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Cisco Spark: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Posted by Phil Birmingham on 8/31/17 12:09 PM

Cisco has guided the remote working revolution since its market entry in 2014 with “Project Squared”. They reinvented team messaging and created the first cloud-based collaboration tools. Their toolkit was directly in need of some unification, though.

Enter: Cisco Spark, a tool with screen-sharing capabilities, whiteboards, video conferencing displays, and voice tools. Spark is Cisco’s response to chief competitor Slack, but has it won competitive advantage?

The Basics

Cisco Spark is a free tool that works across devices and operating systems. It gives you unlimited contacts and an intuitive enough interface to make tutorials unnecessary. As with most free tools using the “Freemium” model, the deeper you go, the more expensive it becomes. WebEx integration, for example, must be paid for. Spark also lacks easy file sharing. Documents must be attached rather than shared, so two or more users cannot collaborate on the same document. Its browser version doesn’t support video calls, so users are limited to Windows or iOS.

The tool entered the market to fill an invented need, but it’s proven itself useful enough to justify its place. It’s adequate for its general niche, but its approach to UC and CPaaS overlap has been somewhat presumptuous. The vast majority of UC clients connect through XMPP or SIP, so its session-oriented model can create shoddy connections, particularly for mobile users.

APIs and Search Capabilities

REST APIs are used for Spark so that users can seamlessly switch between video collaboration, voice, call, and conferencing. UC applications are more reliable with Cisco Jabber, but Cisco was still left without an adequate search tool for encrypted data. The conferencing behemoth released a secure search tool, but it hopes to speed it up and improve its accuracy. For this purpose, it has bought Synata. This integration will provide rapid search of encrypted data, essentially allowing you to “search what you cannot see.”


Cisco Spark has chosen to host with DevOps, another innovative choice that might involve daily updates. This methodology is being embraced by a number of competitors who frequently use an API model to boot. This begs the question of whether Spark has retained its leadership title after having been on the market for a few years. Slack certainly hasn’t become specialized enough to compete among serious users, but niche service providers in the sector can offer a better-tailored solution for bespoke cloud collaboration. When Spark is set beside more personalized tools, the picture becomes a little muddier. Large enterprises and niche businesses are likely to prefer customized cloud collaboration.


Spark’s open APIs let users integrate with third party solutions, so existing business systems and interfaces can be connected to it. This app-centric approach lets companies buy monthly services until they have their ultimate toolkit. Spark merely acts as the hub for the platform. Without a premium WebEx account, however, its video conferencing tools are unlikely to satisfy.

Spark was supposed to offer the first fully digitized conference room, and it fulfills this goal better than any other free tool. The paid version with WebEx integration rounds out the suite, and with the continuous development, and some additional improvements around file sharing and collaborative documents, things can only get better. 

[VIDEO] Cisco Spark Keeps OneRepublic Connected

[VIDEO] Associated Builders & Contractors (ABC) in Syracuse 


Add a little SPARK to your meetings   We have a whole breakout session devoted to SPARK at SightLine 2017! Our  collaboration expert, Scott Dion, will demo the SPARK Board, the new SPARK Room  kit options, as well as different subscription models.  Learn More 

Topics: Collaboration

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the author

Phil Birmingham

Phil is the Collaboration Practice Director at Annese and leads a team of highly trained and well certified Solutions Architects and Systems Engineers. In this role, he focuses on the quality of customer experiences and team profitability. In his previous life, Phil was a Radar Systems Engineer with a focus on missile fire control systems, and surveillance systems placed along the Arctic circle. He enjoys wood working and fishing in his free time. Phil is based in Albany, NY.

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