August 26th, 2011

MobileSync: Interview with David Boreham, CEO of Nuevasync

MobileSync, LuxSci’s mobile device synchronization solution, which includes real-time synchronization of email, calendars, contacts, and tasks and works on all modern mobile devices, is made possible by a close collaboration between LuxSci and NuevaSync.  NuevaSync is a leader in providing ActiveSync-based synchronization solutions without Microsoft Exchange servers.

David, how did NuevaSync begin?

The origins came from my own use of first WiFi-connected PDAs like the iPAQ, and then my first smart phone which ran Windows Mobile 5. Back then the way to get data onto the device was through tethered USB sync. I used several computers at home and in the office and so tethering was a pain. Looking around for a good non-tethered, or “Over The Air” sync solution, I couldn’t find anything I was happy with.

So NuevaSync began, as an “Itch-scratching” exercise?

Exactly. I learned that the popular way to do sync was to develop an app that talks to a server to run on the device — the “custom sync client” — but there were several problems with that approach. Each type of device had a very different programming environment, so you had to make and maintain several apps. Most devices limit access from apps to the calendar, contact and email data. Some even limit an app’s ability to do the kind of things you need to do for sync such as multitask and keep a network connection open in the background.

NuevaSync takes a different approach?

We noticed that device vendors were beginning to ship sync capability inside the firmware — a “native sync client” and realized that if we could develop servers compatible with the native client then we’d avoid the problems and limitations associated with the custom client technique. The idea was that the device vendor would both permit themselves the necessary capabilities to make a great sync client possible, and they would devote resources to debugging and maintaining the client code.

When did you start cutting code?

In the summer of 2007 we began developing a server that could talk the protocol used by Microsoft Exchange, because that was most commonly supported by native sync clients. After a few months we launched a web site to support testing the server code. That test site only supported sync with Google Calendar, but it has been operating continually ever since, eventually evolving into the NuevaSync Personal Service.

Is NuevaSync your first sync project?

No, the NuevaSync team previously developed the Windows Sync feature for the 389 LDAP Directory Server back in 2005 and prior to that I had worked on Directory Replication and synchronization at Netscape and Avaya.

What is “Push” synchronization and how does it work with mobile devices? How can “Push” updates be good for mobile battery life?

Push just means that changes arrive at the phone as they happen, with only a few seconds delay. So for example if a new Email message arrives in your mailbox, it’ll appear on the phone within a few seconds. Where push is not available — for example if the device uses IMAP for mailbox access — a check for new messages must be done periodically. This checking process causes the phone’s 3G radio to be powered up, which tends to drain the battery faster than with push, which only powers up the radio when there’s a new message. We’ve also found that users with push service don’t turn their phones on as often, probably because they can be sure if there are or are not new messages to read and of course this helps battery life too.

How does “LuxSci MobileSync” integrate with NuevaSync to provide seamless synchronization?

Our service is cloud hosted. Users’ phones and tablets connect to our servers over SSL-encrypted connections which in turn access the synced data in real-time from LuxSci over SSL-encrypted secure network connections to LuxSci’s IMAP, SMTP, and API services. Behind the scenes LuxSci’s systems are able to tell the NuevaSync service about new users when MobileSync is enabled on their LuxSci accounts. Everything is automated.

How does cloud hosting improve service quality?

People need their mobile sync to be perfect. If your phone loses all its contacts;  misses a calendar event or doesn’t show an important email message when it arrives, the consequences are serious. We’ve been able to get very close to perfection because by providing service in the cloud, we get to see and handle the large numbers of devices connecting to all our servers. This allows us to identify and resolve problems, for example caused by bugs in device firmware, as they occur in real-time. The result is a highly dependable service for everyone.

Can you explain the steps taken to ensure data security and privacy in MobileSync?

Our servers require encryption on all network connections – if a device is configured with encryption turned off, it won’t be able to connect. In addition, we designed our software to avoid the need to store the content of the records synced. So for example we don’t store a copy of any contact, calendar, task or email data. This gives an extra level of assurance that synced data is secure and private.

What other features does MobileSync have besides device sync?

Most types of phone allow “remote wipe” to be triggered through the sync connection. This is useful if your phone is lost or stolen because sensitive data will be erased as soon as the wipe command is received. You can initiate remote wipe though the MobileSync Control Panel web site. We also allow the user to check on sync status there. They can see recent sync history for their own devices, and if necessary force a device to reset its sync state. This can be helpful if the phone fails to sync properly for some reason.

What about the future? Any plans to add desktop client support?

We’re definitely interested in sync for desktop applications such as Outlook — it’s a frequently requested capability.  Additionally, LuxSci already provides Sync support for Outlook through its WebAideSync Outlook Plugin.

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