Juniper returns to the M&A table

Contact: Brenon Daly

After almost a half-decade out of the market, Juniper Networks is back buying. The communications equipment vendor announced plans last week to hand over ‘less than $100m’ for Ankeena Networks, its first purchase since picking up Funk Software in November 2005. The company declined to be more specific on the deal value, but at least one source indicated that the price for Ankeena was indeed less than $100m, but not by much.

Whatever its final price, Ankeena undoubtedly got a rich valuation, as it essentially launched a year ago. Sales of the company’s software for serving and managing content delivery were fairly small. Ankeena also undoubtedly delivered a rich return for its three backers: Mayfield Fund, Clearstone Venture Partners and Trinity Ventures. The trio put just $16m into Ankeena.

In the four-and-a-half years that Juniper has been sidelined, its rivals have been busy. Ericsson has inked some 17 deals in that period, including the $2.1bn acquisition of Redback Networks. Meanwhile, Cisco has sealed 39 deals in that time, spending more than $40bn. Most observers would chalk up Juniper’s M&A hiatus, at least in part, to the fact that it came up way short on its biggest gamble, the $4bn all-equity purchase of NetScreen Technologies. (On a smaller scale, Juniper also has precious little to show for its $337m cash-and-stock pickup of Peribit Networks, a WAN traffic optimization vendor that we understand was running at less than $15m in sales.)

Realizing a return on NetScreen was going to be difficult from the outset because Juniper overpaid for the security provider. In a transaction that had more than a few echoes of the Internet Bubble era, Juniper paid 14 times trailing sales and more than 50 times trailing EBITDA for NetScreen. And when it tried to make the deal work, Juniper found itself struggling to integrate NetScreen’s firewall product into its core networking line, and was unable to reconcile NetScreen’s indirect sales model with its own direct model. Maybe buying Ankeena is the clearest sign yet that Juniper, which replaced its longtime CEO in September 2008, has finally closed the NetScreen acquisition and moved on.