The 6 Biggest Tech Companies You've (Probably ) Never Heard Of

Behind the headlines, these firms help form the foundation of the IT industry.

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In the world of tech news, there are certain number of players that dominate the headlines.  Apple! Microsoft! Dell! Oracle!  IBM! Facebook!  And yet the world of the tech business is much deeper than this, and there are many companies that employ thousands and make billions and yet don't have much of a profile among even the tech-savvy observers.

The six companies profiled here do serve as a stand-in for the kind of below-the-radar firms that any tech observer should know more about.  They aren't consumer focused; they aren't flashy or led by charismatic visionaries; they sell to people who sell to people who sell to you; and the modern world wouldn't work right without them.

Flextronics execs pose with Mexican President Felipe Calderón

We're all aware that, for most electronic equipment, the name brand on the device is not necessarily the name of company that owns the factory where it was assembled -- in fact, there are almost certainly multiple factories, owned by multiple companies, responsible for your latest gizmo.  Take Singapore-based Flextronics, for example.  You don't own anything with a "Flextronics" label, but the company made $24.1 billion in revenue off of any number of gadgets that probably lurk in your house. They have a hand in building inkjets for HP, phones for Motorola, RIM, and Sony Ericsson, power supplies for Dell PCs, and hard drives for Western Digital. They probably didn't make your toilet or breakfast cereal, but you can't be too sure.

Office building in Monroe, Louisiana

Nearly three decades ago the U.S. government busted AT&T's telecommunications monopoly, and since that time the company has slowly been reassembling itself. Much of the country's local landline service is now provided by a reconstituted AT&T; in theNortheast, Verizon fills that role. Qwest, formerly US West, takes the Rockies as its territory.

But while the Qwest brand name survives, it is no longer an independent company.  In April 2010, it was acquired by CenturyTel, Inc..  Qwest was the last of a series of telecom companies it had swallowed up over the years; now calling itself CenturyLink, it's the third-largest telecom company in the country.  CenturyLink has over $7 billion in annual revenue, and is still based in Louisiana.

Image of a data center

Equinix has littered the landscape with dozens of data centers, colocation facilities, and "Equinix Internet exchanges." The latter route traffic among over 600 different telecom providers from all over the world; Peter Van Camp, the company's executive chairman, calls them "international airports where passengers from many different airlines make connections to get to their final destinations." The company's also in the cloud business and provides direct access to AWS.  Altogether, something like 90 percent of all Internet traffic passes through Equinix's hands in one way or another, which is unnerving considering "Equinix" sounds like nothing so much as a sinister company from a mid-90s sci-fi story set in a corporate-ruled future dystopia.

Wireless tower in rural area
Crown Castle International

Wireless connectivity might seem like a ubiquitous and intangible product, but it doesn't happen without thousands of tall metal structures festooned with electronics and radio transmitter.  The famous companies whose names are plastered all over your credit card bill in many cases can't be bothered with this kind of nuts and bolts stuff, so they turn to infrastructure companies like Crown Castle International.  Crown Castle is based in the U.S. and supplies the wireless backbone in 68 of the 100 largest U.S. cities; elsewhere its even more omnipresent, reaching 92 percent of Australian customers.  Your cell phone carrier would like you to blame them when you drop a call.

The headquarters of Science Applications International Corporation in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego, along the northwest edge of the campus of the University of California
Science Applications International Corporation

Selling computers, software, and services to individuals or even companies can be something of a chore, because people and companies eventually run out of money with which to buy even the most coveted stuff.  But over the last ten years, the various U.S. defense, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies have proved themselves eager to spend on high tech.

SAIC has made plenty of money on perfectly normal projects, like modernizing various Army systems.  But then there are the weird ones, like the Stargate Project, which sought to harness psychic phenomena for military purposes.  Or the mysterious ones, like the Trailblazer Project, a vast NSA data-mining operation that was eventually killed after whistleblowers revealed dubious spending and purposes.

Tata Consultancy Services at Madhapur, Hyderabad
Tata Consultancy Services

The Tata Group is a sprawling business empire, one of India's largest, oldest, and most storied companies.  Tata Consultancy Services began as an in-house computer services division, but quickly started taking in clients from other companies, then other countries.  Today it has more than 200,000 employees -- many of whom are doing the sorts of things you expect out of an Indian outsourcing firm, toiling on software projects for big companies in the West: two recent clients include CUA, a major Australian credit union, and Air Liquide, which provides services to natural gas distributors (see how these "services" firms form staggering worldwide chains of outsourcing?).  Much of the code that runs behind the Websites and businesses you interact with has been built by Tata.