Corporate castoffs

Look who’s hitting the corporate garage sales these days – other corporations. While divestitures used to go most often straight to private equity shops, more than a few castoff businesses are now finding homes inside new companies. The latest example: AMD’s sale of its digital TV chip division Monday to Broadcom for $193m.

Given AMD’s struggles, as well as the fact that rival Intel has shed a number of businesses in recent years, the divestiture wasn’t a surprise. In fact, my colleague Greg Quick noted two weeks ago that AMD was likely to dump its TV chip business, naming Broadcom as one of the likely acquirers.

On the buy side, Broadcom joins fellow publicly traded companies Overland Storage, L-1 Identity Solutions and Software AG, among others, that picked up properties from other listed companies this year. That’s not to say that buyout firms have been knocked out of the market, despite the tight credit conditions. PE shops Vector Capital, Thoma Cressey Bravo and Battery Ventures have all taken businesses off the books of publicly traded companies in 2008.

Still, the activity by the corporate shoppers is noteworthy. And the list is likely to grow as more companies look to clean up their operations during the lingering bear market. The next name we may well add to the list is Rackable Systems, which said earlier this month that it is looking to shed its RapidScale business. (The divestiture would effectively unwind its acquisition two years ago of Terrascale Technologies, and comes after a gadfly investor buzzed Rackable for much of the year.)

As to who might be eyeing the assets, we doubt there are many hardware vendors interested in RapidScale, because they have either made acquisitions (Sun’s purchase of Cluster File Systems, for instance) or have partnerships (both EMC and Dell partner with Ibrix). However, a service provider could use the technology to enhance its storage-as-a-service offering. In a similar move, we’ve seen telecom giants like BT and Verizon pick up security vendors to offer that as a service. And finally, we’d throw out a dark horse: Amazon, which is one of Rackable’s largest customers, could use RapidScale’s clustered storage technology to bolster its S3 offering.