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Comparing Cisco collaboration services: Spark vs. WebEx

With Cisco Spark now on the market, the similarities between the service and WebEx may have stirred some confusion. But the collaboration services have two very different focuses.

When Cisco unveiled Project Squared, now called Spark, last November, some confusion may have set in among users....

Why was Cisco creating a new collaboration service when it already offered WebEx?

While Spark and WebEx share similar features, each platform has its own intended purpose, said Andrew Nilssen, senior analyst at Wainhouse Research. Nilssen said WebEx is all about online, real-time meetings, while Spark is focused on virtualizing a team space.

"Spark is much more of a free flow collaboration environment as opposed to a strictly meeting environment," he said.

The platform, which launched as Cisco Spark at Enterprise Connect in March, offers real-time and asynchronous team collaboration through persistent, continuous meeting rooms that include chat, audio, video and content-sharing tools. Spark can be accessed through a mobile app on iOS and Android as well as a Web browser, and integration includes mobile calendar and contacts, WebEx and the file-sharing service Box.

Cisco Spark can be accessed via Web browser and mobile device
Cisco Spark can be accessed via Web browser and mobile device

Where Spark and WebEx overlap is in conferencing, Nilssen said. Spark does offer video call capabilities, but the number of participants is limited depending on which Spark license is used.

Three licenses are available: A free version offers messaging, file sharing, video calling and screen sharing with up to three participants; Spark Message offers the same features as the free version and adds single sign-on, live support and moderation for $13 per user per month; and Spark Message and Meet supports meetings for up to 25 participants and includes WebEx Meeting Center at $25 per user per month.

Melody Kee, senior group products marketing manager at Cisco, said Spark was driven by bring your own device (BYOD) and how it has transformed the way people work.

In the past, team projects would happen in the office with very few remote or mobile workers. Today, employees are working on smaller, more agile teams and are able to work anywhere, anytime with their mobile devices, Kee said.

If you try to overwhelm one experience with too much functionality, it doesn't get used.
Melody Keesenior group products marketing manager at Cisco

Cisco decided to address this new way of working with a mobile-first, team collaboration application.

"Spark is targeting small project teams that need persistent collaboration capabilities in always-on virtual rooms and do not necessarily need the Web conferencing features WebEx delivers," said Rob Arnold, unified communications and collaboration program manager at Frost & Sullivan.

Creating complementary collaboration services

Kee said Cisco could have taken Spark's features and added them to WebEx, but it would have created a distraction for WebEx users. Instead, Cisco created Spark to address mobile collaboration needs.

"If you try to overwhelm one experience with too much functionality, it doesn't get used," she said. "We're finding that real-time structured meetings with WebEx and quick chats with Spark is really working for many of our customers."

Nilssen said Spark rounds out Cisco's collaboration portfolio with its first mobile-first platform in what he called the team collaboration space.

Spark and WebEx are similar enough that an organization could choose to deploy one over the other, said Arnold. But, the real value is using both platforms and positioning them to best serve certain use cases, he said.

While Spark and WebEx integrate and deeper integration is coming down the pipeline, don't expect Spark to replace WebEx in the future.

Arnold said WebEx is popular for its strong conferencing capabilities, and there are other WebEx offerings like Training Center and Support Center that are designed for collaboration formats that Spark would not be able to replace.

Kee said WebEx offers features that Spark lacks, like recording, participant management and the ability to share an application or document without having to screen share.

"Customers still need WebEx. Spark isn't really created for a large, structured conference," she said.

Next Steps

Cisco expands certification to include collaboration

Cisco study finds multitasking is changing UC and collaboration

Should enterprises migrate to new real-time collaboration services?

Learn more about cloud versions of the Apache Spark framework 

Dig Deeper on Collaborative Applications

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