by Josh Fruhlinger, ITworld

Six Crucial Tech Companies You’ve Never Heard Of

Sep 23, 20116 mins
IT StrategyOutsourcing

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

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. This article doesn’t pretend to offer a comprehensive list of such corporations, but 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. Pictured: You’ve almost certainly come into contact with code written at this Tata Consultancy office in Hyderabad, India.



For most electronic equipment, the brand on the device is not necessarily the name of the company that owns the factory where it was put together. Singapore-based Flextronics is a good example. You don’t own anything with a “Flextronics” label on it, 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 made it possible for software giant Microsoft to put out hardware like the Zune and the XBox, and they were intimately enough involved in the iPad manufacturing supply chain that one of their directors was able to sell insider secrets about Apple’s plans to hedge funds. They probably didn’t make your toilet or your breakfast cereal, but you can’t be too sure. Pictured: Flextronics execs pose with Mexican President Felipe Calderón. Mexico is one of 30 countries where Flextronics maintains a manufacturing presence.


Ever since the U.S. government broke up AT&T’s telecom monopoly, the company has been reassembling itself, like bits of liquid metal coming together to reform the T-1000 in “Terminator 2.” Much of the country’s local landline service is now provided by a reconstituted AT&T, while in the Northeast that role is filled by Verizon. It’s easy to forget about Qwest, formerly US West, which takes the Rockies as its territory. But even people who can smugly name all the Baby Bells (remember Nynex? Good times!) may not know that, while the Qwest brand name survives in many markets, it no longer exists as an independent company. In April 2010, it was acquired by CenturyTel, which was descended from a tiny Louisiana local exchange. Qwest was only the last of a series of telecom companies it had swallowed up over the years; now calling itself CenturyLink, it’s the third- largest telecommunications company in the country. CenturyLink has over $7 billion in annual revenue, and is still based in Louisiana. Pictured: Monroe, La., now has its own little chunk of Ma Bell’s corpse.



Equinix has littered the landscape with dozens of low-key data centers, colocation facilities and “Equinix Internet exchanges.” The latter route traffic among more than 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% 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-1990s sci-fi story set in a corporate-ruled future dystopia. Equinix reported nearly $900 million in revenue and more than 1,900 employees in 2009. Pictured: Who even knows what’s happening inside this mysterious data center?

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% of Australian customers. Your cellphone carrier would like you to blame them when you drop a call. Pictured: This rural eyesore provides delicious mobile connectivity to rural Britain, courtesy of Crown Castle.


Science Applications International Corporation

Selling computers, software and services to individuals or even companies can be something of a chore, because eventually there’s not enough money to buy even the most coveted stuff. But over the last 10 years, the various U.S. defense, law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been eager to spend on high tech — which explains Science Applications International Corporation’s $10 billion in 2009 revenues. SAIC makes 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 a number of whistleblowers revealed dubious spending and purposes. Or just plain failed ones, like the Virtual Case File program for the FBI that cost $170 million and was abandoned unfinished. Pictured: We assume no more crackpot and/or money-wasting projects are going on behind those mirrored windows.

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. Pictured: Tata Consultancy Services CEO N. Chandrasekaran.

Read Josh Fruhlinger’s As It Happens blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jfruh_itworld.