Cisco Throws Down $150 Million Challenge To Application Developers

Cisco is driving its application development community to build custom apps and integration tools on Cisco Spark by offering a pool of $150 million in financing.

Solution providers hoping to cash in on their developer skills are joining the recently launched Cisco Spark Innovation Fund, which puts up funding for partners to cover direct investments, joint development and additional enhancements and to develop support around the Spark collaboration platform.

Partners say the networking giant's investment in the channel shows that Cisco understands it can't drive innovation alone anymore.

[Related: Cisco Widens Leadership Gap Against Microsoft In Collaboration Space]

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"If you're going to drive innovation, the partners have to be part of that," said Kent MacDonald, vice president of converged infrastructure and network services at Long View Systems, a Calgary, Alberta-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner that is participating in the fund.

"To do innovation with the partners being on the sidelines doesn't scale," said MacDonald. "For me, this is very complementary to the acquisitions of technology, in that they're now investing in the acceleration of all partners to be able to keep pace with the innovation [course] Cisco is on."

Cisco Spark is an end-to-end collaboration solution allowing customers to create virtual rooms with group messaging, content sharing, video calling and desktop sharing on a single platform.

The San Jose, Calif.-based network leader created Spark for Developers in December, through which partners can build custom solutions for customers on an API-centric platform. The platform offers organizations a set of tools to extend and embed cloud collaboration services.

Partners with app development skills can now apply for financing to implement their ideas and start acquiring customers, according to Jason Goecke, general manager of the Tropo Business Unit inside Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group.

"The Spark Innovation Fund is bringing new revenue opportunities for our developers' ecosystem as well as giving them an opportunity to work with Cisco to change how teams are collaborating across the globe," said Goecke, in a video.

Rick Snyder, vice president of Cisco's Americas Partner Organization, said application development skills for Cisco channel partners are going to be "very important" moving forward.

"All the secret sauce in the cloud is going to be orchestration management and the ability to build applications that help run a digital business. … [It's] going to be really important for us in the future," said Snyder in a recent interview with CRN.

Partners say they're either expanding or enhancing their application development practices to better align with Cisco.

"We have developers on staff, but we're expanding that team," said Chris Bottger, senior vice president of collaboration services at IVCi, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner that is participating in the Spark fund. "We have been evolving our business. We saw this coming and the good thing about Cisco is they tell you where they're going and what they're doing, so you can plan your business and make sure you cross over in the right point in time."

Cisco unveiled Spark in 2014 as a messaging-centric application. The networking giant overhauled the application in late 2015 making it a complete end-to-end collaboration solution.

Cisco is now working with a variety of technology partners including Dimension Data, Verizon, West Unified Communications Services and IntelePeer to create services based on Spark. For example, Cisco says, Verizon will integrate Spark Message and Spark Meet features into its business collaboration services.

"They're encouraging all these people to develop around their platform to make Spark a much more richer -- and as [Cisco] says, 'magical' -- experience for the user," said Bottger.