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.

Netezza’s bogeyman

When Microsoft gets into a new market, the impact on the existing vendors tends to be in line with the software giant’s gargantuan size. After all, fears among startups over getting ‘Netscape-d’ have often been realized. That’s particularly true in the days before the convicted monopolist started putting on a softer face on its business. Gone are the days when Microsoft would threaten ‘to cut off the air supply’ of other companies, as it famously did to the Internet browser pioneer. Maybe it’s middle-aged softness at the 33-year-old company, but Microsoft’s bite often seems a little toothless these days. (Does anyone really think Microsoft – with or without spending $45bn on Yahoo – will be able to narrow the gap to Google in search advertising?)

Still, there was a moment last week when it appeared the Redmond, Wash.-based behemoth once again looked like it had the power to scare the bejesus out of a company (and its investors) by buying its way into a market. Last Thursday, as it was holding its annual meeting with Wall Street, Microsoft said it was purchasing Datallegro, a data-warehousing startup that we estimate was running at about $35m in sales. A market source indicated that rumors of the deal started percolating late Wednesday, a day before official word of the acquisition. Almost immediately, shares of data-warehousing vendor Netezza came under pressure. After hitting an intra-day high of $13.36 on Wednesday, Netezza stock slumped as much as 8% and closed basically at the low of the day. It opened even lower Thursday and sunk the entire day, finishing the session at $11.48. From its peak to its trough in those two sessions, Netezza lost 14%, with trading on Thursday about 50% busier than average.

However, as easy as it may be to point to Microsoft’s competitive move as the reason for Netezza’s decline, the two events are linked only by coincidence rather than causality. According to two market sources, Netezza actually distributed shares back to its VCs, meaning the stock’s slump can be attributed to the supply side, rather than demand side. (There have been no SEC filings about the move, and calls to the company to verify the information weren’t immediately returned.) Maybe Microsoft isn’t the big, bad company we all thought it was?