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Far-seeing Entisys cashes in on virtualization

Premium content from San Francisco Business Times by Patrick Hoge
Date: Friday, September 2, 2011, 3:00am PDT

Concord-based Entisys Solutions Inc. is a family-run computer sales and consulting company that got ahead of the virtualization trend that underlies cloud computing, and its revenue has shot up in recent years to about $50 million.

Founded in 1988 as a computer skills training center in Walnut Creek by CEO Mike Strohl’s father, George, Entisys has built one of the largest virtualization consulting businesses on the West Coast.

“It’s due to incredible planning and execution, and then a whole lot of luck,” Strohl said. “It is quite the wild ride.”

From 2009 to 2010, revenue rose from $26 million to $47.8 million, and Strohl predicts it will be up another 10 percent this year. Virtualization allows software to use hardware more efficiently, reducing operating costs, increasing reliability and easing maintenance. Entisys has experts in the application, desktop, server and storage virtualization areas, as well as in other technologies.

Today the company has 83 employees, most of them in Northern California, the rest in Irvine where Entisys bought a company called Agile360 in 2008.

Entisys has 11 job openings listed on its website, mostly in various types of engineering roles, which are particularly challenging to fill as demand for technical talent is currently high.

Strohl originally started working for his father’s company part-time in sales, but eventually took over the company after his father’s death in 1994. The elder Strohl’s widow, Elizabeth Strohl, is now the company’s chief financial officer, while her son, Matt Strohl, is chief technical officer.

Entisys got lucky in 1995 when it worked on a project that involved the use of Citrix application virtualization technology, Strohl said. That year, Santa Clara-based Citrix Systems Inc. went public at less than $2.50 a share, and this week Citrix has been trading at around $58, with a market capitalization of nearly $11 billion.

“We liked what they did. Citrix was small at the time,” Strohl said.

Entisys sent notices to customers through the mail — email and fax were not so common — offering help with Citrix implementations.

Within a year, Entisys was a Citrix platinum partner, and it has continued to grow, particularly in the health care, state and local government arenas, Strohl said.

In 2002, Entisys got pitched by “another little company” with virtualization technology that Strohl said looked promising for building its data center practice, Palo Alto-based VMware Inc.

“My step-brother, our CTO, came in and grabbed me and said ‘You’ve got to look at this,’” Strohl said.

VMware subsequently went public in 2007 and exploded into a huge success that has recently boasted a market capitalization of more than $33 billion.

As an early VMware partner, Entisys was able to get great access to technology executives at large companies, which proved pivotal for the company’s rapid growth.

Brian Paine, director of information technology at Western Precooling Systems, a Fremont provider of cooling systems to food growers and shippers that is an Entisys customer, recalls Entisys promoting virtualization a decade ago.

“They were dabbling in virtualization when it first came out. They were really kind of ahead of the game at that point,” Paine said.

Last week, Paine had a piece of equipment crash that in the past would have taken several weeks to replace, but with a virtualized server system in place, he was able to do the job in a single day.

“I’ve been doing business with Entisys for 10 years. Our environment is a testimonial to the work they do,” Paine said.

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