Same old, same old at Novell?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Ever since hedge fund Elliott Associates put Novell in play five months ago, we’ve said that the company was going to be a tough sell. It’s a mixed bag of businesses, both in terms of what those businesses sell and how they perform. (Or rather, how those businesses underperform, as we were reminded by Novell’s warning earlier this week about third-quarter results. If nothing else, that kept alive Novell’s streak – it also came up short in the two quarters leading up to Elliott’s run at the company.)

Undoubtedly, Novell – an underperforming company that nonetheless found its treasury stuffed with more than $1bn of cash – offered an easy target for the gadfly investor. But having that agitation turn into an acquisition is proving much more difficult. (We recently took an in-depth look at Novell, as well as the specific business lines and which suitors might be eyeing them, in a special report.)

While the process initially attracted a number of parties, we understand that there are only three left at the table: a private equity-backed company, a UK-based PE firm and a joint bid between a publicly traded tech company and a buyout shop. It’s not clear that any of the three will actually close a deal for Novell. (The process has already run past two deadlines, we gather.) Without a deal, shares of Novell would be left to trade on the company’s own merits, which probably wouldn’t do much for shareholder value.

Novell timeline

Date Event
March 2, 2010 Elliott Associates launches unsolicited bid of $5.75 per share, or $2bn equity value
March 20, 2010 Novell board rejects Elliott’s bid, retains JP Morgan Securities to explore alternatives

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

A nope from Novell

Contact: Brenon Daly

The only surprise about Novell turning down the unsolicited $2bn offer from Elliott Associates was the timing. In an unorthodox move, the software vendor said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to the hedge fund on Saturday morning, when most thoughts were turning to a full day of March Madness. (And what a maddening day it turned out to be, at least for people who filled out their brackets with top seeds: On Saturday, teams seeded No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 all got sent packing.)

In dismissing the bid, Novell’s board of directors said the offer from Elliott of $5.75 for each share ‘undervalues’ the company and its growth prospects. As an aside, we’re not exactly sure what growth Novell is referring to. The vendor has come up short of Wall Street revenue estimates for both quarters of its current fiscal year so far, and sales this fiscal year, which ends in October, will almost certainly come in below the $862m it recorded last fiscal year. Revenue in the following fiscal year is also likely to come in below last fiscal year, at least according to Wall Street projections.

Even without much top-line excitement, Novell does nonetheless have some valuable assets: A bankable $600m maintenance revenue stream, a decent Linux business and probably the fourth-largest portfolio of identity and access management technology. Of course, its most attractive property is its treasury, which is stuffed with a cool $1bn in cash and short-term investments.

And finally, we would note that Novell does have an experienced adviser in JP Morgan Securities as it explores options to enhance shareholder value. In just the past 10 months, JP Morgan has worked with two other long-in-the-tooth software companies that have been targeted in publicly contested M&A processes. Both Borland Software and MSC Software ended up getting sold, with Borland going for a whopping 50% higher than the initial bid.

Pouring cold water on the latest Sourcefire rumor

Contact: Brenon Daly

At the tail end of last week, the market was buzzing that Sourcefire may be back in play. Of course, that’s not all that unusual for the Snort shop, which has seen two publicly disclosed acquisition offers in the past four years come to nothing. (Recall that Check Point Software failed to land Sourcefire because of vague and off-target ‘national security concerns’ in early 2006. And then, in mid-2008, Barracuda lobbed an opportunistic low-ball bid for Sourcefire. Talks between the two sides never really got going, according to at least one source.)

So who’s the new bidder? Rumor has it that IBM may be looking at Sourcefire now. While the pairing has been making the rounds, we have our doubts about whether Big Blue would actually reach for the security company. Its $1.3bn acquisition of Internet Security Systems in mid-2006 has never generated the returns that IBM had hoped. (The ISS business, which was centered on the company’s Proventia boxes, never really fit well inside IBM Global Services.) Having little to show for that purchase of an intrusion-prevention system (IPS) vendor, we doubt that Big Blue would double down on another IPS vendor, Sourcefire.

