Entries from September 2010 ↓

Document filters as a search proxy war

Document filters. There’s a phrase to conjure up excitement in any technologist eh? No? Didn’t think so. But look more carefully at what is going on and it does get more interesting, trust me.

I was moved to expand in this by Isys Search Software’s recent attempt at guerilla marketing at Oracle Open World which it tweeted about here:

isyssearch: ISYS goes guerrilla; kicked out of Oracle Open World party after projecting our branding on the Metreon http://tinyurl.com/272fync #oow10

Quite apart from what it says about Isys and how much it’s changed in the last two years – a bit like the nerdy guy in the playground trying to act tough – it shows how important some people – including me – think these filters have become.

There are two main companies selling products that enable the opening and viewing of myriad file formats (400 is a common number cited by both the vendors and their customers). So when a search engine comes across a Word 1997 or even something like  Wordstar 4 file, how does it open it? Usually using one of two products: Oracle’s OutsideIn or Autonomy’s IDOL KeyView.

Both products came to these companies via acquisitions: Autonomy buying Verity in November 2005 and Oracle buying Stellent in 2007, (and Stellent, as it wasn’t known then, buying Inso in 2000). It’s also interesting to note that Isys still refers to them as Inso in its marketing even though the product has been called something else for years.

Like all OEM technology, these filters aren’t easily ripped out and replaced. And that’s what these two vendors like about them. It gives them a a foot in the door at software companies that they can try to expand upon, and quite often they do. The temptation of course is to use the difficulty to remove them as a point of leverage to crank up prices.

And that’s what we’re hearing Autonomy is doing from a number of vendors. We haven’t heard anything similar regarding Oracle, it should be noted. Autonomy has a reasonably significant OEM technology stream and as we have mentioned previously Autonomy regularly brags about its OEM wins, without specifying whether its KeyView or the full IDOL engine being OEMd. Incidentally after that earlier post Autonomy contacted us to say that KeyView isn’t the result of the acquisition of Verity and all it bought was the name. That’s despite what was said at the time, including its own press release shortly after the acquisition bragging about its features. But then Autonomy’s marketing these days increasingly requires a willing suspension of disbelief.

Isys has had this technology for a while but never sold it separately. But now it is finding quite a bit of success among software vendors nervous about having a key piece of technology owned by Autonomy or Oracle because they’re often search and/or content management companies; two markets in which both companies play. dtSearch, another veteran OEM provider also provides similar filters.

So for the first time in a long time, ISVs have a choice beyond the main two in filters and in their close relatives, connectors, the software to connect search engines to databases, content management systems and other repositories. In the often incestuous world of information management software, where vendors both compete and sell to one another, these have become points of leverage that customers may not notice in terms of functionality, but they certainly do in terms of the price they have to pay for their software.

Going once, going twice… any more bids for Netezza?

No sooner had IBM announced its intention to acquire Netezza this morning than the New York Times came knocking for some perspective on the deal. There were two main questions: will anyone else bid for Netezza, and will someone now bid for Teradata.

While there is no guarantee of a 3Par-style bidding war I believe Netezza has the potential. Just last week we stated that Netezza would be the prime candidate for any firm looking to make an impact in the data-warehousing sector. In a crowded market it offers the right mix of established presence, technological differentiation and growth potential.

According to the 451 Group’s recent Information Management report, Data Warehousing: 2009-2013, Netezza is the fifth-placed data warehousing vendor, albeit some distance behind the established players. The company is predicted to deliver full-year revenue of just under $250m in 2010, in the region of 10% of the data-warehousing revenue of Oracle and IBM, but easily double the revenue of the sixth-placed vendor.

We also think rivals may see some potential to beat IBM’s offer price. As my 451 colleague Brenon Daly notes, the $27 per share purchase price represents an 80% premium against where Netezza was trading a month ago, but just 10% on the previous day’s close. Additionally, IBM is paying 6.8x projected sales which, while a relatively rich valuation, is much lower than rival EMC paid for Greenplum.

One of the reasons we think Netezza could spark a bidding war is that it is differentiated by its growth potential and established market share. It may not be in 3Par territory in terms of the scarcity of comparable rivals (we are tracking 20+ data warehousing providers), but if the likes of HP and Dell are looking to make a significant impact in data warehousing, Netezza is the prime candidate.

The other option would be to make a bid for Teradata, which delivers in market share what it lacks in growth. The company is the the largest data warehousing specialist by a considerable margin and has repositioned its product set to improve growth, so it is no surprise to see speculation that it could be the next acquisition target.

Given Teradata’s $6.2bn market cap, potential acquirers may consider there is more value in trying to outbid IBM. Either way, IBM’s bid for Netezza may not be the last bid to acquire a data warehousing player we will see this year.

One other thing – Netezza is being advised on this deal by Qatalyst Partners. No prizes for guessing who advised 3Par. Qatalyst’s other notable advisory role? The six-week bidding war that resulted in EMC acquiring Data Domain.

