Cisco Spark Hybrid Calling Improvements:
Hello fellow Collaboration enthusiasts, if you landed here looking for Cisco Live 2018 scoops, please skip ahead to the sections below, we’re starting this blog with an update on Cisco Spark Hybrid Calling!
Was your first experience with Cisco Spark Hybrid Calling not so great? Like many new and trend-setting products, when Cisco Spark Hybrid Call Services became available a couple of years ago now, it had an inauspicious start. There were several issues at play. Let’s be fair though, the complications of getting on-premise IP Telephony systems to play nice through the cloud to bridge in mobile devices and people are plentiful.
As a refresher for those not familiar with Cisco Spark: Spark is a cloud-based business communications service that enables users to message, meet and call anyone whether on their mobile devices, desktops, or meeting room endpoints. The beauty of this is that it all takes place in the cloud and is accessible at any point in time. Also, all data is encrypted, so it chills out your security folks too. Think Slack or HipChat or even Microsoft’s Teams, except in the humble opinion of this author, way better because it combines voice and video, and does it very well.
Spark Hybrid Call Service is an optional feature of the Spark service and allows you to connect clients’ existing on-premises collaboration systems with all Spark communication features. Or, for you fellow Cisco UC Administrators out there, with the Spark Hybrid Call Service, customers can integrate their Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM) or Cisco Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS) deployments with Cisco Spark.
So, in a scenario where you have CUCM and Cisco IP Phones on your desk and you also use Cisco Spark for Team Messaging, if someone calls your direct extension/office phone it would simultaneously ring on your Cisco Spark app, whether it’s the desktop app (Windows/Mac) or your mobile device app (IOS, Android). This adds nice mobility, especially if you run the Spark app on your mobile phone. It allows you to get important calls while on the go.
Now, the issues that happened when we first implemented and tested it here at Byteworks a couple years back were complex. We wanted to test it alongside Cisco Jabber, as we still have a LOT of clients who are still using and enjoying the many features it offers. We also had additional products running like UCCX (Unified Contact Center Express) with Cisco FInesse, Cisco SocialMiner and Cisco MediaSense, which we used for Call Recording and Video Voicemail. We also had the majority of our test users configured with a feature of CUCM called Single Number Reach (SNR), which is a feature that allows your cell phone to ring when you get a call at your office desk phone, and transfer calls between your cell phone and your desk phone seamlessly. You can put a call on hold on your desk phone and pick it up on your cell phone, as well as the reverse order.
We also have many users who use Jabber or regular IP Phones at home or remotely, either through Cisco MRA (Mobile and Remote Access via Cisco Expressway), Cisco ASA VPN Phone setups, or even some behind Meraki Z1 Hardware VPN tunnels. Many of these users used additional capabilities, like tethering their Jabber Client in “Deskphone” mode, so that they controlled their physical desk phones with their Jabber application, for call management and features such as click-to-call from Outlook and others. Lastly, we also had some users configured with Cisco Extend and Connect, which is a feature that is like SNR, except extends office bound calls to home land-lines instead. A lot of moving parts.
We of course suspected conflicts with these features and applications, but we wanted to get real-world results of what would happen if this was rolled out in environments like we see with our clients, and particularly to see the interaction with Jabber, as we use it heavily internally as well, so we went full steam ahead. It’s important to understand what’s happening under the hood with all these applications. For features like SNR and Extend and Connect, which uses CTI (Computer-Telephony Integration) and then multiple devices like Jabber for iPhone or Android, for Desktop, and then regular physical phones. Add to that all the comms flows in and out of the Cisco Expressway, through firewalls and such. As you would imagine, there are a bunch of call flows and various IP Comms that have to happen for all that magic to work. A lot of places for something to break and/or not play nice with competing features.
So, when we added Spark Hybrid calling on top of all of this, it wasn’t pretty at first. After testing the first call inbound to our Office DID (Direct-Inward Dialed, aka, our external, full office number including area code and exchange), it started ringing the desk phone, Spark App, Jabber, then SNR… And once you answered on Spark, it remained ringing on Jabber. If you answered via SNR, it would also still ring Spark and/or Jabber (sometimes both). In a scenario on a cell phone where you were running Spark, Jabber and had SNR setup, it was absolutely crazy. Even after you answered on one of the choices it would continue to ring on the other applications. On top of that, we saw additional weird things happen with the call flows between MediaSense, Unity Connection and the remote devices.. All in all, it was not workable to start.