And while IBM could certainly afford it, Sourcefire has gotten a little pricey. Over the past year, shares have more than tripled, giving the security vendor a market capitalization of about $600m. Backing out the $100m in cash and short-term investments gives Sourcefire an enterprise value (EV) of $500m. Without a takeout premium, Sourcefire commands a valuation (on an EV basis) of five times trailing sales and four times projected sales. Paying a premium on top of Sourcefire’s trailing P/E that’s in the triple digits might be tough for IBM, which trades at a trailing P/E of just 12.

Red Hat rumors: a reheat or something more?

Contact: Brenon Daly

When VMware reached for SpringSource earlier this month, the $420m pairing represented the largest open source transaction in a year and a half. Now, the market is buzzing with rumors about another blockbuster open source deal, one that would be more than 10 times the size of VMware-SpringSource. Several sources have indicated that interest in Red Hat has been heating up lately, with Oracle and IBM popping up again as suitors.

The rumors, of course, are nothing new. We have been speculating about a possible pairing between Red Hat and IBM or Oracle for almost three years. (When Oracle launched its own support of Linux back in 2006, we wondered if it wasn’t a ‘beat ’em down and take ’em out’ strategy from the coldhearted Larry Ellison.) And when the rumblings surfaced again earlier this year, we did some back-of-the-envelope thinking about a bid from Oracle. Honestly, though, we think Big Blue is a more likely buyer for Red Hat.

While the speculation stays largely the same, however, there is one change: the price of Red Hat keeps going up. Since we noted the latest reports of Oracle’s interest in late March, shares of Red Hat have tacked on about one-quarter in value. The company currently sports a market capitalization of $4.2bn; however, its cash holdings lower the effective purchase price to about $3.5bn. Red Hat is just now wrapping its fiscal second quarter, and has already said it expects revenue to be about $179m for the period. The vendor will likely report results in about a month.

VMware: a ‘table-clearing’ bid for the clouds

Contact: Brenon Daly

About a year and a half after Paul Maritz got picked up by EMC, the former Microsoft honcho has struck his signature deal for his new employers. When EMC reached for Pi Corp, which had yet to release a product, we figured the move was basically ‘HR by M&A.’ And that has turned out to be the case, as Maritz took over leadership of EMC’s virtualization subsidiary VMware in July 2008. He stepped into the top spot just as VMware’s once-torrid revenue growth had dwindled to a trickle. Sales at VMware rose 88% in 2007 and 42% in 2008, but are projected to inch up just 2% this year.

To help jumpstart VMware’s growth, Maritz looked to the clouds, pushing through the acquisition of SpringSource earlier this week. At roughly twice as much as VMware has spent on its previous dozen deals, the SpringSource buy is the virtualization kingpin’s largest purchase. It was also, as we understand it, a deal very much driven by Maritz. (Because the purchase topped $100m, it also had to be blessed by VMware’s parent, EMC. This indicates that Maritz enjoys a level of support at the Hopkinton, Massachusetts, HQ that probably wasn’t extended to his predecessor, VMware founder Diane Greene.)

As we have noted, no bankers were involved in negotiations and one source indicated that terms were hammered out directly by Maritz and his counterpart at SpringSource, Rod Johnson, in a scant three-and-a-half-week period. Not that there was much negotiating needed. As we understand it, Maritz approached Johnson with a ‘table-clearing’ offer of $400m. SpringSource didn’t contact any other potential buyers, and in fact, the five-year-old startup only weighed VMware’s bid against the possibility of going public in 2011. (Subscribers to the 451 M&A KnowledgeBase can click here to view our estimates on SpringSource’s revenue, both trailing and projected, as well as its valuation.)

However, the source added that getting to an IPO would have likely required another round of funding for SpringSource. The dilution that would come with another round, combined with the deep uncertainty about the direction of the equity markets, tipped SpringSource toward the trade sale. In the end, that decision – and how Maritz executes on his step into application virtualization – will go a long way toward shaping his legacy at VMware.

