Is Dell in the market for a GlassHouse?

Contact: Brenon Daly, Simon Robinson

After getting its M&A machine revving in the second half of 2007, Dell largely unplugged it after that. It has inked just three deals over the past year and a half, and only one of those has been significant. In February 2008, Dell spent $155m for email-archiving company MessageOne, in a transaction that was a bit of a family affair. The other two buys: a $12m play for a consulting shop and a tiny amount for a Web address to help sell its Adamo line of laptops.

And now, Dell’s efforts to bring in a new executive to do deals for the company have gotten hung up. David Johnson, formerly IBM’s top dealmaker, had been tapped to take over that role at Dell. However, Big Blue sued Johnson, saying the move to Dell would violate the terms of his employment agreement. (Meanwhile, back in Armonk, New York, Cosmo Nista, who had worked corporate development for IBM’s hardware division, has been named acting head of M&A at the company, replacing Johnson, according to one source.)

If Dell is looking to do a deal, our research director for storage, Simon Robinson, has come up with a pretty solid nomination: GlassHouse Technologies. The IT infrastructure services vendor pulled its IPO paperwork in March and recently indicated that it may do some shopping of its own. However, if GlassHouse were to go to the other side of a transaction, it could very well be in a sale to Dell, which is already an investor in GlassHouse as well as being its largest partner. And strategically, the services offered by GlassHouse would fit nicely with Dell’s effort to become a larger supplier of servers and storage to its enterprise customers.

Shopping sites

Contact: Brenon Daly

Fittingly for a laptop that’s marketed on its thin and sleek looks, Dell’s Adamo appears to be getting a thinner and sleeker Web location. The computer maker currently has all of the information on Adamo (think MacBook Air) loaded onto the somewhat clunky address of That is in the process of changing as Dell has reportedly purchased the site from a cyber-squatter.

While there hasn’t been any official word from Dell, visitors to are automatically loaded onto the site. Dell reportedly purchased the URL from YummyNames, a division of Canadian publicly traded company Tucows. (For the record, Dell’s market capitalization of $19bn is some 730 times larger than Tucows’, which stands at just $26m on the Amex.)

Whatever the details of the deal, we highly doubt that Dell’s reported purchase Monday of the Web address will have anything in common with the last URL pickup we highlighted. Back in November, we noted that National Lampoon snared for a few thousand dollars. Just a month later, National Lampoon was rocked by charges from the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleging conspiracy and securities fraud. Former CEO Dan Laikin has been arrested and is waiting to stand trial.

Cutting the ties that bind

Contact: Brenon Daly

As the business prospects for this year continue to deteriorate, companies are increasingly looking to shed underperforming divisions. VeriSign, for example, has already divested two units so far this year and still has a handful of others on the block. As drawn-out and money-losing as divestitures can be, it’s almost always preferable to the alternative of actually hanging on to the struggling businesses. At least that’s the view from Wall Street, which rarely dings a company for pruning.

We’ve been thinking about this in recent weeks as we’ve seen the projections for PC sales in 2009 get pulled back again and again. The bearish outlook has caused most PC makers to overhaul their strategies for selling boxes. For instance, Lenovo has scaled back its expectations for selling PCs in Europe and North America, and will instead focus on its home Chinese market, particularly the rural sector. The shift essentially undercuts the need for IBM’s PC business, which Lenovo picked up four years ago. (IBM took payment for the divestiture in cash and stock, booking a pre-tax gain of about $1bn.)

Of course, it’s hard to know how that division would have fared if Big Blue hadn’t shed it. And, it’s virtually impossible to calculate how much of a drag PCs, which accounted for about 10% of IBM’s sales, would have been on the overall company’s performance. But consider this: Since IBM closed the divestiture in mid-2005, Dell shares, which stand as the closest proxy to the PC industry, have lost 75% of their value and are trading at their lowest level since 1997.

Dell’s deals

Contact: Brenon Daly

Dell picked up one services company last week, even as rumors were swirling that the company might be eyeing another, larger services deal. Dell said Friday that it would hand over $12m in stock to acquire four divisions from Allin Corp, an IT consulting shop that trades on the Nasdaq’s bulletin board. Allin, which is profitable, reported revenue of some $22m for the first three months of 2008.

The asset buy from Allin was Dell’s first acquisition in almost a year, following last February’s $155m purchase of MessageOne. However, rather than the Allin deal, the talk last week about Dell’s M&A was more focused on reports of whether the company is planning a play for storage-consulting firm GlassHouse Technologies. That company filed an S1 a little more than a year ago, but has only amended it once since then. GlassHouse was looking to raise $100m in the offering, which was slated to be led by Goldman Sachs.

