Cisco Re-brands Project Squared Collaboration Effort as Spark

With the new name, Cisco officials also are bringing more enterprise-level security and management capabilities to the offering.

Cisco Spark

Cisco Systems' Project Squared collaboration and communications effort is being re-branded as Cisco Spark.

Speaking March 17 at the Enterprise Connect 2015 show in Orlando, Fla., Rowan Trollope, senior vice president of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group announced the name change as well as several improvements to the offering. These include easier administration, greater control over who can participate in an online meeting, greater calendar integration and a new Windows client.

The enhancements resulted from feedback from customers that had been using Project Squared, which was first announced in November 2014.

"We knew in order to bring the experience everywhere, we needed to simplify the experience as much as possible," Ross Daniels, director of marketing at Cisco, told eWEEK.

Project Squared was meant as Cisco’s way of shoring up its own collaboration offerings, such as WebEx, and pushing back on consumer services, such as Microsoft's Skype. Project Squared—now Spark—is designed to offer consumer-level ease of use coupled with enterprise-class security, manageability and support, according to Daniels.

It comes at a time of rapid change in the workplace, with more employees working from the road or remote locations and on their own many and varied devices. In addition, employees are working on multiple projects simultaneously, and they are demanding the ability to collaborate with anyone at anytime from anywhere and on any device they choose. Speed and agility are becoming increasingly important in the collaboration space.

Cisco officials have said that collaboration is an important business for the networking giant. During the latest financial quarter, the company announced that its collaboration business generated $990 million in revenue—a 10 percent increase over the same period the year before—and that it now accounts for 8 percent of all Cisco revenues.

The company over the past several years has been working to revamp its communications offerings to make them more responsive to changing customer needs. During a conference call last month to talk about the quarterly financial numbers, CEO John Chambers said he was encouraged by the performance of Cisco's collaboration business.

"Last quarter, we boldly stated our intention is to lead in the next generation of collaboration and become the number one collaboration player," Chambers said. "After a complete portfolio refresh and four quarters of decline, we made very good progress this quarter with growth of 10 percent."

The new enhancements give users greater control over who invites—or removes—others in a collaboration room, Daniels said. The ability to essentially lock rooms adds another layer of security to online collaboration and differentiates commercial and consumer services.

"One of the differentiators is taking into account business concerns," he said. "If you're using a more consumer-focused product, something like this is missing."

Administration is made easier by greater calendar integration which enables users to create a Cisco Spark room from a calendar invitation. Participants in the meeting can share content before, during and after the meeting. In addition, administrators can create single sign-on and directory sync, allow role-based access and get usage reports.

A new Windows client offers faster access to content on desktops, and now Firefox users can share video and computer screens without the need of a plugin. Cisco also is expanding the languages Spark can support, ranging from English, French and German to Danish, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Turkish.

Cisco is offering users a free look at some Spark features, including one-on-one and group messaging; file sharing; video calling, and meetings with screen sharing in rooms with up to three participants. The free features also include mobile calendar and contacts integration, online self-service and complete content encryption.

There also are subscriptions to Spark. Cisco Spark Message includes all the free features as well as room moderation, single sign-on, directory sync and live support. Such services offer greater security and manageability, according to Daniels.

Cisco Spark Message and Meet also includes meetings in rooms with up to 25 participants [for] users of WebEx Meeting Center or Enterprise Edition.

At the show, Cisco officials also announced several companies that have adopted Spark, including Telstra, the top Australian telecommunications company. Telstra is using Spark as the foundation of its collaboration efforts. Other customers include Loggoss, a service provider based in both China and Spain.