Winners and losers in data warehousing

Contact: Ben Kolada

Just a month after Greenplum was swallowed by EMC for an estimated $400m, fellow data-warehousing startup Kickfire was sold for probably one one-hundreth of that amount to Teradata. Why did the two data-warehousing vendors – both venture-backed, Silicon Valley startups targeting the same market – see divergent outcomes? The answer to that multimillion-dollar question lies in each company’s targeted markets.

The scrap sale of Kickfire was the end result of a misguided approach by the Santa Clara, California-based startup to the low end of the data-warehousing market. Basically, Kickfire was trying to sell appliances through an expensive direct-sale model. However, the economics of a high-cost business model for a low-cost product only work on big sales. Kickfire never got anywhere close to that, collecting only about a dozen customers in its four years of business. (We would contrast Kickfire’s business model with that of its closest competitor, Infobright. That company, which sells a software-only product through an indirect channel, has more than doubled the number of customers over the past year to 120.)

As Kickfire was struggling to sell to small businesses, 30 miles up the road in San Mateo, California, Greenplum was ripening nicely by selling to enterprises. The company’s high-revenue customer accounts helped it quickly grow total sales to just shy of $30m at the time of its sale to EMC. (That works out to an eye-popping valuation of 14 times trailing sales – a multiple that’s twice as high as any valuation the data-warehousing sector has seen in major acquisitions.) Part of the reason it garnered such a high price is that Greenplum counted some 140 customers at the time of its sale.

Other data-warehousing vendors have also experienced the highs of the enterprise market. Netezza and Teradata both made it to the public markets. (Although we heard a rumor that Netezza was almost erased from the market. Word is that EMC first talked to Netezza, even floating a bid earlier this year that basically would have valued Netezza at its current price on the NYSE. Needless to say, talks didn’t go too far between the two Boston-area companies.) And of course, DATAllegro was scooped up by Microsoft for an estimated 7x trailing sales.

With all of this consolidation playing out, we expect that much of the attention in the data-warehousing space is now turning to Aster Data Systems. The fast-growing vendor, which is based in San Carlos, California, has raised $27m in venture backing. If Aster Data gets snapped up in a trade sale (like many of its rivals have), we wouldn’t be surprised to see Dell as the buyer. The two companies are currently partners, and Dell has shown an increasing interest in big data following its continued attempts to buy 3PAR.