Cisco Launches $150 Million Fund to Drive App Development for Spark

The company also says its UC cloud platform is available in the U.S., and that the acquisition of Synata will improve search capabilities in Spark.

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Cisco Systems officials want to help developers create apps for the company's Spark communications platform.

At the Enterprise Connect 2016 show in Orlando, Fla., March 8, Cisco announced a $150 million fund to invest in efforts by others to use Spark APIs to create custom apps and integration tools. Called the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, the money will go to everything from direct investments and joint development to developer support and incubation of ideas, according to company officials.

The investment fund comes three months after Cisco expanded Spark's capabilities by making it a platform that delivers unified communications (UC) services via the cloud. Park of that effort was creating a developer community around the platform, called Cisco Spark for Developers.

The new $150 million fund is part of a larger push Cisco is making this week around Spark, which was first introduced in 2014 as a mobile communications app code-named Project Squared, bringing consumerlike ease to enterprise collaboration and communications.

Also at the Enterprise Connect show, Cisco announced that the Spark service—which comprises messaging, meeting and call services and is hosted on the Cisco Cloud—is now available in the United States, and that the company is working with a variety of partners, including Verizon, Dimension Data, West Unified Communications Services and IntelePeer, to create services based on Spark.

Verizon Enterprise Solutions will deliver Spark to customers as part of a range of collaboration options the service provider will offer, Cisco officials said. Verizon will integrate Spark Message and Spark Meet features into its business collaboration services.

Service providers are an important part of Cisco's cloud strategy, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the company's Collaboration, Data Analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) groups.

"As we bring Cisco Spark and other SaaS [software-as-a-service] solutions to market, we will team with our global service providers to jointly develop, sell and market," Trollope said in a statement. "This unique SaaS model is not about service providers simply reselling Cisco Spark, but about joint innovation and shared business outcomes."

Cisco officials also have plans to use "bots"—which they define as software that can fetch information—in Spark. The first instance will be bots that can be asked a question and then find and retrieve the answer, they said.

In addition, the company announced it is buying Synata, a company that is developing technology that can search highly encrypted data in the cloud. Cisco plans to integrate the technology into Spark to enhance the platform's existing search capabilities and enable users to more quickly and securely find the information they need, according to officials.

"While we have recently released secure search in Cisco Spark, we've always envisioned it being even better," Trollope said in a post on the company blog. "Advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence are making it possible for computers to predict what you want almost before you know it yourself. That's what we want for Cisco Spark. We want it to be like that good friend who can finish your sentences. Super-fast. Almost uncannily accurate. Some said we couldn't have it both ways. Super-secure, they said, means super-difficult to search."

Synata's technology enables users to search both on-premises and cloud-based applications at the same time from a single platform, and will work with Spark's encryption approach in the cloud. Synata's engineers have been added to the Spark business, he wrote.