Melpomene - Fotolia

Cisco reinforces Spark as cloud-based PBX, UC service

About a week after a similar announcement from Microsoft, Cisco has reinvented Spark as a UCaaS offering, targeting small and medium-sized businesses and featuring cloud-based telephony.

Cisco has taken its online collaboration service, called Spark, and turned it into a cloud-based unified communications (UC) system.

Cisco introduced the new Spark Tuesday at the company's Collaboration Summit in San Francisco. Key UC features in the latest version include IP voice and video calling via a cloud-based PBX. In addition, users can make phone calls through the public telephone network.

In essence, Spark has evolved into a UC as a service (UCaaS) product for the small and medium-sized business market, said Bern Elliot, an analyst at Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn. "Cisco is now introducing Spark as a cloud UCaaS offer that includes telephony and team collaboration."

While Cisco would continue hosting Spark in the company's data center, channel partners would handle sales.

Cisco's Spark cloud-based PBX announcement came about a week after Microsoft introduced similar capabilities in Skype for Business. Microsoft is providing a cloud-based PBX with Skype in the premium version of Office 365, the company's productivity and collaboration suite.

Microsoft's service is available today, while Cisco plans to release the latest cloud-based telephony features for Spark in the first quarter of next year.

Other Spark capabilities, announcements

At the event, Cisco also introduced the Spark Phone OS software for the Cisco 8800 and 7800 series IP phones. The operating system (OS) lets users make calls through Spark and join meetings. Companies could continue using the phones on Cisco's traditional telephony platform, Unified Communications Manager.

Cisco also introduced OS software for connecting its SX10 video conferencing system to Spark. SX10 gear lets businesses turn a flat-screen TV into a collaboration system. The SX10 is aimed at small to medium-sized companies.

Other new Spark capabilities included connecting the service to on-premises collaboration systems. The so-called Hybrid Services let Spark automatically add desktop sharing to calls. Spark can also instruct a desktop phone to make a phone call and use a Microsoft Outlook invite to create a Spark meeting room.

For developers, Cisco released a platform that includes tools and APIs for building custom software that uses Spark.

Next Steps

WebEx integration with Spark advances Cisco UC

Collaboration applications faceoff: Microsoft vs. Cisco

Should an IP-PBX system be on premises or cloud-based?

Dig Deeper on IP Telephony Systems