EMC and advisors: All or nothing

Contact: Brenon Daly

After EMC doled out no fewer than nine credits to different banks for working on its acquisition of Data Domain, we were curious how the deal credits would flow around the largest-ever purchase by EMC subsidiary VMware. (The unusually long list of advisers for EMC on Data Domain made us think – of all things – about the quip about compensation under some communist regimes: People pretended to work and the government pretended to pay them.) As it turns out, EMC/VMware swung to the other extreme, with not a single bank working for the virtualization giant in its purchase of SpringSource.

That’s not unusual, since VMware hadn’t really used bankers in the dozen or so acquisitions that it had inked before SpringSource. But those deals were mostly small. In fact, the cumulative spending for all of its earlier buys totals only about half of the $420m in cash and stock that VMware is set to hand over for SpringSource. By our tally, VMware’s pending purchase is the third-largest pickup of a VC-backed tech firm so far this year. Not that the print will show up for any bank. SpringSource didn’t use an adviser, either.

Intalio gets its rollup rolling

Contact: Dennis Callaghan

Intalio’s open source rollup has finally started to roll. The company recently took the wraps off a deal it actually did earlier this month, picking up open source CRM software vendor CodeGlide. The acquirer, which has raised some $45m in venture funding, said earlier this year that it planned to do as many as 10 acquisitions over the next two years. (Intalio indicated that it was eyeing small firms with only a dozen or so employees. For its part, CodeGlide had only four employees, all of whom have gone over to Intalio.)

Intalio has wasted little time in making CodeGlide’s software available as Intalio CRM and it plans to eventually make components of this software available under the AGPL open source license. While we can think of more exciting markets than CRM that Intalio could have bought its way into, the deal nonetheless makes a lot of sense, particularly when viewed in light of its Intalio Cloud offering.

In the same breath that it announced the CodeGlide acquisition, Intalio unveiled Intalio Cloud, which is an IBM or Hewlett-Packard server appliance preloaded with Intalio’s applications – both business process management (BPM) and CRM – along with elastic compute and storage utilities. The box is designed to be the basis for companies’ internal private clouds and is available as a managed service offering. It also powers Intalio’s own on-demand wares. So why does this all make sense?

Combine CRM, BPM and cloud infrastructure and you have the main ingredients for becoming a true platform-as-a-service (PaaS) vendor. Intalio will be able to make both its BPM software and new CRM software available on demand and now has the technology to allow customers to build and/or customize their own business applications; it can offer this technology in the cloud or via private clouds. Successful PaaS initiatives – think LongJump and – require not only good development tools but also an actual application platform that underlies these tools, which are then used for building customizations, mashups and process applications on top of the platform. Less-successful PaaS offerings like those from Coghead, whose technology was built on Intalio’s software, were separate from an underlying application platform and found it harder to deliver on their promise (at least until Coghead was acquired by SAP).

It may take Intalio a few months to deliver on its PaaS vision, but the company is starting to get the right tools in place. What’s next on its shopping list? We would guess a mashup vendor.

Back-of-the-envelope thinking on Red Hat-Oracle

Contact: Brenon Daly

If Oracle was seriously planning a bid for Red Hat (and we have our doubts about such a pairing), then Larry Ellison had better be prepared to reach deeper into his pocket. Following Red Hat’s solid fiscal fourth-quarter report, shares of the Linux giant jumped 17% to $17.60 on Thursday. That added about a half-billion dollars to Red Hat’s price tag, with the company now sporting a fully diluted equity value of some $3.5bn.

Looking back at the nine US public companies that Oracle has acquired this decade, we would note that Oracle has paid an average premium of 14% above the previous day’s closing price at the target company. (Note: We excluded the two-year-long saga around PeopleSoft.) If we apply that premium, which we acknowledge is crudely calculated, to Red Hat, the company’s equity value swells to $4bn, or about $21 per share. That’s essentially where Red Hat shares changed hands in August, before Wall Street imploded.