ILTA 2010 – E-discovery after the flood

ILTA (International Legal Technology Association) 2010 kicked off with attendance around 1100, up almost 40% from last year according to some attendee estimates, in spite of an emergency venue change following May flash flooding in Nashville.

Even in the August desert heat of the new Las Vegas location there was an encouraging “after the flood” spirit of survival and rebuilding – a look at the 7th annual ILTA member technology purchasing survey indicates greater financial stability in the sector following last year’s weaker recessionary economy, law firm layoffs and hiring freezes, and stagnant corporate legal budgets: 45% stated their firms are “back to normal financially” (vs. 45% in 2009 reporting that it would take another 12 months – evidently they were right).  Likewise, ILTA’s survey showed that IT spending is slowly recovering from 2009, and 33% report an increase in IT budget, albeit most spending has been in core hardware, infrastructure, computers, and SAN’s – see the InsideLegal write-up for more details.

Many in the e-discovery market claimed strong growth in h1 2010 after a lean 2009 as well, although recent M&A shows the market is still maturing both in technology and go-to-market.   Most vendors and providers continue to build out their lines to be more comprehensive in functionality and interoperability – Clearwell released v. 6.0 of its appliance with enhanced search and more review load file export, Guidance Software made its latest EnCase eDiscovery platform release this week with stronger  search and data analytics, IPRO announced Allegro ECA to integrate with eCapture, Nuix announced an “eDiscovery Supercomputer,” and AccessData Group is busily integrating its own forensic platform with its newly-merged CT Summation assets, as is Unify with its new Daegis DocHunter SaaS review platform and existing archive.

But “end-to-end” claims have subdued somewhat, either from some hard-earned humility or better recognition of a highly variegated customer base with individual pain points.  The messaging tone was commensurately more mature and less reliant on scare tactics of threatening sanctions and crushing reactive discovery costs, instead emphasizing more actual product differentiation, addressing customer pain points, more aggressive pricing, and preparation and risk management.

The theme for 2010 was “Strategic unity” – one that I think emphasized this theme of survival in the industry and more receptiveness (even enthusiasm?) for joint technical and business evolution– I expound on this further for subscribers in our full write-up of the conference and software/service provider releases here.

A few other themes stood out:

  • Cloud technology evangelists got a sizeable platform (sorry) through a user panel and a number of vendor sessions, including Microsoft Azure, Autonomy, and Smarsh for social media compliance archiving – a matter of particular interest as we ready upcoming reports on cloud archiving and e-discovery.  Please get in touch with your own story or for more information on the research.
  • Review tools (often in SaaS or hosted versions ) got more search and analytics, bigger-scale seat support, and more customizable project set-up for large, distributed cases, with new releases from AccessData (CT Summation CaseVantage 6.0, the first since the merger), Applied Discovery’s new Leverage tool, Catalyst Repositories’ CR 9.0, Clearwell’s afore-mentioned enhanced review module, recent updates from CaseCentral, and iCONECT’s integration with PureDiscovery for semantic search.
  • Major vendor releases emphasized not just cutting costs or ROI, but even competitive advantage through gains in business opportunities and productivity – a word that has sometimes been a double-edged sword for sales to the legal sector (no surprise given its emphasis on human expertise).  Thomson Reuters’ West appeared on the back of its CaseLogistix acquisition for the West Litigator line (including LiveNote) for attorney case analysis, and demoed Engage for law firm resource management planning, while LexisNexis made its second integration with Microsoft for the year with Interaction CRM for Outlook, a CRM tool for tracking contacts and client interactions.
  • In review tool automation, Recommind had a major rebrand and marketing push behind its Axcelerate predictive coding technology (now integrated in v.8 of its CORE categorization engine for “predictive analytics” across its product line), while Equivio boasted more direct sales for its Relevance review prioritization technology, and Kroll Ontrack announced “Intelligent Prioritization” in its Inview hosted tool.  Autonomy, however, seemed to have backed off its July “meaning-based coding” announcement for IDOL, opting for a risk management platform for attorneys as its release for the event.
  • Defensibility had more practical applications with strong turnout among legal hold notification– kCura’s new Method Legal Hold, Exterro’s Fusion Cloud Legal Hold and Zapproved were all on hand – and from forensics vendors and service providers emphasizing collection that will hold up in court, including growing service provider D4, and Integreon’s new Seek and Collect tool used in tandem with services.
  • In data management and analytics, Digital Reef announced an open software benchmark for clocking performance along phases of the EDRM, StoredIQ recently released v. 6.0 of its e-discovery and information governance appliance on a 64 bit architecture, and announced integration with Microsoft Data Classification technology for ILTA, while EMC-Kazeon turned up in partnerships for collection and ECA with Applied Discovery and Merrill Corp, as well as recent EMC-Source One releases, of course.

Finally having just returned from VMWorld (hence the delay) I’m struck by the intersection of information management / e-discovery with storage, security and GRC, as all of us grapple with (and continue proliferating) Big Data, both in scalability and manageability.  NetApp was on hand at ILTA and came up by name with e-discovery vendors, as did BlueArc, while at VMWorld, EMC announced plans for a FISMA-compliant VMWare and RSA alliance to trace exact “geolocation” of virtual machines and prevent violating international data privacy regulations, potentially alleviating a major concern of companies transferring data for e-discovery in the cloud.

