It’s a modest-looking device with a list of big-name customers any technology company would kill for.

Layer 7, based in Vancouver, sells so-called “gateway” hardware that allows digital information to flow in and out of a business or government agency — while blocking anybody from accessing anything they shouldn’t be looking at.

It’s a service for which demand is booming, especially for companies that want their iPad-carrying, smartphone-using salespeople and executives to have sales, pricing and production data at their fingertips when a potential customer has a question and expects an immediate answer — or wants first-hand access to shipping and inventory data on the premise that it could help them lower their costs.

“A lot of enterprises in the U.S. — certainly we’re seeing this trend in the U.K. as well — are asking themselves, ‘how do we equip employees with the iPad? How do we share information on that iPad?’ If they make a sales call, they could demo something, they could call up some information quickly. They could do all kinds of things,” Dimitri Sirota, Layer 7 vice-president for marketing and alliances, said in an interview.

“We have a very large pharmaceutical company that’s doing just that. They just rolled out a service for their sales force in the field. The sales force walks around with these iPads, and if they want to be able to call up stats [or] images, they can do that straight from the iPad. But of course that app you have on that iPad is now calling information that resides inside of the enterprise.”

Layer 7’s hardware is designed to choke the data flow down to what’s necessary, while keeping the proprietary stuff secure.

Customers include the U.S. departments of defence, homeland security and customs and border patrol, a notable chunk of the Fortune 500 including General Motors, and Canadian government agencies including B.C.’s attorney-general’s office and Quebec’s ministry of finance.

“It really just looks like a ‘pizza box’ server — nothing really interesting about it,” Sirota said. “We sit at the edge, particularly in a wiring closet somewhere in a data centre — a physical device you slot into a cabinet — and traffic comes in and goes out.

“We look at the traffic that’s going in and out and we let you define all the rules around what’s allowed in, what’s allowed out, whether the data needs to be transformed, all that kind of stuff.

“We sell to IT shops. That’s our buyer, no different than a Cisco or a Juniper. In our particular class, with the type of traffic we deal with — mobile, partner integration and so forth — we have a number of competitors, but we just happen to be one of the top vendors in the world.”

Last October, Deloitte named Layer 7 the 15th fastest growing public or private company in Canada, and 71st fastest in North America. They’ve also been recognized by senior tech sector analysts Gartner Inc. and Forrester Research.

Last week, Layer 7 CEO Paul Rochester announced that the company achieved record annual revenue growth for 2011. It has averaged 101 per cent compound annual growth for five consecutive years. They’ve turned a profit in each of the last three years.

“As enterprises embrace mobile and cloud [computing] in 2012, Layer 7 is best positioned to capitalize on the need for enterprise mobile and cloud access solutions,” Rochester said in a news release.

The company has grown to more than 100 employees — including more than a dozen it recruited from IBM, which now has a smaller market share than Layer 7 in the security hardware realm, according to Sirota.

“IBM has been a rival for five years, and in the last year we were able to pull their head of sales for the division that competes against us, their head of technical sales and another dozen of their leading salespeople,” Sirota said. “The fact that they came to Layer 7 probably says something. …

“We are an exporting company. We made our name in the U.S. market. To be respected in the IT world you’ve got to be able to sell to the U.S. feds, U.S. financial services, and those related industries.”