Adobe Systems: Beyond Acrobat and Creative Suite

How Adobe Systems has made its mark on data analytics, open-source software, and insider threat detection


For the past 20 years, few companies have done more to shape the way digital content is created than Adobe Systems. From Acrobat and the Postscript Document Format (PDF) to Photoshop and Illustrator—just a few of its many contributions—Adobe’s software applications set a new standard and quickly became the go-to tools for creative professionals.

But Adobe is more than just a toolmaker. The company has expanded its ecosystem through a series of acquisitions to manage not only the output from its tools, but the way people interact with that output. The goal is straightforward, according to Craig Bowman, Adobe Systems vice president of defense and national security solutions: Get the information from who created it to who needs it in the most efficient way possible.

ADO Pstr DoD Mobile Sec fmt

Using techniques developed in the commercial world to optimize delivery in low-bandwidth environments, Adobe’s open-source solutions deliver personalized, protected content based on a soldier’s device, geo-location, and community of interest. Photo Credit: Adobe Systems

“It’s an interesting shift in the company’s ecosystem,” Bowman said, “For the longest time, Adobe has been the company that makes the tools people use to be creative. Now we’re not only doing that, we’re managing in the cloud how [data] is stored, and then through analytics we’re managing the way [data] is delivered on any device on the planet.”

When Adobe Systems Federal was created in 2008, the decision was made to market very specific solutions for customers’ needs rather than simply offer Adobe products. Each solution incorporates a host of Adobe products configured by Adobe engineers in a way that best meets the customers’ unique needs, Bowman said.

Acquired Capabilities

Adobe has a long history of acquisitions, but the two most significant in recent years are Omniture in 2009 and Day Software in 2010. The acquisition of Omniture, now called Adobe Analytics, catapulted Adobe into one of the top analytic companies in the world, according to Bowman. Omniture’s web analytics, measurement, and optimization technologies enable sophisticated custom tailoring of digital content delivery for each user on any device.

The acquisition of Day Software, an enterprise content management software company, included two talented individuals who subsequently joined Adobe. Roy Fielding, inventor of the Representational State Transfer (ReST) protocol and co-founder of the Apache Software Foundation, was appointed Adobe’s senior principal scientist. And David Nüescheler, former CTO of Day Software and creator of Apache Jackrabbit and Apache Sling, became Adobe’s vice president of enterprise technology. With these additions, Adobe planted its flag in the open-source community.

The Open Development Trifecta

In this expanding ecosystem, the “open development trifecta” is Adobe’s new doctrine: open source, open standards, open architecture.

Bowman, a developer and engineer himself, believes some open-source platforms, such as the Apache stack, which Adobe now uses, are actually more secure than government solutions.

Anyone—and therefore a larger number of users—can assess the code of open platforms. If hackers can find a loophole or vulnerability, so can the incubation team and others using the code. With government-developed software, on the other hand, a potential vulnerability may not be discovered until a hack occurs.

Though there are many companies offering solutions built on Apache or even open-source platforms similar to Apache, Adobe’s edge is the two Apache pioneers leading its development team.

“We can do it better because we have the expertise from [Fielding’s and Nüescheler’s] years of development in the Apache Foundation and we know how to wire all these Apache projects up in a way that will be more secure,” Bowman said.


Adobe Analytics brings clarity to thousands of activities being monitored by sensors. Photo credit: Adobe Systems

Down to the Bullet

“In the public sector, the biggest area of growth has been around cybersecurity,” Bowman said. Five years ago, he continued, Adobe set out to build the most secure platform the government had ever seen.

Adobe built a system for securing content from the moment it is created. Content is secured at the very highest level of attribute-based access control, tagged with the appropriate markings, and then, when a person requests it, the system checks that person’s credentials to make sure he or she has authorization to look at the content.

“The difference between what we’ve built and something else is that we can protect the content down to the bullet level,” Bowman explained. “We can literally remove a bullet from a piece of information based on who is asking for it.”

Behind the scenes, all user actions across the system are monitored by Adobe Analytics for potential insider threats, checking log files for anomalies to detect if an individual is performing actions out of sync with his or her role, Bowman said. For example, if an employee is downloading or printing large numbers of files or accessing material he or she wouldn’t typically have a need for.

“We have to start treating content as PII [personally identifiable information] from the moment it is created,” he said. “The analytics, the tagging, the protection, all of that has been built [into Adobe’s system], and it’s currently in use at different government agencies.”

The consensus from those agencies, according to Bowman, is that the system is “extremely powerful.”

Speed to Meaning

“Success is no longer measured by how fast you deliver a map, it’s how quickly did you deliver the meaning that the person requesting the map was looking for,” Bowman said.

He used the example of a warfighter requesting a map from the field.

“If the map is not at the correct zoom factor and you have to pinch and zoom in, our analytics can determine that the map was delivered to you at the wrong zoom frequency,” he said.

“[The next solider who requests the map] will get it at the correct zoom factor because we’ve monitored what you did on your mobile device.”

Adobe’s Mission Planning and Mission Mobile solutions provide a workflow that allows users to create, collaborate, protect, and disseminate critical information in a multi-domain environment to a warfighter in near-real time.

But Bowman said most of Adobe’s customers don’t care what the system is called, or what components are at work under the hood.

“What they want to know is can [Adobe] deliver faster and more efficiently than something else?”

Bowman certainly thinks so, as must Fielding and Nüescheler. For these open-source juggernauts to join forces with Adobe, the company must be doing some extraordinary work.

Photo Credit: Adobe Systems


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