Juniper back in the market — and how

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just nine months after Juniper Networks picked up a small stake in Altor Networks through the startup’s second round of funding, the networking giant decided Monday to take home the whole thing. Juniper will hand over $95m in cash for the rest of the virtual firewall vendor. (Altor had raised around $16m in backing, including the undisclosed investment from Juniper.) At the time of the investment, Juniper said it planned to develop an ‘even closer’ relationship with Altor, its primary virtualization security partner. See our full report on the deal.

The purchase of Altor stands as Juniper’s fifth acquisition this year, and brings its M&A spending to almost $400m so far in 2010. That’s fairly remarkable activity, considering that Juniper had been out of the market for a half-decade. And with the exception of its recent pickup of Trapeze Networks, Juniper’s buys have been big bets on small companies. The networking giant has paid $70m-100m each for Ankeena Networks, SMobile Systems and Altor – and we gather that all three of the target companies were running in the single digits of millions of dollars.

Recent Juniper acquisitions

Date Target Deal value Rationale
December 6, 2010 Altor Networks $95m Virtualization security
November 18, 2010 Blackwave (assets) Not disclosed Internet video content delivery
November 16, 2010 Trapeze Networks $152m Wireless LAN infrastructure
July 27, 2010 SMobile Systems $70m Mobile device security
April 8, 2010 Ankeena Networks $69m Online media content delivery

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Trapeze’s long road to an obvious home

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two and a half years after a head-scratching sale to an unexpected buyer, Trapeze Networks has finally landed where it pretty much should have gone in the first place: Juniper Networks. The networking giant said Tuesday that it will hand over $152m in cash for the WLAN gear maker, with the deal expected to close before the end of the year. The price is actually $19m (or 14%) higher than Trapeze fetched in its sale in June 2008 to Belden. (That’s a reversal from most divestitures, which typically return dimes on the dollar compared to the original acquisition price.)

Trapeze’s combination with Belden was a bit puzzling from the start, so it’s not surprising to see the company, which is primarily known for its wiring products, unwind its purchase of a wireless vendor. In fact, it’s only surprising that Trapeze went through a period of ownership at a company other than Juniper. After all, Juniper had an OEM arrangement with Trapeze and even put money into the startup’s series D round of funding. We gather that Juniper was close to taking home Trapeze before it sold to Belden, but the two partners got snagged on a final price.

Since Trapeze sold for the first time, there have been a handful of exits for other WLAN providers. Most notably, Colubris Networks got snapped up by Hewlett-Packard and Meru Networks actually made it to the Nasdaq. Meru went public at $15 per share, which has been basically the midpoint of its trading range since its debut in late March. The stock also currently trades at about $15, giving Meru an equity value of roughly $240m, or about three times 2010 sales. Incidentally, Bank of America Merrill Lynch both led Meru’s offering and advised Juniper on its pickup of Trapeze.

Riverbed bolts onto Steelhead

Contact: Brenon Daly

Riverbed Technology just keeps flowing higher. Shares in the company, which hit the Nasdaq four years ago, notched their highest-ever close Wednesday. The market values the WAN traffic optimization (WTO) vendor at a staggering $4.2bn. That works out to some 7.7 times projected 2010 sales of $545m and some 6.2 times next year’s forecasted revenue of some $680m.

The company has garnered that rich valuation by selling its Steelhead appliances, which basically help customers move network traffic more quickly. Through M&A, Riverbed has added some smarts to its boxes. That expansion has been crucial for Riverbed because it is still basically a one-product shop, while its rivals (notably Cisco and Blue Coat Systems, but also Juniper Networks) pitch WTO wares as part of a larger network offering.

Most recently, the company picked up protocol analysis and packet-capture technology with its purchase of CACE Technologies. Although exact terms on the deal – only Riverbed’s second acquisition – weren’t revealed, the company did indicate that it paid less than $20m for CACE, which is perhaps best known for its Wireshark and WinPcap tools. (My colleague Steve Steinke has our full report on the purchase.) The deal comes a year and a half after Riverbed bought Mazu Networks, which added visibility and security technology through the startup’s network behavior anomaly detection offering.

