Synchronoss Eyes Innovation after Mobile Boom

Pat Doran and Synchronoss have built their success on the rise of on-the-go technology, but they know that to keep growing, they have to look beyond their past victories

When Pat Doran started working at Synchronoss there were no smartphones and mobility wasn’t the first concern. The computing world was desktop-based, the concept of e-commerce was in its infancy, and tracking  steps, finances, or ordering pizza on a mobile phone was barely a gleam in some tech entrepreneurs’ eyes.

The world and the company have changed dramatically since then. Synchronoss has grown to become a leader in cloud-based solutions and software-based activation of mobile devices. Its customers include most of the major wireless service providers, cable operators, and original equipment manufacturers, meaning that Synchronoss is responsible, in part, for supporting wireless capabilities and services to more than three billion users around the world.

In the not-too-distant future, cloud services will be taken for granted, like flipping a switch and having the lights come on.”

The business began by focusing on provisioning devices and activating services when customers of mobile carriers purchased or updated their devices or services. That has since grown, along with the explosion in mobile devices, features, and capabilities, to include backing up content to the cloud and syncing that content to multiple devices and endpoints. The company has also begun expanding into enterprise software that supports security and management of applications and devices in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) business environment.

Doran notes that the original provisioning and activation business put them in a unique position of being able to anticipate how the mobile industry would develop. Specifically, it was Apple’s iPhone launch in the United States, which Synchronoss supported, that provided a glimpse into the future. “The success of the iPhone was a clear indication that there were tremendous opportunities in providing capabilities to do things on mobile devices that went far beyond simply activating them,” Doran says. “There wasn’t a big market for cloud or mobile applications at the time, but it put us in a position to offer value-added solutions to carriers, which would morph into the mobile ecosystem we know today.”

Working behind the scenes as a white label vendor for the industry’s major players provides Synchronoss the additional advantage of being able to anticipate their needs. For example, as the proliferation of different devices kept growing, the company realized it was essential for carriers to retain customers on their networks even if they switched platforms. To make those transitions as seamless as possible, Synchronoss developed Mobile Content Transfer, which Doran estimates is used in more than 5,000 retail stores every day.

“Mobile Content Transfer is a cloud-based application that moves everything—photos, videos, texts, call logs—from one device to another quickly and easily,” he explains. “That wasn’t possible before without hooking up cables between a phone and a PC or laptop. It’s effortless for users, which helps keep them on our carrier customers’ networks and devices.”

Gearing up for Exponential growth

How did you anticipate the explosion of the mobile market?

Doran: As part of our activation business, we saw the number of devices we were provisioning for our carrier customers and knew we wanted to be involved with these consumers and their devices on more of an ongoing basis. That is what inspired our move into the cloud business.

How do you keep pace with mobile’s growth and volume?

Doran: We have to be able to scale up very quickly to accommodate hundreds of terabytes of data every day. We’ve kept the cost to serve our cloud solutions affordable by adapting and architecting our solutions to run on both bare metal and public/private cloud infrastructure. This gives our customers the ability to provision capacity on demand that dynamically adapts to their storage and computing needs, without the need to pre-purchase massive capacity “out of the gate” or to service “high-volume events” like new device launches.

Have you identified the next big thing?

Doran: In addition to software and services that run on top of mobile devices, there’s the Internet of Things—functionality like your car talking to the home security system or your car placing your order when you’re near your favorite Starbucks. There is going to be a massive effort enabling machine-to-machine communication and orchestration in the very near future.

How do you stay nimble and innovative enough for such developments?

Doran: We constantly monitor the market to understand the newest opportunities and to identify ways to leverage them, either organically or through acquisition. We also have to strike a balance between attention to immediate delivery concerns and looking several moves ahead from a product portfolio. We have engineers and product managers whose responsibilities aren’t tied to daily deliverables but to finding inspiration and ways to innovate much farther down the road.

Where will cloud services be ten years from now?

Doran: Consumers will have greater expectations about their content and context following them wherever they go on all the devices they interact with. As an example, the address for the appointment on their phone should automatically transfer to the car’s navigation system and the car’s preferences and entertainment should automatically change by detecting who has entered it. Cloud services have to be able to support these use cases by enabling consumers to share all their information that they are comfortable with sharing securely, reliably, and at scale.

Managing the Data Explosion

The exponential growth of online data (and the blurring of the old lines between what is considered “computer” and “mobile” data) has meant that Synchronoss solutions operate at tremendous scale on behalf of its carrier customers. Although this was one of the organization’s strengths and selling points right from the start, Synchronoss still designs all its services and capabilities around maximum scalability and security. Aside from the massive amounts of content that users store daily, imagine the number of devices that are activated on the first day of the launch of any highly anticipated new product. You don’t get a chance to re-introduce a new “hero device” to market if your systems can’t scale with the event; you have to get it right the first time. Given these constraints, it’s clear that scalability and consistent performance for these solutions is paramount.

Doran is quick to highlight the fact that there are only a few vendors capable of accommodating that sort of business scale. The company has spent significant R&D efforts to refactor their technology stack to not only scale linearly at the top of IaaS stacks such as Amazon Web Services or OpenStack, but to do so with an industry-leading cost structure for implementation.

“Our solutions are designed to be interoperable with our carrier customers’ infrastructures and deeply integrated with their ecosystems,” Doran says. “Everything is designed to leverage all of their strengths and capabilities while still being responsive to operational demands. You don’t see that with other over-the-top solutions that expect their users to conform to what they offer to everyone in a ‘one size fits all’ model.”

Wireless devices activated per minute by Synchronoss activation systems

Subscribers on Synchronoss cloud solutions

Daily data uploaded to Synchronoss cloud solutions

Storage supporting Synchronoss cloud solutions

Objects (photos/videos/messages) stored on Synchronoss cloud solutions

Targeting the Enterprise

As Synchronoss maintains the success of its activation, provisioning, and cloud services businesses, it is now moving into providing enterprise security and device management solutions to better mobilize the workforce. With a finite number of carriers to serve, it’s part of the company’s continued evolution to identify growth opportunities that mobile technologies generate.

Because employees routinely use their own devices, businesses have to find ways to manage a patchwork of technologies and operating systems. Synchronoss’s new enterprise solutions enable secure collaboration and sharing between them. They also give internal IT departments the ability to control corporate applications and content on both corporate-issued and personal devices.

Doran indicates that other vendors’ solutions typically have had to compromise between the quality of users’ experiences and application security. To ensure network security, for example, the usability of the messaging and email programs would suffer when compared to native applications on the device. However, Doran says, Synchronoss has “developed a solution that lets IT departments add applications users enjoy interacting with, and still maintain critical security, such as two-factor authentication. At the same time, employees continue to experience native usability for all their software on any device.”

When asked if there is a limit to how far Synchronoss can keep expanding its business and services, Doran indicates that if a single player came to dominate the market it would be difficult to compete, since the value of cloud services is their ability to make content available seamlessly and agnostically across platforms and devices. However, he doesn’t see that happening any time soon. He points to the sheer number of different types of mobile devices, the impending impact of the Internet of Things, and consumers’ expectations that everything from photos and contacts to medical and financial records will “follow them” wherever they go.

Doran describes his teenage daughter, who only cares about her Instagram account and being able to access all her (and her friends’) photos whether she’s on her phone or tablet. “The concept of having one device or storage drive that holds all your content is quickly becoming antiquated,” he says. “In the not-too-distant future, cloud services will be taken for granted, like flipping a switch and having the lights come on.”