A quickly to Z

Contact: Ben Kolada

Rather than go for the quick exit, Andreessen Horowitz’s investing thesis focuses on the long haul, investing in companies that have the potential to become tech giants. Its investment in anti-fraud startup Silver Tail Systems counters that thesis, but that’s what happens when the money comes knocking early.

Andreessen Horowitz first disclosed that it invested in Silver Tail in June 2011. The thought was that, like the malware wave, sophisticated fraud attacks would first hit the largest enterprises and eventually move downwind to SMBs. However, the market has greatly expanded, as a variety of fraud attacks are now hitting businesses of all sizes.

Noticing the market’s potential, EMC moved to take Silver Tail’s capabilities in-house. Terms were not officially disclosed on EMC’s acquisition of Silver Tail, although the price was reported to be in the $300-400m range.

As we understand it, though, Silver Tail was initially looking for the opposite of an exit. The story we’re hearing is that Silver Tail was out on the fundraising circuit, looking for upward of $30m, but EMC made a table-clearing offer. That reported price, if true, would have been about twice the post-money valuation Silver Tail was seeking in its round. As it is, the midpoint of the reported price is actually about five times the post-money valuation it took in its last round, according to our understanding.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @MAKnowledgebase.

EMC buys Syncplicity for mobile file sharing in the enterprise

Contact: Ben Kolada, Simon Robinson

EMC on Tuesday announced that it is taking another swing at backup and file synchronization. However, this time the company is aiming primarily at mobile users in the enterprise. EMC is acquiring four-year-old startup Syncplicity, which provides file-sharing and storage software as a service that enables synchronization to and from computers, mobile devices and online services.

In announcing the acquisition, EMC noted that it chose Syncplicity over the competition because Syncplicity is focused on the enterprise segment, while most other competitors are still targeting consumers. (EMC had previously tried its hand at the consumer backup market. In 2007, it paid $76m for online storage startup Mozy, but has since handed over much of the responsibility for those assets to VMware.) Like so many of its rivals, Syncplicity started in the consumer space but turned its attention toward enterprises in the past year or so. The company now claims about 200,000 users, including roughly 50,000 businesses.

We’d also note that the deal was driven by EMC’s Information Intelligence Group (i.e., Documentum), which makes sense from a collaboration/workflow/app space, but it does have the potential to cause some internal conflicts. For example, the EMC Atmos team is working closely with Oxygen Cloud, and VMware has Horizon/Octopus.

EMC isn’t disclosing terms of the acquisition, but we were recently told that Syncplicity is still in its early days and is nowhere near the size of competitor ShareFile, which sold to Citrix last year. ShareFile had nearly double Syncplicity’s headcount, and generated an estimated $12m in revenue during the year leading up to its sale. Citrix paid $54m for ShareFile, and is now using the target’s technology in its recently updated CloudGateway 2 product for mobile app management and file sharing. We’ll have a longer report on EMC’s Syncplicity buy later this week.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @MAKnowledgebase.

What happened to the storage sector’s Class of 2007?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Back in mid-2007, BlueArc was one of a quartet of storage vendors that put in their paperwork to go public during those go-go days on the stock market. However, if the NAS systems specialist, which recently re-filed its prospectus, does manage to see through its offering on this go-round, it will find itself very much alone. All three of BlueArc’s would-be fellow public storage contemporaries have been consumed by larger tech companies. The total bill for those three transactions: $4.8bn.

Dell would have had a hat trick for the Class of 2007 storage firms, if not for Hewlett-Packard. As it was, the Round Rock, Texas-based vendor took home EqualLogic in November 2007 before that company could even go public and then erased Compellent Technologies from the NYSE last December. Of course, Dell was lead bidder for 3PAR last summer, too, before losing out to HP. (And those deals are just for the big storage providers that filed their S1s in 2007. If we move back a year to 2006, another two vendors – Double-Take Software and Isilon Systems – that debuted that year were both gobbled up in 2010.)

With all this consolidation, where does that leave BlueArc? As we penciled out in our report on its planned IPO, the company is almost certain to be worth less when it does hit the market than it would have been worth before the Great Recession. Somewhat perversely, that’s true even though BlueArc will be twice the size that it was when it put in its prospectus in 2007.