3PAR’s rocketing valuation; belief, scarcity and little bit of luck

I had the opportunity to meet up with David Scott, CEO of 3PAR, the current belle of the ball in storage as the bidding war between HP and Dell continues to intensify (read our analysis of the deals for free by clicking here). Though discussion of any details concerning the acquisition process was strictly off limits, Scott provided some interesting color on why he believes the battle for 3PAR is taking his company’s valuation to unprecedented levels.

Actually, our conversation was a continuation of a discussion that we began over dinner at 3PAR’s analyst event in California a few weeks ago. During that discussion I asked Scott why 3PAR hadn’t yet been acquired; his response pretty much described the events that are now playing out. Scott believed there was in effect a Mexican stand-off taking place; multiple vendors would potentially be very interested in making a bid for 3PAR, but a fear of being outbid – and losing out – was holding them back. Thus, for the time being it was generally in all potential suitors’ best interests for 3PAR to remain independent.

Why Dell decided to break rank and shoot first is not entirely certain at this point — though HP losing its CEO may have been a trigger — and was certainly not on the menu for discussion with Scott. But the CEO was more forthcoming on the reasons for this fear of being outbid, which are rooted in 3PAR’s scarcity; ie the belief that there is no viable alternative acquisition target to 3PAR. The bidding war that has played out since Dell made its first offer would appear to support this. Why? Scarcity seems like a crazy assumption to make in an industry that is constantly spitting out new startups.

Scott’s reasoning for this scarcity has both demand-side and a supply-side dimensions, both of which have taken a couple of turns of the IT cycle to come to fruition. On the supply side; cast your mind back a decade, and the IT world was alive with the prospect that ‘xSPs’ (especially storage service providers and application service providers) would play a transformative role in delivering IT as a service; Cloud 1.0, if you like. What these xSPs required was a way of building these services on a scalable, secure and shared technology infrastructure. Unfortunately for SSPs such as Storage Networks, the infrastructure components to build such a stack were not available, and the entire model collapsed under the weight of having to build dedicated systems for each customer.

But the promise of the xSP model was also the catalyst for innovation at all levels of the IT stack. There was nothing inherently wrong with the model of IT-as-a-service – it was, and remains, highly attractive. What was needed was a new underlying architecture that could provide the required scale and flexibility as cost effectively as possible, such as blade servers, virtualization software and ‘utility’ storage.

Thus, as interest in the xSP model began to build, VC money started to flow into storage startups developing ‘carrier grade’ platforms; in particular Cereva Networks, Yotta Yotta, Zambeel and 3PAR. Only one of those companies managed to make a go of it; the rest succumbed to the same burst bubble that did for the xSPs. Cereva (which had raised almost $140m in VC funding) collapsed in 2002, Zambeel (which raised around $66m) closed its doors in 2003, while the assets of YottaYotta  (which took in around $100m) were eventually acquired by EMC.

As the only remaining player in this new generation of high-end storage platforms, Scott says 3PAR was in a unique position. Perhaps even more crucially, these failures meant VCs were now loath to invest in high-end storage startups; even if the next “3PAR killer” came along, it would have struggled for funding. Instead, VCs turned their attention to startups targeting the mid-range storage market – LeftHand Networks, EqualLogic, Compellent, Pillar — which was growing much more quickly than the now-slowing high-end space.

Scott admits 3PAR came under pressure to target the mid-range space more aggressively (and it did release smaller versions of its InServ arrays), but the company’s core efforts remained on the high-end, with a continuing focus on direct-, rather than channel-based, sales. Scott and his team remained as convinced as ever that ‘utility’ computing was real, and would eventually pay dividends via 3PAR’s scalable storage platform.

In particular it found traction with the next generation of service providers –such as managed hosting providers and telcos – that, subscribers to the cloud model attest, will collectively host the vast majority of the enterprise IT workloads of the future. Indeed – and this is where the demand-side argument comes in – the post-recession reality for organizations of all types and sizes – from financial services giants to local government offices – is that they are looking for more cost effective methods of running their IT processes.

These service providers differentiate themselves on quality of service and cost, and the only way of achieving this – according to Scott – is through best of breed IT infrastructure. Scott and co have made much of the fact that seven of the ten largest service providers by revenue are 3PAR customers, and we’re sure this point is not lost on HP, Dell or any other would-be acquirer.

Of course, with hindsight it’s easy to make the facts fit a story, but we’d note that 3PAR‘s own strategy and messaging has scarcely changed since day one. 3PAR has always targeted ‘utility’ computing, and has stuck with the term as the rest of the industry dispensed with what to them was just the latest buzzword (for proof, see the first research report (451 clients only) we wrote on 3PAR, back in 2002). Indeed, for 3PAR and Scott, delivering IT as a utility is an integral part of its proposition; it gets to the core of why the company believes it is different, and why (at least) two giants of the industry are prepared to pay well-over-the odds to own.