WebEx meeting. Now users joining meetings from any endpoint or the WebEx Teams app will be able to connect these media nodes. Cisco is also renaming the service, now calling it Video Mesh.

The merging of the platforms also improves security by ensuring that all WebEx Teams users are all connected to a single, shared cloud instance. There are no guest accounts, which let users to share information outside of the company and now any information sharing can be tracked by compliance software.

“B2B collaboration is built in so users can work with everyone, both inside and outside of the company, from the same application, without asking their IT guy for help,” Rosenberg wrote. “This means that each company can make sure that their employees don’t share confidential information outside of the company, and if they do, it can be detected and remediated.”

Besides merging the two platforms, Cisco also is making other moves. The vendor created WebEx Share. Users can plug a small adapter into the back of a TV in any room to more easily share their documents or images on the larger screen. The technology will be available toward the end of the year.

Cisco is also expanding the use of artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities in its collaboration portfolio. WebEx Assistant—which had been known as Spark Assistant and was based on technology inherited when Cisco bought MindMeld last year—in the coming months will begin appearing in the company’s cloud-connected WebEx Room Kit and Room Series devices.

Cisco announced Spark Assistant in November 2017 as a way to bring voice-based virtual assistant capabilities to the enterprise, similar to those found in Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana in the consumer market.

Cisco officials also said they want WebEx customers to be able to use the platform with other collaboration tools from the likes of Microsoft, Google and Slack.