The tech world is dominated by some of the most powerful brands in the world. Companies like Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) and others are featured in the mainstream and business media as much, if not more, than the industrial giants of old. In fact, they've become common household names.
They've earned their solid reputations through successful products, hard work, and their ability to deliver the kinds of financial results that have made them the darlings of the investment community too.
As impressive and powerful as this group may be, however, they certainly aren't the only companies in tech doing important work. Though it's easy to forget, there's an enormous number of lesser-known tech players that are helping to enable the amazing tech-driven advances that we all enjoy.
At the core, there is an entire range of companies creating the semiconductor chips that sit at the heart not only of our connected devices, but the servers and other infrastructure that enable the cloud-based services to which we've all become accustomed. Companies that offer the designs and intellectual property that are used in chip designs, most notably UK-based ARM, but also Synopsys (NASDAQ:SNPS) and Imagination Technologies (OTCPK:IGNMF), play an extremely important, but often overlooked, role in driving the modern architectures behind everything from IoT to VR and AI.
Another often ignored step in the chain is for test and measurement technologies. Lesser-known companies like National Instruments (NASDAQ:NATI) are helping drive the components, core technologies, and final products for everything from 5G radios to autonomous cars to industrial IoT and much more.
In semiconductor chips and other components, you have big names like Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA), but there is an enormous range of lesser-known companies building key parts for all kinds of devices. From Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) and Renesas (OTCPK:RNECY) in automotive, to Silicon Labs (NASDAQ:SLAB) for home networking, to South Korea-based LG Philips Display and Taiwan-based AUO (NYSE:AUO) for displays, to Synaptics for fingerprint readers, there's a huge ecosystem of critical component suppliers.
Even some of the bigger names in semiconductors are branching off into new areas for which they aren't commonly known. Later today, for example, AMD (NASDAQ:AMD) will be formally unveiling the details of its Epyc server CPU, the first credible threat to Intel's (INTC) dominance in the data center in about 10 years. Not to be outdone, Intel is making significant new investments in AI silicon with Nervana and Mobileye for connected cars. Qualcomm's audio division - part of their little-known acquisition of Cambridge Silicon Radio a few years back - just unveiled a complete suite of components and reference designs for smart speakers, like Amazon's Echo.
In addition to hardware, there is, of course, a huge number of lesser-known software players. Companies like VMWare (NYSE:VMW) and Citrix (NASDAQ:CTRX) continue to drive cloud-based computing and more efficient use of local data centers through server and application virtualization and other critical technologies. Application development and delivery in the enterprise and in the cloud is being enabled by Docker (Private:DOCKR), a company that offers the ability to split applications into multiple pieces called containers, that can be virtualized, replicated, and much more.
Vendors like Ubuntu are not only enabling user-friendly Linux-based desktops for developers and other enthusiasts, they are also offering powerful Microsoft OS alternatives for servers. In the case of software-defined storage and hyperconverged infrastructure (NYSE:HCI) server appliances, companies like Nutanix (NASDAQ:NTNX), Pivot3 and others are enabling entirely new software-defined data centers that promise to revolutionize how computing power is created and delivered from public, private, and hybrid clouds.
Though they will likely never get the kind of recognition that the big brand tech players do, the products, technologies, and contributions of these and thousands more lesser-known tech companies play an incredibly critical role in the tech world. By driving many of the key behind-the-scenes developments, these types of companies provide the efficient, safe, and effective tech products and services that have enabled the bigger brands to become such an essential part of our daily lives.
Disclaimer: Some of the author's clients are vendors in the tech industry.
Editor's Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.