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Building Cloud, DevOps Or Big Data Practices? Fast-Growing Xentaurs Can Do The Heavy Lifting For Solution Provider Partners

The upstart Santa Ana, Calif.-based systems integrator, which specializes in consulting geared toward fellow solution providers, expects revenue to reach the double-digit millions by mid-2018.

As digital transformation becomes priority No. 1 for the channel and its customers, many legacy solution providers are pivoting toward the cloud and other markets that have emerged alongside it. Executing on that strategy, however, is often easier said than done -- the IT industry is changing rapidly, and expertise is hard to develop overnight.

Enter Xentaurs, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based systems integrator that specializes in cloud, DevOps and big data consulting for fellow solution providers. CEO Anoj Willy said his company helps solution providers deliver those services to existing customers and offers practical training that enables them to develop their own practices over time.

"While there's a lot of training on tools and overall DevOps methodology like Agile Coaching, which are a little more academic, there's not a lot of training out there for how I put this together in a practical way," Willy told CRN. "How does this actually look and feel inside a customer environment? That's really what Xentaurs is built to do."

[Related: Entisys360 Disrupts Cloud Services Market With Workspace Cloud For Midmarket]

Launched in early 2016, Xentaurs has since partnered with five solution providers. The company also works directly with enterprise clients, but Willy noted that 60 percent to 70 percent of business comes through its fellow partners.

Xentaurs said it grew 500 percent between the summers of 2016 and 2017 and expects revenue to reach the double-digit millions by mid-2018.

The Xentaurs partner-to-partner model begins with the creation of a cloud, DevOps or big data practice, in which both sides determine a go-to-market strategy and product fit. The two sides then work to create a repeatable system around the strategy that drives sustainable profit and features a standardized, optimized method of delivery.

Willy recommends solution providers collaborate with Xentaurs for at least a year to get these practices up and running. At that point, he said partners should be able to hire to a growing pipeline and measure revenue in the tens of millions.

Contracts are renewed on a six-month basis and grant partners access to Xentaurs experts, who participate in pre-sales calls and provide feedback on business proposals that ideally help solution providers tap into new revenue streams within their existing customer base.

"If you can't close that deal, it's frustrating for a sales team," Willy said. "Eventually they might say, 'This DevOps stuff is nice, but it's not going to pay the bills. I'm going to go back to selling hardware boxes and stuff wrapped in cardboard.' The create phase is typically where we help partners out. That's the hardest part."

Initially, Willy thought most partners would sign up for a year, leverage Xentaurs to build a practice and then go about their business. But in actuality, he said partners have been extending their contracts and signing up for consulting around other practice areas. Big-name vendors like Cisco Systems have even taken notice and begun directing its partners toward Xentaurs, he added.

One such solution provider is Entisys360, itself an award-winning IT consultancy with an established cloud practice and acclaimed virtualization expertise. But CEO Mike Strohl wanted to establish a DevOps practice, and knew the state of the market required his company to strike as quickly as possible.

"If I [built] it the old-fashioned way, that's 18 months to two years, and by that time the opportunity for me to direct sell this stuff arrives, it's almost irrelevant in this case," Strohl told CRN. "My customers would have been gone."

Strohl noted that Entisys360 could have also acquired a company with DevOps skills, but the risk inherent in such a purchase made partnering with Xentaurs the better choice.

The contract structure, the access to Xentaurs' intellectual property and the exclusive relationship Entisys360 maintains with the systems integrator within its own territory – thus mitigating potential customer conflict – were all factors in Strohl's decision to renew with Xentaurs, he said.

"Some of their manufacturer partners that support them also support us," Strohl said. "As it relates to go-to-market opportunities, we're co-developing the go-to-market. We're one unit. The same thing goes for manufacturers out there. If anything, they're a lead source for us."

Once Entisys360 further establishes its DevOps practice, Strohl sees the star solution provider potentially dipping its toes into the growing big data space with Xentaurs. He expects to continue working with its consultants for another 12 to 18 months.

Willy, formerly the vice president of product management at star Cisco partner Trace3, said he hopes to expand the Xentaurs partner ecosystem to 10 partners by next fall.

In addition to that concerted expansion effort, he said the company sees the Internet of Things, machine learning and artificial intelligence becoming a bigger part of its strategy down the road.

Xentaurs' vendor partnerships include Cisco, Docker, Amazon, Microsoft, Nvidia and Cloudera, among a handful of others. Through its Nvidia partnership, Xentaurs said it is discovering several IoT use cases within the automotive space. Customers that rely on delivery trucks, for example, can collect telemetry data off those vehicles and analyze it to determine the safest travel routes or when drivers might be at greatest risk.

Another after-market car part manufacturer is building visualization tools to better identify objects caught on vehicular cameras and then designing that to alert the car's brake system, Willy said.

"We're seeing a lot of traction on big data, and now we're starting to see the emergence of machine learning in that domain," he said. "We're keeping a close eye on it and looking to make further investments in that area. Right now, we're waiting to see what the customer demand is. We're seeing it ramp up, but it's all about market timing."

The machine learning interest is fitting given the Xentaurs company name, which was inspired by chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov's matches with IMB's Deep Blue AI computer in the 1990s. Willy said the "centaur chess player" underscores the strength found in combining the creative thinking aspects of the human experience with the high-level algorithmic execution of machines.

In the same sense, vendors and solution providers that partner with Xentaurs can enhance their chances of market success, Willy said.

"What technical founders have a hard time doing, even though they start up the product side of things, is they really fall short [on] sales execution," he said. "There's a plethora of startups in DevOps and big data – a new one every week. A lot don't reach escape velocity because they can't execute on large sales. A great product doesn't always win if I can't get the channel and can't get it in front of the customer. Working with a VAR helps you de-risk that sales execution."

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