If the company finds that prospect too demoralizing, it could always follow its fellow filers and opt for a trade sale. We would have put forward Oracle as a possible buyer of BlueArc, in a kind of ‘discount’ play for NetApp. But that seems even less likely since Oracle rolled in Pillar Data Systems on Wednesday morning. So, it looks like either HDS decides that it wants to own its OEM partner outright or BlueArc (finally) hits the market.

EMC bolsters security portfolio with NetWitness

Contact: Brenon Daly, Josh Corman

Announcing its first deal in almost five months, EMC moved to bolster its security management portfolio by picking up fast-growing NetWitness. The purchase adds the rich network data and powerful analysis capabilities of the NetWitness NextGen platform, which is a bit like a TiVo for network traffic – capturing, indexing and storing massive amounts of network traffic. From a financial point of view, it is EMC’s first significant security acquisition since buying RSA Security in mid-2006.

In fact, we would estimate that the price of NetWitness tops EMC’s spending, collectively, on the four bolt-on acquisitions it has made to RSA since the $2.1bn deal. According to our understanding, NetWitness more than doubled revenue to about $45m in 2010. Given the growth rate and premium customer list NetWitness had assembled, we have no trouble believing market speculation that EMC paid $450-500m for NetWitness. A double-digit multiple isn’t out of whack for a fast-growing startup that has strategic value to EMC. We understand, for instance, that last summer EMC paid just shy of $400m for Greenplum, a data-warehousing startup that was clipping along at just under $30m in sales.

Oracle has gone silent

Contact: Brenon Daly

While investors will be tuning in for Oracle’s Q3 report after the market’s close today, we can’t help noting that there hasn’t been much news from the consolidator recently. It has yet to announce a deal in 2011, an uncharacteristic dry spell for a company that averaged an acquisition every six weeks in each of the past two years. In Q1 2010, Oracle announced three transactions and even in the recession-wracked Q1 2009, the software giant announced a pair of deals – but nothing so far this year.

In fact, Oracle has been out of the market since it spent $1bn on Art Technology Group in early November, nearly five months ago. And it’s not just Oracle that’s currently on the M&A sidelines. Fellow big-name buyers such as Microsoft, Symantec, EMC and Nokia have all yet to open their accounts in 2011. Even serial shopper IBM was also on that list until earlier this week, when it announced its purchase of Tririga

An extended cold snap in the M&A market

Contact: Brenon Daly

The tech M&A spending slump continued into February. For the sixth straight month, the aggregate value of deals came in at only about $10bn. (Specifically, we tallied 256 deals in February, worth just $9.7bn – the lowest monthly spending total in a year.) The rather anemic recent spending comes after a flurry of dealmaking last summer had many observers speculating about a return to a more robust M&A environment.

Instead, recent monthly spending has flat-lined at just half the level it was last summer. Another way to look at the activity: The total value of deals so far this year (January and February combined for $20.6bn in spending) is only equal to the single-month totals from April to August last year.

One reason why 2011 has gotten off to such a slow start is that many big-name tech buyers haven’t been in the market. Among the companies that have yet to open their M&A account this year: Microsoft, Symantec, Oracle, IBM, EMC, BMC and others.

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.

Blue-sky thinking on a bidding war for Isilon

Contact: Brenon Daly

Based on the two previous multibillion-dollar deals in the storage industry, we should be bracing for a bidding war around Isilon Systems. Recall that Data Domain last year and 3PAR this summer each attracted after-the-fact suitors that drove up the price on both by more than a few dollars. But in the case of Isilon, we don’t actually see the process going to a public auction.

For starters, there’s the not-insignificant matter of the buy-in bid, which currently values Isilon more richly (on a price-to-sales ratio) than either Data Domain or 3PAR. (As we note in our full report on EMC’s planned purchase, Isilon is being taken off the market at its highest-ever price, roughly five times the level where the company started the year and roughly twice where it traded just three months ago.)