So, our next steps were to remove all these extra features and use Spark Hybrid calling without SNR, and Jabber and all the rest running. In these scenarios it worked better, but we still saw many flaky behaviors. Most of these centered around general stability, inconsistent caller-ids, and lack of features such as moving calls between Spark endpoints and on-premise telephony endpoints.
The end result of our initial foray into Spark Hybrid Calling, was that it was simply not ready for Production environments, especially those that had other conflicting features and services running as we’ve mentioned. For greenfield installs we found a good fit with the BE4K (Business Edition 4000) combined with Cisco Spark and WebEx. These were for smaller clients that were less than 200 total phones, and this combination proved nice. You have the benefits of an on-premise phone system for IP Phone registration and PSTN termination, combined with the “Meraki-like” cloud management and the benefits of the Spark cloud for messaging and video use, specifically room video codecs registered to the cloud. This solution has been a real good one in our experience for the right, smaller environments.
For larger environments we’ve done a lot of combinations of BE6K (Business Edition 6000) combined with Cisco Spark and WebEx, without going full hybrid, and of course we’ve also had the typical total on-premise scenarios that would include on-premise Cisco Meeting Server, TMS, Cisco Jabber, etc., and the only “hybrid-cloud” piece added would be MRA for remote teleworkers and Jabber devices via Cisco Expressway. The designs were consistently excluding any Spark Hybrid Calling, because of the various testing and issues previously mentioned.
The good news is that we just completed some new rounds of testing, and Cisco has addressed almost all of the major issues we saw previously. In environments with SNR, MediaSense, and Jabber running we’ve now got Spark Hybrid Calling enabled and the experience is exponentially better. We are no longer seeing the issues with multiple devices ringing without stopping, even after answering the call. It’s now designed so that if someone calls your desk DID, and you have Jabber running, it will not try and ring your Spark device at the same time. It’s now smart enough to see you’re signed into Jabber. This greatly helps the environments that choose to run/use both applications or for those in transition from one to the other.
We are also no longer seeing all the stability issues in general, and the issues related to MediaSense, that resulted in what we’d call “ghost calls” occurring in some scenarios shortly after Spark Hybrid calls were used. Better still, the issues we saw previously around caller-id (Spark Hybrid calls were passing source/destination IP Addresses instead of actual numbers as caller-ID), and inconsistent ANI in general. Lastly, there is now ways that you can answer a call that rolled to your Spark device, and move it back or merge it to your on-premise device, something that was not working previously at all.
So, we’ll be testing more over the next several weeks, but all in all, the new improvements are great and really start to bring the advantages of Cisco Spark full circle.
The Ultimate Collaboration Tool
Now that Spark Hybrid Calling is getting all the initial bugs/hurdles worked through, it enables those who use the toolsets some awesome flexibility. Spark Hybrid Call Service really allows you to use the best of cloud and on-prem — presuming it’s deployed in the best way possible. In order to do that, remember these design goals:
- Use on-premises collaboration for guaranteed quality and for complicated phone setups. The cloud is not good at accommodating every little complicated configuration.
- Use the Spark cloud for mobile devices and soft clients. This way you can benefit best from its “always-on” nature.
- Even for those environments that are heavy Jabber users and want to keep them around, you can now still enjoy other benefits of a Hybrid Collaboration approach.
These improvements are allowing us all to enjoy the full potential of Spark Hybrid Call Service.
Cisco Live 2018 Scoop
And it’s that time of year again! Cisco Live 2018, aka “Geek’s Summer Camp” is just around the corner, and once again, Byteworks will be there learning all the latest and greatest about Cisco Collaboration and all the other technology verticals us Engineers and IT clients are so passionate about! The conference is in Orlando again, after having been in Las Vegas the last couple of years. The last Cisco Live in Orlando was an epic one (who can forget that performance by Journey!) and we’re expecting an even bigger and amazing experience there this year. While the multi-stage star-studded music line-up for the Customer Appreciation Event has not yet been announced, there are some scoops that we now know are confirmed, so here’s what we know so far:
The Customer Appreciation Event will be located in Universal Studios, like it was last time, except this year, Cisco has reserved the entire Universal Studios Florida theme park, solely for CLUS attendees! On June 13th, from 7:30 PM to 11:30 PM, attendees will have exclusive access to the theme park. Yep, unlimited rides, including:
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride -3D
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts™
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit ™
- Revenge of the Mummy ™
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem™
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
If that’s not enough, attendees will also have free access to Universal’s Islands of Adventure ™ theme park starting at 6:00 PM. There will be regular, non-CLUS visitors to this park.