While Dell has been active in building out its services portfolio through acquisitions (notably, Everdream and SilverBack Technologies in 2007), we would note that the company might face some difficulties in preserving impartiality at an independent GlassHouse if it were to pick up the storage consultant. The reason? Dell might be interested in pushing its own EqualLogic gear, which it bought in November 2007 for $1.4bn (which stands as the company’s largest-ever deal). Speaking of EqualLogic, there are a number of common threads that tie it to GlassHouse. Both companies are based in the Northeast, have nearly 30% of their equity owned by venture firm Sigma Partners and tapped Goldman to lead their offerings.

Recent Dell acquisitions

Date Company Deal value
January 2009 Allin Corp (assets) $12m
February 2008 MessageOne $155m
December 2007 The Networked Storage Company $31m
November 2007 Everdream Not disclosed
November 2007 EqualLogic $1.4bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Net effect from Intel’s buy

-by Thomas Rasmussen

It’s a somber 10-year anniversary for 10-Gigabit Ethernet vendor NetEffect. The company was picked up by Intel in a bankruptcy asset sale last week for a bargain $8m. Its technology, along with 30 of its engineers, will be rolled into Intel’s LAN Access Division. NetEffect has burned through some $50m in funding since recapitalizing in 2004. The company, which we once heralded as an innovator and potential leader in 10GigE technology, simply ran out of cash.

One reason for NetEffect’s scrap sale might be the increased competition. Big players like Intel, with its own organic offerings and its tuck-in of NetEffect, and Broadcom, with its $77m acquisition of Siliquent Technologies in 2005, have been crowding an already teeming market. This, coupled with scarce funding and lack of widespread adoption of the technology, makes us wonder what will happen to NetEffect’s surviving former rival startups still trying to stay afloat.

Venture capitalists have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at 10GigE companies, with little to no payoff. We suspect the wind-down of NetEffect is an indication that VCs have had enough. Tehuti Networks, iVivity, Myricom, Neterion Technologies and Alacritech are some of the many startups in this sector that could potentially feel the net effect from this. In fact, iVivity seems to have quietly hit the switch already; its website is down and its phones are off the hook. Firms that will benefit from this include IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Hitachi, which are likely to follow Intel’s lead and peruse the bargain bin.

Known funding of select 10GigE players

Company Total funding Last round Status
Chelsio Communications $100m $25m series E (2008) Active
iVivity $60m $10m series D (2006) Missing in action
NetEffect $47m $25m series B (2006) Acquired by Intel for $8m
Siliquent Technologies $40m $21m (2004) Acquired by Broadcom in 2005 for $77m
Silverback Systems $51m $16m series D (2006) Acquired by Brocade Communications in 2007 for less than $10m*
Tehuti Networks Unknown Series B (2008) Active

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *Official 451 Group estimate

Not ‘Finnish’ with M&A

Finnish cell phone giant Nokia launched its mobile file-sharing Ovi application last week, coming quickly on the heels of the rollout of Nokia Music and other high-profile offerings. Much like Google and its Android and Chrome products, Nokia used technology that it acquired to form the core of its recently launched products. Specifically, its file-sharing technology came when it picked up Avvenu late last year.

And more M&A may be in the cards. Nokia recently told us that it is bullish on making further acquisitions to boost its service offerings. The company is aiming to evolve from strictly a mobile handset maker to a service-oriented handset maker – and strategic acquisitions are expected to play a big role in this transformation. (Of course, Nokia isn’t the only hardware company looking to do deals to get out of its core commodity market and into a more profitable – and defensible – service offering. PC maker Dell has spent some $2bn over the past two years increasing its service portfolio, buying companies offering everything from storage to email archiving to remote services.) What services could Nokia look to add and what companies might it acquire to do so?

With its music, games and mapping services well established, Nokia’s lack of a video service is strikingly curious. We suspect the company will quickly move to fill this gap. Two potential targets come to mind. Startups kyte and Qik both specialize in mobile video, and have already gotten a lot of interest from big mobile companies. In fact, kyte has drawn money not only from large telcos such as TeliaSonera, but also from Nokia’s own investment arm, Nokia Growth. Another venture that was recently brought to our attention is a startup called ZoneTag. It’s a Yahoo Labs startup that does location-based photo tagging. The software was developed for Nokia phones with the support of Nokia research and we hear the two divisions have a very good relationship.

