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.