Sacramento tech firm Quest quietly zooms to $150 million in sales

As Sacramento-area technology companies go, Quest Technology Management can be difficult to define.

It isn’t one of the well-known behemoths, like Intel Corp. It isn’t an upstart, either, not with 31 years of experience. It’s devoid of flash or sizzle, devoting much of its energy to installation of computer systems for corporate customers. But it’s also making itself known in “cloud computing” – one of the hottest tech industries anywhere – and provides a host of other services.

One thing is for sure, though: Quest is a success. It generates about $150 million in annual sales and is growing at more than 25 percent a year, said founder, president and chief executive Tim Burke. Quest employs 240 workers, including 180 in Sacramento.

The company’s growth is an “under-the-radar kind of thing,” Burke said.

Burke founded Quest as a plain-vanilla seller and installer of computer equipment for corporations; it even provided computer paper and other office supplies to its customers. It’s still a systems seller and installer, but today that business accounts for only about half its revenue.

Much of the growth these days come from data. Along with other homegrown companies such as RagingWire, Burke’s company has taken advantage of the region’s reputation for seismic safety to bet big on data management. Quest has built a storage venue at a former Air Force communications building at McClellan Park, where it manages billions of bits of data for a host of corporate clients.

These days, being in the data business invariably means a heavy emphasis on cloud computing – the business of storing clients’ information on remote servers connected to the Internet – and Quest’s cloud capabilities are gaining notice in the industry. CRN, an information technology trade magazine, recently named Quest company of the year in its “cloud elite” category.

Burke called the award a tribute to Quest’s evolution over the years from a computer seller to a high-tech organization with a myriad of skills.

“From computer supplies to best in breed in the cloud computing business, it was quite exciting,” he said. “We’ve morphed the company over 30 years and just kept up with the technology.”

Storing data is just part of the menu.

Quest offers firewall protection, video conferencing and even staffing services. It maintains dozens of “business resumption” centers – essentially, small office suites with phones, computers and backup generators for clients dealing with building evacuation or some other emergency.

The centers usually sit idle but can be fired up on short notice when needed by clients such as the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which leases a center to have backup capabilities for its investment traders.

“They have to be back trading within 30 minutes,” Burke said.

Quest’s clients include Sutter Health, UC Davis, Western Union and Adventist Health, according to Burke. One customer – Calstar, a regional air ambulance service – even rents space from Quest to run its helicopter dispatch center. Burke said it was cheaper for Calstar than building its own dispatch center.

“A lot of companies would say no, we’re just a data center,” said Teresa Campbell, a Quest spokeswoman. “We said we could make it work.”

The company’s data center at McClellan Park is merely the hub of a broader network. From a network operations center inside the McClellan building, Quest manages data for clients at 22 leased sites across the country and in Singapore and Germany.

Resembling a high-tech military command post, the operations center gives Quest the ability to make sure clients’ operations are running smoothly. When glitches occur hundreds of miles away, they can be remedied from McClellan.

“You can see if a system goes down in, say, Austin (Texas),” Campbell said. “We can take over a machine.”

Why all the far-flung locations? Burke said clients are demanding geographic diversity for their data storage. It provides redundancy. It also helps eliminate what computer people call “latency” – the time lag that can occur when computers are feeding data to one another across great distances.

“You have about a 600-mile radius” before delays set in, Burke said. For some clients, even a second or two is too long.

The typical data storage facility is a vast open room, a warehouse of percolating computer servers. Quest’s 73,000-square-foot building at McClellan, however, is carved up into a series of smaller rooms separated by reinforced concrete walls.

That’s a legacy of the building’s origin as a military communications site. Quest decided to leave well enough alone.

“This is the design the Air Force had,” Burke said. “We weren’t moving concrete walls.”