A tale of two e-discovery deals

Contact: Nick Patience

Last week was more or less bookended with two acquisitions in the e-discovery market, with Autonomy Corp picking up Iron Mountain’s digital assets on Monday and Symantec buying Clearwell Systems on Thursday. Autonomy and Symantec share a market but little else between them. Both are experienced acquirers – having made, collectively, 50 deals over the past decade – but each company chooses its targets and executes acquisitions in very different ways.

Autonomy often buys rivals simply to remove them from the market. Or it inks deals to obtain customer bases or move into adjacent sectors, and it often swoops in on companies at the last minute (as it did with Zantaz in 2007). The purchase of Iron Mountain’s divested business has all four of those characteristics. Iron Mountain was a direct rival in the e-discovery and archiving segments, while it also provided a backup and recovery business, which is a new area for Autonomy. The buyer also netted 6,000 customers, although there is some overlap. Autonomy took out Verity back in 2005 to remove a competitor and picked up Zantaz to get into the archiving space. The vendor is known for being aggressive in integrating companies, which often leads to a lot of people quickly moving on after being acquired, and we expect both people and products to be removed rapidly here.

Symantec’s M&A strategy is still somewhat shaped by its misguided attempt to add storage to its core security offering with the acquisition of Veritas in 2004. (That deal remains Big Yellow’s largest-ever purchase, accounting for more than half of the company’s entire M&A spending.) Of course, that transaction happened more than a half-decade ago and a different management team was heading the company.

Still, that experience – along with the constant reminders about the misstep from Symantec’s large shareholders – appears to have made the company more considered in its approach. For example, it had been working with Clearwell in the field as well as at the product development level for more than two years before the deal. However, we don’t think Big Yellow could have waited much longer to add some key e-discovery capabilities to boost its market-leading (but aging) Enterprise Vault franchise. We suspect that is why Symantec paid such a high premium for Clearwell, valuing the e-discovery provider at 7 times sales – more than twice the multiple Autonomy paid in its e-discovery purchase.

Clearwell had been on a growth tear since its formation at the end of 2004 and the firm helped define the e-discovery space, starting with early case assessment and then systematically moving into other segments of the e-discovery process. We get the feeling that management may have wished to have waited another year or so before being bought. We think they would have relished the chance to turn Clearwell into something substantial and possibly take it public; the fact that no bankers were used on either side indicates that Clearwell was not actively shopping itself around. But some offers are just too good to turn down.

Autonomy picks up piece of rock from Iron Mountain

Contact: Brenon Daly, Nick Patience

Announcing its first acquisition in almost a year, Autonomy Corp has picked up Iron Mountain’s digital assets in a surprisingly rich purchase of a castoff business. Autonomy will pay $380m in cash for the units, which include backup and recovery, e-discovery and digital-archiving software. The transaction effectively unwinds Iron Mountain’s acquisitions of Mimosa Systems and Stratify, deals the records giant had done as a hedge against the digitization of information. As my colleague Nick Patience writes in his report on the move in tonight’s Daily 451, the divestiture puts Iron Mountain almost entirely back in the business of storing cardboard boxes.

For Autonomy, we suspect that the main reason for the purchase is the division’s customer base of 6,000 as well as the six petabytes of data those customers have stored. (Autonomy already has e-discovery and archiving technology, so would be less interested in those Iron Mountain products.) Viewed in that light, the purchase price of $380m, or more than 2.5 times projected revenue in 2011, seems a bit steep. That’s particularly true when we consider that Iron Mountain was under the gun from big shareholders to dump the digital division. On the news, Iron Mountain shares inched a bit higher Monday afternoon, and have now added one-third in value since the beginning of the year.

A Mimosa-colored Iron Mountain

Contact: Brenon Daly

Adding a major piece to its information management portfolio, Iron Mountain said Monday that it will hand over $112m in cash for Mimosa Systems. (We noted two weeks ago that the market was buzzing on this possible pairing.) The purchase is the largest by Iron Mountain since its October 2007 acquisition of Stratify, a deal that serves as the basis for the company’s Iron Mountain Digital. (Stratify’s founder now heads up Iron Mountain’s digital business. Incidentally, Mimosa chief executive T.M. Ravi will join Iron Mountain Digital as head of marketing.)

The purchase of Mimosa adds on-premises content archiving to Iron Mountain Digital, and brings it more directly into competition with some of the largest suppliers of information management technology, including two companies that bought their way into the market. In mid-2007, Autonomy Corp paid a whopping $375m for Zantaz, and two years ago Dell shelled out $155m for MessageOne. We understand that Dell valued its archiving startup at slightly more than 6x trailing sales, while Autonomy paid about 3.3x trailing sales for Zantaz. According to two sources, Iron Mountain is paying roughly the same multiple that Autonomy paid, valuing Mimosa at about 3.2x its estimated trailing sales of about $32m.

Will Iron Mountain soon be sipping a Mimosa?

Contact: Brenon Daly, Kathleen Reidy, Simon Robinson

For what was once a fairly staid Old Economy business, Iron Mountain has done a better job than most companies in acclimating itself to the digital age. The records management vendor has accomplished that with eight acquisitions over the past half-decade, picking up technology for online backup and e-discovery, among other offerings. The $158m purchase of e-discovery provider Stratify stands, in many ways, as Iron Mountain’s marquee acquisition for its digital business. It has maintained the Stratify name and, last November, turned its whole digital subsidiary over to Ramana Venkata, the founder and former CEO of Stratify.

After that purchase in October 2007, Iron Mountain stayed out of the market for more than two years, despite many adjacent sectors that it could buy its way into. (And, from what we remember of the past two recession-wracked years, prices for startups weren’t particularly steep.) The M&A drought ended last month with the pickup of a San Francisco-based services company, Legal Imaging Technologies, that provides electronic document conversion. Terms weren’t disclosed.

But now we wonder if that small buy might be followed by a large deal. Several sources have indicated that Iron Mountain may be looking to snare a digital-archiving startup. It had relied on its partnership with MessageOne, but since that company’s acquisition by Dell, Iron Mountain has moved on, partnering with Mimecast last April. The partnership – combined with the fact that both businesses deliver their offerings through a subscription model – makes an acquisition of Mimecast by Iron Mountain a logical fit.

However, the market has been buzzing recently with another possible pairing for Iron Mountain – Mimosa Systems. Although Mimosa has talked in the past about going public this year, we have always thought that an acquisition of the company was more likely. (It has raised $50m in backing and, according to one source, was tracking to about $40m in bookings last year.) While Mimosa’s technology is highly regarded, the fact that it’s on-premises rather than on-demand would pose some integration challenges. However, it does have an emerging cloud story that would likely be of interest to Iron Mountain.