Dell uses M&A (again) to go it alone in storage

Contact: Brenon Daly

Dell’s reach for AppAssure Software continues the tech giant’s trend of using M&A to reduce its reliance on outside vendors for its $2bn storage business. Most notably, the purchase of Compellent two years ago – following its unsuccessful effort to land 3PAR – reduced Dell’s long-standing partnership with storage powerhouse EMC. In a similar vein, Dell’s acquisition Friday morning of AppAssure is likely to trim its business with data-protection specialist CommVault. (Dell is CommVault’s largest OEM partner, accounting for roughly 20% of that company’s total revenue.)

Terms weren’t revealed but we would expect that Dell paid more than $100m for AppAssure. (Whatever the amount, the deal almost certainly represents a sterling return for Bain Capital, which is AppAssure’s sole backer, having put just $6m into the five-year-old startup.) According to our understanding, AppAssure generated about $20m in 2011, triple the level from the previous year.

For comparison, CommVault stock currently trades near its all-time high. CommVault’s steady run has put the company’s valuation at an eye-popping $2.3bn, or nearly 6 times the expected $400m in revenue for its current fiscal year, which wraps up next month. Word of Dell’s purchase of rival AppAssure put some pressure on CommVault’s high-flying shares. On an otherwise bull-market day on Wall Street, CommVault stock dipped 4% on trading that was more than twice as heavy as average by early Friday afternoon. We’ll have a full report on this deal in tonight’s Daily 451.

CommVault going it alone

Contact: Brenon Daly

Even though many of the storage companies that went public over the past half-decade have subsequently been erased from the market through M&A, don’t look for CommVault to join that list. At least that’s the official word from the top of the company. CEO Robert Hammer said during his presentation at ThinkEquity’s Annual Growth Conference last week that the odds of his company getting acquired are ‘diminimous.’

CommVault is often mentioned as a takeover target, with Dell generally being viewed as the most likely buyer. Dell is CommVault’s largest OEM partner, accounting for a bit more than 20% of the company’s overall revenue. Dell has already purchased a half-dozen storage vendors, including EqualLogic and, most recently, Compellent Technologies. And now that Dell has punted its relationship with EMC, building up its own storage portfolio is a key mandate. (As one of the largest stand-alone backup software providers, CommVault competes primarily with Symantec, but also bumps up against EMC and IBM, among others.)

CEO Hammer says that rather than join the M&A parade, he’s planning to build CommVault into an independent company with sales of $1bn and an operating margin of 25%. That implies CommVault tripling revenue and more than doubling the operating margin. (One of the main reasons why CommVault runs at a relatively low 11% operating margin is because it spends more than half of its revenue on sales and marketing.) Hammer declined to set a timeframe for when the 11-year-old firm would hit those targets.

Rumor mill churning on CommVault

Contact: Brenon Daly, Henry Baltazar

To paraphrase Mark Twain, a rumor can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. At least that’s the case with M&A gossip right now. Rumors are flying, in many cases given wing by some of the unusual multibillion-dollar pairings that have popped up in recent weeks. Who would have thought, for instance, that Cisco would have gone shopping in Norway (of all places) to ink its largest deal in a year and a half? And who would have picked Dell as the buyer for Perot Systems? (Except for that guy who traded Perot options on inside information, that is.)

All uncertainty, of course, serves as fertile ground for speculation and rumors. Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Brocade Communications may have selected a banker to help it with a sale. While we’ve noted in the past that Brocade is likely to get snapped up, we have our doubts that anything is imminent. (And we doubt even more that Brocade would ever end up at Oracle, as the WSJ speculated.) But since we love rumors as much as the next person, we figured we’d pass along one that we’ve heard making the rounds this week: CommVault may be in play, with NetApp as the possible buyer.

We’ve mulled over a CommVault-NetApp pairing in the past, most recently after the storage giant lost the bidding war for data de-duplication specialist Data Domain this summer. But we’ve never felt that the two companies fit tightly together all that well. (Still, one recent competitive development may spur NetApp to make a move. Symantec, which had been a longtime partner of NetApp, rolled out its own NAS software offering. To counter Symantec’s move on its turf, NetApp could use the archiving and de-dupe offering that would come with CommVault. Whether that’s enough to drive a deal, well, we’re not so sure.)

There are still a lot of differences between the two companies. For starters, CommVault pretty much sells straight software, while NetApp wraps its IP in hardware. (Further, its boxes are at least partly an alternative to CommVault’s offering.) Also, CommVault, while now targeting enterprise sales, primarily pursues the low end of the market while NetApp sells at the high end. Add to that a newly appointed chief executive who might want to actually move into the corner office before making an acquisition that would (for good or ill) reshape the company irrecoverably, and we just don’t see NetApp reaching for CommVault.

Instead, we have our own leading candidate for CommVault: Dell. On the heels of its purchase of Perot, Dell went out of its way to say that it was still very much planning to do deals, and storage has been a focus of its shopping in the past. CommVault and Dell already have an OEM arrangement and share thousands of customers. The fact that CommVault recently rolled out a relatively low-cost de-dupe offering would make it even more attractive to Dell, we suspect. CommVault, which is solidly profitable, has a market capitalization of $870m but holds about $120m in cash, lowering its enterprise value to just $750m.

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.