Confab-ulous M&A at two cloud companies

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two of the most richly valued tech companies are each hosting annual get-togethers this week, and M&A is figuring into both of the confabs. VMware opened VMworld in Las Vegas on Monday, while followed a day later with Dreamforce in San Francisco. As these companies were getting ready to open the doors for the event, both announced that they had done acquisitions – with both deals coming in the security market.

VMware reached for PacketMotion, a startup that was able to capture who’s doing what on a network and whether they should be doing that at all. VMware indicated that the acquisition should allow its customers to automate security and compliance policies. For its part, added encryption vendor Navajo Systems. While terms weren’t announced on either transaction, we suspect that the price tags for both startups were in the low tens of millions of dollars. On the other side, we’d note that, collectively, VMware and are valued at north of $50bn.

Part of the tremendously rich valuation that both VMware and enjoy can be chalked up to the fact that each company is the sort of corporate representation for two key components of the whole cloud computing model: VMware for virtualization and for on-demand delivery of software and, more recently, infrastructure.

So it’s no surprise that these cloud stalwarts both recognized the need to shore up their cloud offerings by going out and buying security startups. After all, security remains probably the most important concern for broader adoption of cloud computing. In a recent survey, our sister organization ChangeWave Research asked both IT purchasers and users at companies to rate the security of current cloud offerings on a scale of 1 (very unsecure) to 10 (very secure). The median response was a distinctly middling 5.6. As a point of reference, the rating for cloud security was actually lower than the median rating for the reliability of cloud offerings, even after several high-profile outages at Amazon Web Services so far this year.

A four-bagger for VMware

Contact: Brenon Daly

If the virtualization thing doesn’t work out for VMware, the company could always spin off a hedge fund. At least that’s what we’ve been thinking as Verizon Communications’ purchase of Terremark Worldwide appears set to close very soon. When the deal does wrap, VMware will walk away with a tidy windfall from a savvy bet that the virtualization kingpin made on the hosting provider back in mid-2009.

Recall that in May 2009, VMware picked up a 5% stake in Terremark for $20m, paying just $5 for each of the four million shares. According to terms, that block of equity will be worth $76m when it comes time to cash out to Verizon, which is paying $19 for each Terremark share. A four-bagger in just a year and a half is a return that might even make John Paulson envious. The gain on VMware’s investment in Terremark even outpaces the return of its own highflying stock, which has ‘only’ tripled in that time.

A bidding war (of sorts) between the virtualization vendors

Contact: Brenon Daly

The tech industry has another bidding war. No, we’re not talking about the parrying over 3PAR or even the private equity shops slugging it out over Phoenix Technologies, a company that had largely been consigned to the corporate ash heap. Instead, we’re talking about the latest M&A moves by the virtuosos of virtualization, Citrix Systems and VMware.

Citrix opened the bidding with one deal earlier this week, putting its chips on virtualization management startup VMLogix. One day later, VMware matched the bid of one acquisition and then raised it another one. In a rare twin billing, VMware said it would be taking home both performance analytics startup Integrien as well as identity and access management vendor TriCipher. VMware’s two deals in a single day (do we call the amalgamated company ‘Trintegrien’?) brings its total number of acquisitions so far this year to five, after just one in all of last year. For its part, Citrix had been out of the market entirely since November 2008 before announcing the VMLogix purchase.

Of the three deals, the one that caught our eye was VMware’s pickup of Integrien. That might have been due to the astronomical multiple the startup garnered. We understand that the company, which was only running at about $2m in revenue, went for about $100m. Of course, looking at this transaction on a revenue multiple largely misses the point. Instead, as my colleague Dennis Callaghan notes in his report on the deal, the move makes VMware a legitimate contender in the IT performance management market and could hurt opportunities for other IT performance management vendors looking to sell into the vast VMware installed base.

The acquisition came just one day after Integrien released a special version of its flagship predictive root cause analysis software for VMware environments, so the two sides clearly knew each other. In fact, we gather that the two sides knew each other so well they negotiated directly, without an outside adviser. The VMware team was led on the Integrien deal by Alex Wang. Meanwhile, on the day’s other transaction, America’s Growth Capital advised TriCipher, while Jason Hurst, who recently joined VMware after a long stint as a software banker at Citigroup, led the buyside effort.

Desktop virtualization could lead to real security deals

Contact: Brenon Daly, Steve Coplan

Despite virtualization sweeping datacenters and now serving as a cornerstone of cloud computing, virtualization security has largely been an afterthought. Few startups focused on this market are generating much revenue, and M&A activity has been muted, both in terms of deal flow and valuations.

For instance, VMware – the kingpin of virtualization, which sits on nearly $3bn in cash and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on acquisitions in other markets – has made only tiny moves around security. It reached for Blue Lane Technologies in October 2008 for what we believe to be less than $10m. (Blue Lane was one of about 20 initial partners in VMware’s VMsafe, which was introduced in early 2008.) That purchase came almost a year after VMware added hypervisor security vendor Determina for an estimated $15m.

