It’s common these days for a business to buy hundreds or even thousands of cell phones, and Perfecto Mobile is no exception. But instead of handing them out to employees, it’s using them to build data centers.
The Boston-based company has around 5,000 phones altogether and has assembled the devices into several data centers as the backbone of a service that enables software developers to test applications on any mobile device.
Perfecto Mobile has over 1,000 different models of cell phones in a collection that includes the iPhone 5, many smartphone products that never took off, every Nokia on the market and even phones with a pop-out antenna, which are still widely used in Japan, said Gidi Pridor, its vice president of business development.
“This [variety] is a must when you deal with an unpredictable market like mobile,” he said.
The mix of models on its public cloud, which it evaluates weekly, is based on how strong the demand is for its customers to run tests. Right now it has more of the iPhone 4Gs than any other device, followed by Samsung Galaxy SII and SIII.
“Blackberry used to be the most popular devices on our system two years ago,” Pridor said. “But now they’re pretty much only available on request.”
The company faced many challenges building a cell-phone cloud. Cell phones are less stable than computers, especially when they’re being used to test new, often buggy, software. The phones would freeze up or developers would make changes to the settings, sometimes leaving behind images that aren’t suitable for work, Pridor said.
It now has software that resets each phone after a test is performed and also has employees walking around its data centers inspecting the phones to ensure that they’re all working properly. “This is part of the logistical nightmare that customers want to avoid,” he said.
The difficulty of building and operating these services is a competitive advantage, he said, though Perfecto Mobile’s main competitor–Keynote DeviceAnywhere–runs a similar service.
Perfecto runs two such data centers in the U.S., and one each in Canada, the U.K., Israel, India and Spain. It also runs a dozen or so private phone clouds for customers that need unique devices or want additional security features, such as running the service within the customer’s firewall.
Perfecto Mobile was founded in 2006 to work with software developers at wireless carriers, so those connections often enable it to get devices ahead of launch. But sometimes it has to send out its receptionist to buy phones.
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