Juniper returns to the M&A table

Contact: Brenon Daly

After almost a half-decade out of the market, Juniper Networks is back buying. The communications equipment vendor announced plans last week to hand over ‘less than $100m’ for Ankeena Networks, its first purchase since picking up Funk Software in November 2005. The company declined to be more specific on the deal value, but at least one source indicated that the price for Ankeena was indeed less than $100m, but not by much.

Whatever its final price, Ankeena undoubtedly got a rich valuation, as it essentially launched a year ago. Sales of the company’s software for serving and managing content delivery were fairly small. Ankeena also undoubtedly delivered a rich return for its three backers: Mayfield Fund, Clearstone Venture Partners and Trinity Ventures. The trio put just $16m into Ankeena.

In the four-and-a-half years that Juniper has been sidelined, its rivals have been busy. Ericsson has inked some 17 deals in that period, including the $2.1bn acquisition of Redback Networks. Meanwhile, Cisco has sealed 39 deals in that time, spending more than $40bn. Most observers would chalk up Juniper’s M&A hiatus, at least in part, to the fact that it came up way short on its biggest gamble, the $4bn all-equity purchase of NetScreen Technologies. (On a smaller scale, Juniper also has precious little to show for its $337m cash-and-stock pickup of Peribit Networks, a WAN traffic optimization vendor that we understand was running at less than $15m in sales.)

Realizing a return on NetScreen was going to be difficult from the outset because Juniper overpaid for the security provider. In a transaction that had more than a few echoes of the Internet Bubble era, Juniper paid 14 times trailing sales and more than 50 times trailing EBITDA for NetScreen. And when it tried to make the deal work, Juniper found itself struggling to integrate NetScreen’s firewall product into its core networking line, and was unable to reconcile NetScreen’s indirect sales model with its own direct model. Maybe buying Ankeena is the clearest sign yet that Juniper, which replaced its longtime CEO in September 2008, has finally closed the NetScreen acquisition and moved on.

Is Riverbed floating toward a deal?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Riverbed Technology is one of those companies that has seemingly been in play for as long as it’s been around. And that’s understandable enough, given that the company has an attractive profile as the fast-growing leader in a market that’s taking off. Add to that the fact that Riverbed plays in the networking space, which is dominated by deep-pocketed giants hungry for growth, and acquisition rumors are inevitable. The most-recent would-be buyer for Riverbed? Juniper Networks.

Of course, Juniper is just the latest in a long list of rumored suitors. Cisco Systems is said to have made at least two runs at Riverbed before the company went public in September 2006. More recently, we heard that EMC also looked very closely at Riverbed before its IPO. (We understand that while EMC was seriously interested in Riverbed, Cisco effectively killed the deal by telling its partner EMC that it wouldn’t look kindly on the information management giant stepping into the WAN traffic optimization (WTO) market.)

And last summer, we noted that Hewlett-Packard would make a logical buyer for Riverbed. The two companies have had a long relationship with HP reselling Riverbed boxes and integrating the Riverbed Optimization System into its ProCurve infrastructure. (Not to mention that HP could stick it to its new rival Cisco by picking up Riverbed.) And several sources have pointed to talks in the past between F5 and Riverbed. We suspect that would be a tricky combination because Riverbed’s current market capitalization ($1.7bn) is half that of F5’s market value ($3.5bn).

All of that leaves us with Juniper. However, we don’t think a deal between the two is likely. For starters, Juniper has already gone shopping once in the WTO market. It shelled out a princely $337m (most of it in stock) for Peribit Networks in April 2005. From Juniper’s perspective, the Peribit purchase gave the networking vendor a hot product to sell to its enterprise customers, many of which came via Juniper’s $4bn acquisition of NetScreen Technologies a year earlier. However, we wouldn’t hold out Peribit as a particularly successful transaction for Juniper. Certainly, it hasn’t generated the type of returns for Juniper that would make the company want to double down with a multibillion-dollar bid for Riverbed, we would think.