Nokia’s recent mobile software acquisitions

Date Target Deal value
June 24, 2008 Symbian $410.8m
June 23, 2008 Plazes $30m*
January 28, 2008 Trolltech $153.5m
December 4, 2007 Avvenu Not disclosed
October 1, 2007 Navteq $8.1bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *Official 451 Group estimate

Big, happy family or favorite child?

For an executive who learned the ropes from Larry Ellison, Marc Benioff has adopted a very ‘un-Oracle-like’ approach to M&A. Since the company he founded,, went public in mid-2004, Benioff has inked just five deals. The total shopping bill: less than $100m. Oracle, on the other hand, hardly touches a deal worth less than $100m. In the same four-year period that has been public, Oracle has closed 45 deals with an announced value of more than $30bn.

Of course, the two companies are in very different stages of their lives, which goes a long way toward shaping their M&A activity. While Ellison and Oracle look to consolidate huge blocks of the software landscape, Benioff and target tiny technology purchases that allow them to extend their on-demand offering to new markets. We saw that with’s purchase last year of content management startup Koral, which had just nine employees. And on Wednesday, announced its largest deal so far, spending $31m on call center software vendor InStranet.

But we would add another – perhaps less obvious – reason for the rather shallow deal flow at In many ways, the company is caught between shopping and partnering. In an effort to get a richer valuation, has pushed and AppExchange as a way to be viewed as a platform company, rather than merely an applications vendor. (That effort got a big boost this week from Dell, which said it will be developing applications on the platform over the next three years.)

However, the very success of these efforts helps to explain why has to keep its checkbook in its pocket when shopping. It can either focus on building out its platform or it can focus on deal-making – it can’t do both. By design, platforms are broad, open and inclusive, while M&A necessarily involves selecting one above all others. Benioff can’t pick a favorite child and expect to have a big, happy family.

To illustrate the dilemma, consider the situation concerning sales compensation, a line of business that’s a logical extension of’s core CRM product and one the company could easily buy its way into. Indeed, there are already more than a half-dozen companies offering their sales compensation products on AppExchange. But imagine if decided to buy one of the vendors, say Xactly Corp. Obviously, that purchase would alienate AppExchange rivals like Centive and Callidus Software, which would probably pull their offerings from AppExchange the day the deal was announced. may well make up that immediate loss of revenue down the line. But as indicated by Wall Street’s brutal reaction Thursday to the company’s second-quarter report, it’s best not to tamper with the top line. an unwilling buyer

Announced Target Deal value Target description
Aug. 2008 InStranet $31.5m Customer service automation
Oct. 2007 CrispyNews Not disclosed Community news, website development
April 2007 Koral $7m* Web content management
Aug. 2006 Kieden Not disclosed Search engine marketing management
April 2006 Sendia $15m Wireless application developer

*451 Group estimate, Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Changing channels

In the hyper-competitive storage market, it seems that one vendor’s pain is another vendor’s gain. We’ve heard from three market sources recently that Dell’s largest-ever acquisition — its $1.4bn purchase of EqualLogic — has hit some difficulties around defections and uncertainties from the SAN vendor’s existing channel partners. Resellers who pushed EqualLogic’s offering in the past are worried about being crushed by Dell’s powerful direct-sales machine, as has happened to some of Dell’s ‘partners’ in the past.

Based on the recent numbers posted by rival SAN vendor Compellent Technologies, there may be something to those concerns. Compellent, which recently signed up its 1,000th customer, said second-quarter sales surged 74% to $21m — which is about what they were for the first two quarters of 2007 combined. (The performance, along with the forecast for profitability for the rest of the year, helped spark a 20% rally in the company’s shares over the past month.) At a recent investment banking technology conference, Compellent CEO Phil Soran told us he’s looking to poach EqualLogic’s channel partners. We’ve heard similar plans coming from rival storage player Lefthand Networks.

How well Dell is able to balance the sales channels for EqualLogic will go a long way toward determining how much of a boost the acquisition will give to its emerging push into storage. Already, the return on EqualLogic is made more challenging by the fact that Dell bought it literally at the top of the market. The day that Dell announced the acquisition, the Nasdaq hit a level it hadn’t seen since early 2001. (The index is currently off 14% since then, after having dropped as much as 23% from its early-November highs.) To make its high-priced acquisition of EqualLogic pay off, Dell is going to have to work hard to keep its new SAN rivals from siphoning off channel sales.