The year of the privately held storage supplier?

Contact: Simon Robinson

The storage M&A market is expected to favor smaller private providers this year, as recent activity has reduced the number of available midsize public targets. Indeed, in the past 24 months, Data Domain, 3PAR, Isilon Systems and Compellent have all been taken off the market. And buyout speculation caused by this recent spate of activity has bloated valuations at remaining public firms, such as CommVault, making them less likely to be acquired next.

But while recent public storage acquisitions may have halted the sales of their public peers, they may have actually benefited private suppliers. For example, EMC’s reach for Isilon highlighted the growing requirement for high-scale storage systems in markets where the exponential growth of highly rich – or ‘big’ – data is a key pressing challenge. Indeed, that deal could be important in refocusing attention on the remaining privately held players.

We took a look at several of the remaining private targets in a recent Sector IQ and noticed that would-be buyers still have several options to choose from. Though the IPO window has been closed for a couple of years, there are many attractive storage specialists that are fairly mature on both the product and go-to-market fronts, and a closer examination reveals a number of storage system specialists that were formed in the late 1990s that are still making headway today. Click here for our full report on potential targets in the storage sector.

Symantec-Veritas without the strings

Where Symantec purchased, McAfee will partner. Having watched its major security competitor get bogged down with a storage acquisition, McAfee has opted for a low-risk partnership to tie its security products with storage. The largest stand-alone security vendor said Tuesday that it has struck an alliance with data management software provider CommVault. The initial integrated product, which will put CommVault’s storage resource management tool into McAfee’s ePolicy Orchestrator console, will be available next year.

With modest integration and no bundled products planned, we would characterize McAfee’s loose partnership with CommVault as ‘Symantec-Veritas lite.’ And the two sides have reason to be cautious, given the struggles Symantec has had with its $13.5bn purchase of Veritas. (Although he continues to back the deal, Symantec CEO John Thompson has said the market considers the combination a ‘purple elephant’ and is uncertain of how to value it.) Since the transaction was announced in December 2004, Symantec shares have lost about half of their value, compared to a 20% decline in the Nasdaq and a slight 5% dip in McAfee stock.