On the other side of the table, Red Hat recently cleaned up its balance sheet, which certainly makes it a more palatable target. (Again, we don’t think the company is in play, much less took the steps to catch Oracle’s eye. More so, that it was just good fiscal practice.) Specifically, Red Hat paid off all of its debt and finished its fiscal year, which ended last month, with $663m in cash and short-term investments. That would be a nice ‘rebate’ for any potential buyer, in the unlikely event that Ellison or anyone else reaches for Red Hat.

Oracle M&A: real and rumored

Contact: Brenon Daly

Since 2005, Oracle has notched an average of about an acquisition per month each year. Generally speaking, the deals can be sorted into three main buckets: broad horizontal technology purchases, small technology tuck-ins and equally small purchases of companies selling applications for specific industries. Fittingly for a busy buyer, Oracle has one of each of those types of transactions either done or ready to get done. At least, those are the rumors.

First, let’s start with an acquisition that Oracle has announced. On Monday, the vendor said it will pay an undisclosed amount for Relsys, a 22-year-old company that makes safety and risk management software for the pharmaceutical industry. Oracle’s purchase of the Irvine, California-based company comes after it made similar buys for software vendors that serve specific industries, including telecommunications, insurance, retail, utilities and others.

Turning to the speculative transactions, we heard a month ago from several sources that Oracle was interested in picking up Virtual Iron Software. As an example of a technology acquisition, Virtual Iron would add Xen management capabilities to Oracle, which already has a Xen-based hypervisor. And on a larger scale, the market has been buzzing with talk this week about whether Oracle might be mulling a bid for Red Hat. (The open source giant, which reports earnings after today’s close, has seen its shares double since late November.)

While Oracle has reached for open source vendors in the past (Sleepycat Software and Innobase) and still lacks an OS offering in its portfolio, we have doubts that it would make a play for Red Hat. The main reason: Larry Ellison has maintained that his company does not need to have a Linux distribution of its own since it provides support for Red Hat via its Unbreakable Linux program, which was launched in late 2006.

Select platform acquisitions by Oracle

Date Target Price Market
January 2008 BEA Systems $8.5bn Middleware
May 2007 Agile Software $495m Product lifecycle management
March 2007 Hyperion Solutions $3.3bn Business intelligence
November 2006 Stellent $440m Content management
September 2005 Siebel Systems $5.85bn CRM
December 2004 PeopleSoft $10.46bn ERP

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

A (Big) Blue-colored Sun?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just two days after Cisco took the fight to its longtime allies in the server wars, IBM is now looking to buy some ammunition of its own. Big Blue is reportedly mulling a $6.5bn bid for Sun Microsystems, according to The Wall Street Journal. The deal would be the largest tech transaction (excluding telecom M&A) since Hewlett-Packard jabbed at IBM’s giant services division, paying $13.9bn for EDS last May. If it comes to pass, a pairing of IBM and Sun would also radically change the battle lines in the broader fight to build out datacenters, specifically around server, storage and software offerings.

Take the server market. If the deal goes through, a combined IBM-Sun would dominate the high-end, RISC-based, Unix-based symmetrical multiprocessor server market, leaving HP a distant third. However, one point that might pose a challenge for Big Blue is how long it would want to continue with Sun’s Sparc architecture, a direct clash with its own Power chips and System-p servers. Turning to storage, IBM is probably less excited about Sun’s assets in that market. Sun’s storage business has been languishing in the doldrums for years, despite Sun supporting it with its largest-ever acquisition, its mid-2005 purchase of StorageTek for $4.1bn in cash. Nonetheless, there are probably enough enterprise customers locked into Sun’s high-end, mainframe-centric tape business to interest Big Blue. And in software, IBM and Sun are both committed to open source, although we would add that they have slightly different models for monetizing their investments there.

Of course, there’s a chance that the reported talks may not result in a deal. However, we would note that Sun shares are behaving as if it will go through, soaring nearly 80% in early Wednesday afternoon trading to $8.80. That’s essentially where they were last September. That fact probably won’t be lost on Sun’s largest shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management. The activist investor, which has indicated that it talked with Sun to explore a possible sale of the company, among other steps to ‘maximize shareholder value,’ holds some 20% of Sun stock, according to its most-recent SEC filing.