Things may be about to change. My colleague Steve Coplan has written in a new report that the rise of desktop virtualization is likely to make security much more of a central concern. But as he notes, it’s not immediately clear which companies will actually be providing the security – the virtualization vendors, security firms or perhaps even management software providers? He looks at the rationale for all three groups as acquirers, and even lays out a few scenarios in the report.

Increasing cloudiness

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just three weeks after VMware inked its company-defining acquisition of SpringSource, the virtualization kingpin is throwing the doors open on its annual VMworld conference today. (We can only hope that those attending the get-together found it smoother than those trying to access the conference through the website. For much of Monday morning, pages on the VMworld site were unavailable due to ‘temporary maintenance.’ With our tongue planted firmly in cheek, we might suggest that they need to add some additional server capacity.)

Although known primarily for its virtualization software, VMware’s purchase of SpringSource indicates that it sees much of its future growth coming from ‘cloud computing.’ To show just how serious the company is taking this, consider that VMware is spending roughly twice as much on SpringSource as it spent, collectively, in the dozen deals it had done before picking up the open source application development startup. The VMware-SpringSource transaction is also, we would argue, the most important cloud computing deal so far.

As a concept, cloud computing is a relatively new term, but one that has caught on strongly in the tech industry. Consider that a search of ‘cloud computing’ in our 451 M&A KnowledgeBase returns 36 deals already this year, up from just eight transactions in all of 2008. Before last year, there were no instances of the term in our M&A database, which has more than 20,000 technology deals going back to the beginning of 2001.

Of course, some of that can be chalked up to the fact that cloud computing is a pretty vague and sprawling term, covering everything from infrastructure management to storage to security to hosting and other areas. To help get some clarity around what can be an otherwise opaque topic, The 451 Group will be hosting its own conference on Thursday called ‘Cloud in Context.’ The half-day event in San Francisco will feature end users discussing working in the cloud, innovative startups and (for the first time ever) the release of our own estimates and projections for the cloud computing market. More details on ‘Cloud in Context’ can be found at the conference website.

VMware: a ‘table-clearing’ bid for the clouds

Contact: Brenon Daly

About a year and a half after Paul Maritz got picked up by EMC, the former Microsoft honcho has struck his signature deal for his new employers. When EMC reached for Pi Corp, which had yet to release a product, we figured the move was basically ‘HR by M&A.’ And that has turned out to be the case, as Maritz took over leadership of EMC’s virtualization subsidiary VMware in July 2008. He stepped into the top spot just as VMware’s once-torrid revenue growth had dwindled to a trickle. Sales at VMware rose 88% in 2007 and 42% in 2008, but are projected to inch up just 2% this year.

To help jumpstart VMware’s growth, Maritz looked to the clouds, pushing through the acquisition of SpringSource earlier this week. At roughly twice as much as VMware has spent on its previous dozen deals, the SpringSource buy is the virtualization kingpin’s largest purchase. It was also, as we understand it, a deal very much driven by Maritz. (Because the purchase topped $100m, it also had to be blessed by VMware’s parent, EMC. This indicates that Maritz enjoys a level of support at the Hopkinton, Massachusetts, HQ that probably wasn’t extended to his predecessor, VMware founder Diane Greene.)

As we have noted, no bankers were involved in negotiations and one source indicated that terms were hammered out directly by Maritz and his counterpart at SpringSource, Rod Johnson, in a scant three-and-a-half-week period. Not that there was much negotiating needed. As we understand it, Maritz approached Johnson with a ‘table-clearing’ offer of $400m. SpringSource didn’t contact any other potential buyers, and in fact, the five-year-old startup only weighed VMware’s bid against the possibility of going public in 2011. (Subscribers to the 451 M&A KnowledgeBase can click here to view our estimates on SpringSource’s revenue, both trailing and projected, as well as its valuation.)

However, the source added that getting to an IPO would have likely required another round of funding for SpringSource. The dilution that would come with another round, combined with the deep uncertainty about the direction of the equity markets, tipped SpringSource toward the trade sale. In the end, that decision – and how Maritz executes on his step into application virtualization – will go a long way toward shaping his legacy at VMware.

EMC and advisors: All or nothing

Contact: Brenon Daly

After EMC doled out no fewer than nine credits to different banks for working on its acquisition of Data Domain, we were curious how the deal credits would flow around the largest-ever purchase by EMC subsidiary VMware. (The unusually long list of advisers for EMC on Data Domain made us think – of all things – about the quip about compensation under some communist regimes: People pretended to work and the government pretended to pay them.) As it turns out, EMC/VMware swung to the other extreme, with not a single bank working for the virtualization giant in its purchase of SpringSource.

That’s not unusual, since VMware hadn’t really used bankers in the dozen or so acquisitions that it had inked before SpringSource. But those deals were mostly small. In fact, the cumulative spending for all of its earlier buys totals only about half of the $420m in cash and stock that VMware is set to hand over for SpringSource. By our tally, VMware’s pending purchase is the third-largest pickup of a VC-backed tech firm so far this year. Not that the print will show up for any bank. SpringSource didn’t use an adviser, either.

