5 Days in the Desert: Cisco Live 2016 – Las Vegas

July 25, 2016 Collaboration

Cisco Live is Cisco’s premier engineering conference which I had the opportunity to attend this year. This annual meeting attracts engineers from all over the world with over 28,000 people attending this year’s conference in Las Vegas. The 5-day conference focuses on providing technical engineering briefings with a healthy dose of labs. As expected, Cisco did an excellent job this year of addressing important trends in the ever changing Collaboration environment.

Significant highlights included several sessions focused on Microsoft interoperability. This addresses the move of many businesses to O365 and the popularity of Skype for Business as more and more customers are expecting video along with voice communications. Cisco illustrated their enhanced their portfolio which significantly aims towards an improved user experience. Furthermore, security continues to be an important concern industry wide. As such, there were naturally a number of sessions focused on improving security across the Cisco Collaboration architecture. Finally, cloud applications and collaboration as a service are becoming more prevalent. Cisco focused on communicating their expanded Spark cloud and hybrid offerings – demonstrating their clear focus on delivering a unified solution that integrated with other applications and services.

The Microsoft interoperability and Acano (one of their most recent acquisitions) sessions proved to be a good reflection of Cisco’s commitment to working with Skype for Business. It’s great to see that Cisco is committed to making it work with their Unified Communications platforms, especially given that Skype for Business in so popular. Acano can seamlessly integrate with both Microsoft and Cisco for a positive user experience that was somewhat lacking in the past. The integration is also much less burdensome on the technical side. In addition to the Acano emphasis, the sessions dived into the existing Microsoft to Cisco integration strategies in detail. There were also a few hints of a significant Apple integration that would be announced soon.

The video breakout sessions surrounding room design and upcoming improvements also proved to be beneficial and exciting. Most know that video room design is critical to the success of the video experience. If things like field of view are not fully taken into account, participants can be left out or cut off. There are also other key factors to consider when dealing with multiple screens. Cisco has updated their www.projectworkplace.com to add more value in designing rooms, so that all the features needed for an optimal experience are included. New features like Presenter Track improve the utility of existing rooms. This allows a camera to be added to the back of an existing or new conference room. This new camera is used to track the presenter, and can be automated so that it activates when the speaker enters an assigned area, or handled manually. This is an ideal setup for lectures or collaborative white board sessions. During dialog between the presenter and the audience, both are shown at the same time. Cisco also demonstrated another great feature that will help the end user experience – room feature control. Many conference rooms include both Cisco video controls and audio visual room controls that control functionality such as lowering blinds, adjusting lights, and controlling video and audio input and output. Cisco has updated the Touch 10 panel so that it is now able to control these features. This removes the need for two screens and minimizes the complexity for end-users. Furthermore, these controls are added with an intuitive drag and drop interface. Also, Cisco Proximity was displayed. This is a new feature which uses ultrasonic sound to connect mobile devices to the video units, making it easy to use mobile devices to interact with room systems. Proximity allows calling, viewing content, looking at previous slides, and even taking snapshots.

Security is a critical underlying area of concern that permeates all areas, including Collaboration. Multiple sessions addressed the need to consider voice security in light of advances in security models, as well as emphasizing the need to address traditional areas. Naturally, new security innovations and their impact on collaboration were reviewed. For instance, using ISE (Identity Services Engine) to assign devices to SGT (Security Group Tags) in the TrustSec model impacts the way collaboration devices can communicate. Thus, the relationships and communication paths needed for successful IP communication need to be considered when rolling out TrustSec.

Even though there was already a great deal of built in security in the Cisco collaboration portfolio, Cisco announced that the Cisco Communication Manager 8.5, and router IOS 15.2, security by default was enabled. This means that security is in place out of the box with no additional configuration needed. During the conference additional security measures were addressed such as: using NetFlow and StealthWatch to alert and react to suspicious activity, reviewing call detail records to look for toll fraud, controlling enabled protocols and services, using Prime Collaboration Assurance to track software versions, using account monitoring and control, using best practice dial plan configuration, and using encryption; all of which were all discussed in detail. Furthermore, the newer releases of Communications Manager have enhancements like increased key length, and Elliptical Curve Encryption.

Last but not least, Cisco Spark was highlighted throughout multiple sessions as it’s currently the center piece of Cisco’s cloud collaboration strategy. Spark provides persistent virtual meeting rooms, which are key to supplementing what Jabber and WebEx currently provide. The use of web application integrations and Rest APIs allows Spark to be custom tailored to fit the customer’s needs. Spark Hybrid features like calendaring, call aware, and call connect expand the capabilities of on premise systems, Spark Calendaring allows meetings and rooms to be created as easily as adding @webex or @spark to an email. Spark call aware and call connect allow Spark clients to be used in conjunction with on premise collaboration systems, and to provide enhanced single number reach capability. Calls can even be moved from the client to video units with a single swipe on the client thanks to Intelligent Proximity. Additionally, Spark was highlighted in the DevNet zone, and in the DevNet training.

After 5 days of updates, networking, labs, and general briefings, I’m excited to see all of the announcements come to full fruition as Cisco continues to reinvest into their existing technology and expand their offerings.

curtis-stabler-1

Curtis brings over 25 years of collaboration experience to ABS. As the Collaboration Team Manager, Curtis works to ensure that ABS is consistently providing the latest collaboration technology and support to ABS clients.