Cisco Spark Poised to Compete with Microsoft Skype for Business
By Jim Lundy
Cisco unveiled what it has been working on for the last several years—the Cisco Spark platform, which is designed to blend messaging, meetings, and calls into one integrated offering that works seamlessly together.
Cisco Spark started life with its launch in 2014 as a mobile collaboration offering and it does compete against other standalone offerings such as Slack, Unify Circuit, CoTap, Lua, and others. Cisco just went further.
This blog is about why we think Cisco Spark is poised to compete with Microsoft Office 365 and Skype for Business.
Cisco Spark Platform: Going Beyond Jabber
With the new gauntlet of capabilities that Cisco announced, Spark is now a full UCC platform that can be extended via well-tested APIs. Cisco is positioning their offering for messaging, video meetings, and voice calls. The demos they showed were crisp and it included allowing a user to start a meeting on their iPhone, and switch it to a Room System and back again. Enterprise buyers will like the functionality a lot. Cisco’s competitor Microsoft may not.
You see, Cisco has a secret weapon called Jonathan Rosenburg. He developed the SIP protocol a few years back and he left Cisco to work at Skype and was part of that team when Microsoft bought Skype. Jonathan has been back at Cisco for over three years and as CTO of the Cisco Collaboration Group, it is clear that he has played a strong role in the development of Spark.
Cisco Spark: An Alternative to Skype for Business
It isn’t a coincidence that Spark was announced less than a week after Microsoft announced the new edition of Office 365, E5, which includes an expanded version of Skype for Business (see the blog on the E5 pricing surge). Microsoft is still in the process of launching E5 and Skype for Business. Cisco is one of the competitors Microsoft has targeted with the Skype for Business update. With the Cisco Spark announcement this week, the battle just got interesting.
Cisco threw down an interesting challenge during their meetings. They indicated that they are measuring Spark usability every single day and that is what is making the service more popular with users.
This continuous delivery approach means that they are moving fast. This puts them into a good position on innovation versus Microsoft, which also claims to be doing continuous delivery. Microsoft has partners, including Polycom, for voice and video. Cisco has an open platform that will allow others to innovate alongside Spark and Cisco is in the process of buying Acano (see the Aragon First Cut). It all comes down to choice and who can delivery a reliable set of UCC services.
Microsoft Skype for Business and Office 365 E5 License
What you may have missed is Microsoft’s recent announcement of its E5 configuration of Office 365. With E5, Microsoft is betting it can convince your IT department to make Microsoft become your business conference calling and PSTN calling service.
E5 includes a price increase over the E4 license it replaces. Office 365 costs U.S. $35.00 per user per month. Note: To do more than conference calling in E5, you will need to add the optional PSTN calling option, which adds U.S. $24.00 per user per month to the E5 license.
Cloud Office and Cloud UCC As Battlegrounds
The battle to win the digital workplace is on. Unified Communicaitons and Collaboration (UCC) is really what Spark and Skype for Business represent. As we said last week, delivering great voice with Quality of Service (QoS) and video in the cloud is no easy feat. This is where Cisco has a lead, but Microsoft’s vaunted sales organization will be pushing the upgrade to E5 very hard. This is a war and it is just getting started.
Editor’s Note: Aragon will be publishing its third Aragon Research Globe on Web and Video Conferencing later in December. Cisco and Microsoft are both evaluated in that note.