2018 Cisco Live Keynote Speakers:
The closing keynote speakers this year are pretty awesome, especially if you’re a futurist. The speakers are:
- Dr. Michio Kaku (twitter, wikipedia) a theoretical physicist and futurist
- Amy Webb (twitter, wikipedia) a futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute.
We always enjoy the closing keynotes, because they typically give meaning to the whole conference. Specifically, the meaning we find when we search within ourselves why it is that we are in technology, why we do what we do, and why we’re so passionate about it. It’s one thing to be technical and trying to advance technical tools to further the success of our business goals, but it’s another thing entirely to understand the meaning we find in doing our part to use technology to advance the human race into the future, and Cisco’s done a good job of selecting speakers who are very adept at revealing that meaning to each of us, and this year is certainly no exception!
Dr. Kaku has a new book titled “The Future of Humanity” which deals with the possibility of man expanding into other reaches of our solar system.
Amy Webb is an American futurist and author. She is the founder of the Future Today Institute. She is an Adjunct Professor (future of technology) at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
2018 Cisco Live Social Responsibility Event:
Cisco Live will offer a couple options for attendee participation of social responsibility efforts. The first will be:
- Build a pi-top onsite. Pi-top is a build-it yourself laptop powered by the Raspberry Pi. Pi-top is an award winning ecosystem designed to make experimenting, coding and building electronics simple, affordable and fun!
- 500 laptops will be available for assembly onsite during the week of Cisco Live.
- After the event, the 500 units will be donated to NetAcad schools in Florida.
These are DIY modular laptops with sliding keyboards, fostering STEAM education and all components inspire children students to create!
2018 Cisco Live Mobile App Updates:
Find My Friends feature is here! Find My Friends allows you to create groups and share your location with friends while connected to the CiscoLive2018 WiFi network. It leverages the power of Connected Mobile Experiences (CMX) to show the location of a group of friends while at Cisco Live. The app is scheduled to launch on June 4th, so be looking out for it! While the App has had floor maps and such for the last couple of years, this will be a welcome addition, especially during the initial World of Solutions grand opening when everyone will be rushing in to see all the awesome booths and displays.
2018 Cisco Live Pre-Event Contests:
- Registration Sweepstakes
- Participants indicated they registered on Facebook for a chance to win a photo opportunity with the Guest Keynote speaker. (Post must be public for us to know they entered and leave the post through the end of the conference.)
- Participants indicate they registered on Twitter for a chance to win a photo opp with the CAE performer. Multiple entry posts allowed
- Facebook Caption Contest
- Starting 16 April, 5 weeks of fun opportunities to add captions to the weekly photos for the chance to win prizes
The onsite contests are still in development but Cisco will again offer the following:
- #CLUS SuperPhoto – It’s a fun and easy way to highlight the great attendee shares. By simply attaching the event hashtag, attendees enter to win for daily prizes
- Tweetup Retweet – Starting at the Sunday tweetup, we will have Cisco Live tweets with prizes for a designated retweet number. Be the X number to retweet and you’re the winner.
- Cape Contest – We love acknowledging our tweeters that share high quality content. We select daily winners based on the quality of content shared on the daily topic.
- Best Remote Attendee – It’s never fun if you have to stay at home and miss out on the #CLUS fun. Rewarding and engaging the remote attendees is high on the social media team’s list of priorities. We want to share the #CLUS excitement as best we can with those who don’t have the opportunity to be with us at the venue. We will be acknowledging our best daily remote attendees
- Leaderboard – We always like highlighting our attendee updates and our big contributors on the Leaderboard.
Additional Information about the Cisco Live Social Media Hub contests can be found here. We will be posting information soon (Early April) on the Musical performers for Cisco Live 2018, so stayed tuned for that update!
How to Register for Cisco Live 2018:
If you’ve not yet registered for Cisco Live 2018, hurry because the 1st early bird discounts end on March 7th. Click here to register for Cisco Live 2018! Click here to see general information about this year’s Cisco Live.
Cisco Champions 2018:
Last, but not least, we’re proud to announce, that for the third year in a row, Byteworks’ engineers are represented among a select group of industry peers as a part of the Cisco Champion’s program. Cisco Champions are regarded as experts in Cisco products and technologies by their peers and actively share their knowledge, expertise, and thoughts in technical forums, communities, user groups, social media and speaking engagements across the social web, IRL and with Cisco. The program has been running for more than 4 years and each year open nominations are held to find and select the best candidates from around the world. We’re pleased to be once again representing our company, our region, and our industry among the best of the best and we’ll continue dedicating our energy and commitment to bringing the best technical tools and expertise to our many, multi-vertical clients.