Real deal for Virtual Iron?

Contact: Brenon Daly, Rachel Chalmers

Several sources, both from industry and financial circles, have indicated that server virtualization startup Virtual Iron Software is nearing a deal to sell to a strategic buyer. The name at the top of the list? Oracle, which has a Xen-based hypervisor (OVM), but lacks management tools. Virtual Iron would bring Xen management.

Another name that has surfaced is Novell. A year ago, the company handed over $205m for PlateSpin, which was its largest virtualization acquisition and one that valued eight-year-old PlateSpin at roughly 10 times its revenue. Virtual Iron would fit well with Novell’s virtualization efforts as well as with its open source leanings (Virtual Iron is based on Xen).

Sometimes viewed as a ‘down-market VMware,’ Virtual Iron sells primarily to SMEs through its channel. The Lowell, Massachusetts-based company has raised some $65m in funding since its founding in 2003. Backers include Highland Capital Partners, Matrix Partners, Goldman Sachs Group and strategic investors Intel Capital and SAP Ventures.

We understand that Virtual Iron had somewhat ‘frothy’ expectations after Citrix paid a half-billion dollars for XenSource in mid-2007. However, sources say Virtual Iron won’t get anywhere near the valuation of XenSource. In fact, most folks have doubts that the company will even sell for the amount of VC dollars that went into it.

Cisco: not a common-sense shopper

Contact: Brenon Daly

Through both direct and indirect cues, Cisco Systems’ John Chambers has created the impression that he’s about set to start wheeling a shopping cart up and down the Valley, grabbing technology companies with abandon. Folks who anticipate a dramatic return of Cisco to the M&A market have been busy putting together a shopping list for the company. (As has been well reported, the networking giant has plenty of pocket money; it current holds some $29bn of cash, and just raised another $4bn by selling bonds.) Most of the names on the list are ones that have been kicked around for some time.

For instance, fast-growing Riverbed Technology tops the list for some people. Indeed, Chambers approached the WAN traffic optimizer at least twice before the company went public in 2006, according to a source. We understand that talks ended with Riverbed feeling rather disenchanted with the giant. Other speculation centers on Cisco making a large virtualization play, either reaching for Citrix or VMware. The thinking on the latter is that Cisco would actually buy EMC, which sports an enterprise value of $21bn, to get its hands on the virtualization subsidiary. And last year we added another name to the mix, reporting that Cisco may have eyes for security vendor McAfee.

There’s a certain amount of logic to all of the potential acquisition candidates. At the least, speculation about them is defensible since they are all rooted in common sense. The only hook is that Cisco isn’t a ‘common-sense’ shopper. That’s not to say it isn’t an effective acquirer. Cisco very much is a smart shopper, and we’d put its recent record up there with any other tech company. What we mean is that Cisco’s deals are anything but predictable.

For instance, Cisco was selling exclusively to enterprises when it did an about-face nearly six years ago and shelled out $500m in stock for home networking equipment vendor Linksys. And it got further into the home when it followed that up with its largest post-Bubble purchase, the late-2005 acquisition of Scientific-Atlanta for $6.9bn. (Although word of the deal for the set-top box maker leaked out, few people would have initially put the two companies together.) Similarly, WebEx Communications wasn’t on any of the Cisco shortlists that we saw before the company pulled the trigger on its $3.2bn purchase of the Web conferencing vendor. But what do we know? Maybe some folks out there not only called one or two of those deals, but also hit the unlikely trifecta. If so, maybe you could email us to let us know – and while you’re at it, could you pass along some numbers for lottery picks?

Another security buy for VMware?

Although the knickknacks have long since been packed up from VMworld earlier this month, one rumor continues to make the rounds. Several sources have indicated that VMware, the host of VMworld in Las Vegas, has acquired startup Blue Lane Technologies for about $15m. The two companies have been technology partners for more than a year, with Blue Lane’s VirtualShield integrated with VMware’s VirtualCenter.

Security and virtualization in general have been major concerns for VMware. To help shore up the hypervisor and broader virtual environment, VMware in March introduced VMsafe, a set of APIs that third-party security vendors can use to write interoperable programs. Blue Lane was one of about 20 initial partners in VMsafe, as were the security industry’s heavyweights.

If indeed Blue Lane has been acquired (as one industry source and two financial sources reveal is the case), then it marks the end of a company that got its start more than six years ago. When we initially checked in with the vendor shortly after it rolled out its first product three years ago, the Cupertino, California-based company was shipping a patch management appliance. Along the way, it received some $18.4m in two rounds of funding. Remaining startups that are focusing on securing virtual networks include Catbird Networks and Reflex Security.

Selected VMware acquisitions

Date Target Price Rationale
June 2006 Akimbi $47.3m Testing and configuration
August 2007 Determina $15m* Hypervisor security
September 2007 Dunes Technologies $45* Workflow and orchestration
January 2008 Thinstall Not disclosed Application virtualization

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *Estimated deal value