Setting aside Isilon’s acrophobia-inducing valuation, which company could we imagine putting in a topping bid? Admittedly, that requires a rather vivid imagination, but one name we could come up with is Dell. (My colleague, Henry Baltazar, looked at Isilon and other potential targets for Dell in a recent report.) The company has already demonstrated a willingness to spend big to build out its storage portfolio, taking home EqualLogic three years ago and making an unsuccessful run at 3PAR this summer. (If nothing else, Dell’s effort to land 3PAR signaled that the tech giant doesn’t appear content to simply continue its long-term reliance on EMC for storage business. We suspect that marriage of convenience may well be on the rocks.)

Not that we necessarily expect it to happen, but Isilon would nonetheless bring Dell a fast-growing storage vendor (roughly 60% revenue growth for 2010) and a solid roster of more than 1,500 customers, which is roughly twice the number it would have picked up with 3PAR.

Granted, there would be some overlap with the NAS technology Dell obtained with Exanet earlier this year. But Isilon would significantly enhance that, as well as fit well with Dell’s more recent storage purchase, Ocarina Networks. (Isilon and Ocarina actually had a partnership, putting Ocarina’s digital image de-duplication technology in front of Isilon. That’s particularly useful for storage requirements for media and entertainment companies, which account for one-third of revenue at Isilon.) Again, we highly doubt that Dell plans to start a bidding war for Isilon. But it’s enough to get us thinking.

Isilon and 3PAR: strikingly similar storage sales

Contact: Brenon Daly

EMC’s planned purchase of Isilon Systems comes as the second storage acquisition valued at more than $2bn in just three months. In fact, it lines up rather closely on a number of fronts with the other recent big-ticket storage deal, Hewlett-Packard’s pickup of 3PAR. For starters, the adviser. Qatalyst Partners got sole print for helping to sell 3PAR, and also had a hand in the process for Isilon. (Morgan Stanley and Qatalyst teamed up on the sell side.)

In terms of financial results, both Isilon and 3PAR are very similar. The two vendors were both generating about $200m in trailing revenue and only modest amounts of cash flow at the time of their acquisitions. (Both also had slightly more than $100m in cash on hand, thanks primarily to their recent IPOs.) That means both Isilon and 3PAR secured a valuation of more than 10 times trailing revenue in their sales to EMC and HP, respectively. If anything, Isilon is garnering an even richer valuation at 12.8x trailing 12-month sales and 8.7x projected 2011 sales.

And finally, both Isilon and 3PAR are being taken off the market at their highest-ever valuations, with acquisition offers of about $33 for each share. (That was the exact clearing bid for 3PAR, which came after two rounds of bumped bids, while Isilon shareholders are set to pocket $33.85 for each of their shares.) Given that Isilon and 3PAR were trading in the single digits just a few months before their acquisitions, shareholders in both storage vendors have reason to smile.

The thin air around Isilon

Contact: Brenon Daly

Regardless of the fact that Isilon Systems hasn’t traded on anything remotely connected to its underlying financial performance for a long time, the NAS vendor nonetheless reported third-quarter results earlier today. As these things go, it was a strong report: sales up 77% and a solid profit, reversing a year-ago loss.

The results pushed shares up about a buck to $28 each in mid-Thursday trading. That continues a run that has seen the stock nearly quadrupled so far this year, giving the storage company a mind-blowing valuation of nearly $1.8bn. The third-quarter report notwithstanding, much of that run has been spurred by acquisition speculation, with EMC reportedly in exclusive talks to acquire Isilon.

To understand how detached Isilon’s valuation is from reality, consider this: For every dollar of earnings that Isilon is projected to bring in this year, investors are valuing that at $100. That’s right, a single greenback is worth almost 100 times that amount to Isilon’s market cap. Through the first three quarters of the year, Isilon posted GAAP net income of $7m. Even assuming that the company has a blowout fourth quarter, full-year 2010 earnings are still likely to come in below $20m. Meanwhile, its equity value continues to creep toward $2bn.

Even on a more conventional measure, Isilon’s valuation ratio is still highly inflated: For every dollar in sales the company brings in, investors are valuing that at $10. At an equity value of $1.8bn, Isilon is currently trading at 10 times current-year revenue, and almost eight times next year’s revenue. Keep in mind, too, that those valuations don’t take into account any acquisition premium that would undoubtedly figure into the deal. Every dollar that a bid comes in above Isilon’s current market price adds more than $75m to the company’s price tag. That’s assuming, of course, that a bid comes.