Having recently marked the anniversary of its largest-ever acquisition, Brocade Communications may now find itself on the other side of a transaction. At least that’s the speculation from The Wall Street Journal, which reported Monday that the storage and networking giant has retained a banker (reportedly Frank Quattrone’s Qatalyst Partners) to shop it. While the report was enough to goose the stock to its highest level since June 2008 (shares were up 15% to $8.82 in Monday-afternoon trading), it’s worth pointing out that being shopped is a long way from getting sold.
It’s also worth mentioning that speculation about Brocade being in play is nothing new. As my colleague Simon Robinson noted in late March, the consolidating networking landscape makes Brocade a likely target. (After all, Brocade itself is an example of the consolidation. A traditional SAN networking provider, Brocade spent $2.6bn to expand into IP networking with its landmark purchase of Foundry Networks.) In the report, Robinson taps IBM as a likely buyer for Brocade as a way to gain an immediate presence in the networking space as well as strengthen its lead in the server sector. (Big Blue is one of the largest of Brocade’s OEM partners, which now number 23 companies.)
Hewlett-Packard is a less likely acquirer, in our view, because of the substantial overlap between HP’s newly reinvigorated ProCurve line and Foundry. That said, Brocade is a key supplier of datacenter infrastructure technology, so it is likely to be of interest to sever vendors like HP. Brocade’s appeal might be even sharper now that HP and Cisco Systems, which were once chummy, have found themselves on opposing sides in their efforts to equip the modern datacenters.
One additional buyer that certainly makes sense for Brocade, even more so because of a recently strengthened OEM arrangement, is Dell. The hardware provider, which has already bought its way into storage and other IT infrastructure markets, recently bolstered its OEM arrangement with Brocade to include IP networking and fiber-channel-over-Ethernet gear. (For the record, the WSJ article doesn’t mention Dell as a possible acquirer but, inexplicably, includes Oracle as a suitor. We suspect that Larry Ellison has plenty of other areas of software to consolidate before a hardware-heavy purchase that pits Oracle against Cisco.)
In terms of valuation, we would note that with the M&A-inspired speculative buying, Brocade shares have more than tripled so far this year. (Trading in Brocade stock through mid-Monday was already more than five times heavier than average.) The run has given Brocade an enterprise value (EV) of $4bn, including the jump on Monday. That values it at almost exactly the same level as Cisco on an EV-to-trailing-EBITDA valuation and a slight discount to the networking giant on an EV-to-trailing-sales multiple.