Cisco's Trollope: Collaboration Innovation Engine Is 'On Fire' With New Spark Flex Plan, Application Marketplace

Cisco Systems' collaboration leader, Rowan Trollope, believes channel partners should be "walking away" with the communications and collaboration market as the networking giant laid out a new plan and tools for partners that includes a new subscription licensing model and application marketplace for Cisco Spark.

"We already have the products that are far and away the best products in the industry. We're way ahead of every single competitor -- there really isn't a competitor --- so you guys should be walking away with this market right now," said Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's IoT and Collaboration Technology Group, on stage during Cisco Partner Summit in San Francisco.

To ramp up channel collaboration sales and help partners more easily transition customers to the cloud, San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco unveiled three tools partners can take to market – including the Cisco Spark Flex Plan.

[Related: 5 New Offerings From Cisco Partner Summit That Solution Providers Should Have On Their Radar]

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In a single contract that starts as low as $21 per user, per month, the software subscription Spark Flex Plan lets organizations choose a mix of on-premise and cloud-based services that they can change at any time without additional costs.

"We wanted to introduce a new revolutionary way to buy our collaboration products so that we could totally change the collaboration industry," said Trollope, referring to the Spark Flex Plan. "The plan is a single per-user, per-month subscription which gives you access -- not only to Spark and all the cool technology we have in the cloud -- but everything we have in our premises-based portfolio on a per-user, per-month basis. Which means that when you sell your customer this, they can be licensed for all of their existing Cisco kit – as much premise stuff as they want to use, per-user, per-month, we license it to them."

For meetings, the plan includes cloud-based Cisco Spark Meetings, WebEx, Jabber or the on-premise Cisco Meeting Server. For calls, customers can either choose Cisco Spark call or the company's Unified Communications Manager-based options.

As customers move their collaboration offerings to the cloud, they can be licensed under the plan for that as well – giving businesses room to adjust how much they want to rely on the cloud, according to Trollope. "Premises and cloud – one license, one price, per user, per month as low as $21," he said.

Chris Bottger, chief technology officer at IVCi, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based solution provider and Cisco Gold partner, ranked No. 234 on CRN's 2016 Solution Provider 500 list, said the plan allows customers to easily keep the license when they migrate to the cloud without additional costs or needing a new contract.

"What they're trying to do is give everybody entitlement to everything, and that's fine if you've got on-premise infrastructure because if you need for it to go to the cloud, that license will allow you to go to the cloud with that same license as well," said Bottger.

Cisco also unveiled the Cisco Spark Depot platform at Partner Summit. The platform is a marketplace for all of the applications and integration that other vendors have built on top of Cisco Spark. Partners can find and sell the different third-party applications that have been integrated within the Spark platform.

There are already more than 60 platforms integrated with the Spark platform -- including Salesforce, Microsoft Office 365 Twitter and Google Calendar.

"Basically we've integrated with every major platform that counts and more. So they are all available directly in Spark at," said Trollope. "So as you sell Spark to your customers, it can plug in natively and naturally into their existing business processes and all the tools they use."

IVCi's Bottger said the Cisco Spark Depot marketplace is a "huge opportunity" for partners to drive Spark sales and stickiness with customers.

"Now partners have got a huge platform that you can get very, very sticky with so that once you're embedded into that customer, it gives partners the opportunity to get into the customer's workflow, and once you're in there, it becomes very sticky," said Bottger. "So you can build those collaboration tools directly into the tools that customers already use today. … It's a great play for partners, without a doubt."

Cisco also launched Hybrid Media Services at Partner Summit, which gives customers the option of deploying Cisco Spark meetings on-premise, in the cloud or both at the same time. The service automatically determines the best way to deliver the meeting for each user – on-premise, if the users are local, or from the cloud.

Trollope said the service -- which can be installed and set up in minutes -- improves the quality of audio and video, keeps media on-premise for privacy, and lowers internet bandwidth costs.

"The innovation machine is on fire now in collaboration," said Trollope. "What we're doing in the collaboration business and what we're going to continue to do is make our products more and more available, more affordable, and do more things."