Top 10 Storage Acquisition Targets

For many of today’s industry heavyweights – companies like HP (NYSE: HPQ), IBM, Dell (NASDAQ: Dell) and EMC (NYSE: EMC) – further growth will come through acquisition. “Not a whole lot of innovation comes from these big companies anymore,” said Arun Taneja, founder and consulting analyst at the Taneja Group. “The vast majority of really cool stuff comes from the small companies. That keeps the innovation fires burning.”

It’s a tough market, though. The high-stakes 3PAR (NYSE: PAR) sale may be leading others in the storage neighborhood to overvalue their own properties. “The general impression is that this has got to mean that all remaining independent array vendors are going to be lifted up,” said Taneja. “Nothing could be further from the truth.” 3PAR probably had the best virtualized architecture in the industry, he said.

There have been more than a dozen high profile storage acquisitions this year and speculation about the next acquisition target abounds. These top 10 companies – array vendors and others in the storage arena – likely look the best to potential buyers, according to industry experts.

No. 1 – Pillar Data Systems

Pillar may be the most obvious post-3PAR acquisition target with its solid, within-the-box storage virtualization, said Taneja. “[Pillar] is the best target because it’s very similar to the firm that IBM (NYSE:IBM) acquired [XIV] and very similar to 3PAR,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. But there’s a major hurdle, he said: Oracle’s Larry Ellison owns 80% of it. An Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) acquisition would represent an inside deal, but an outside deal would also be a challenge.

No. 2 – Compellent Technologies

Compellent (NYSE: CML) plays in the same array space as 3PAR, but uses commodity hardware, which may hinder its growth trajectory. “They’ve got an excellent midrange product line,” said Taneja. “They have the same homogeneous virtualization that I ascribe to 3PAR. The gem is in the virtualization inside the box, which is very attractive.”

No. 3 – CommVault

CommVault’s (NASDAQ: CVLT) data protection software has been the subject of acquisition rumors in the past, according to Jerome Wendt, lead analyst and president of DCIG. “It’s the last one standing that has a competitive suite of software,” he said. “They have relationships with HDS and with Dell.”

No. 4 – Xiotech

Xiotech’s fortunes have gone up and down over the years, said Taneja, but it could become interesting for potential buyers. “There’s a fundamental kernel of attractive technology in their current product line, [Intelligent Storage Element (ISE)],” said Taneja. Its networked storage offerings are based on ISE storage blades.

No. 5 – Isilon Systems

On the file storage side, Isilon may attract buyers. “It’s a well-done clustered file system NAS product line,” said Taneja. “The majority of large vendors have sucky NAS product lines.” After several years of hard times, Isilon (NASDAQ: ISLN) is “nicely out of the woods,” according to Taneja.

No. 6 – DataDirect Networks

DataDirect Networks, with its high-performance storage systems, has carved out a niche in the media and entertainment market. “But DataDirect has done a more balanced product that can be applied nicely to the commercial side,” said Taneja. “They could be a viable high-end player.” Their less-niche product is fairly new, so they’ll need to build up a customer base to gain a broader audience, Taneja said.

No. 7 – InMage

Software provider InMage may be interesting to backup vendors with their continuous data protection (CDP) offering. “InMage has some proprietary technology that does near-real-time failover,” said Wendt. “It’s a complement to existing backup software and it’s a unique player.” Managed service providers find it appealing, said Wendt, and a buyer could offer its technology as a service.

No. 8 – Permabit Technology

Permabit is the last remaining player in the primary data compression market, as competitors Ocarina and Storwize have gone to Dell and IBM, respectively. “It’s a pretty good target for somebody on that side,” said Taneja, and the only company left with its product OEM’ed by someone.

No. 9 – Citrix Systems

Citrix (NASDAQ: CTXS), with its virtual desktop technology, may become a desired target in the cloud computing era. “They’re the leading independent player there,” said Enderle. “The name is coming up a lot.” But, “Citrix may be hurt by having too many people interested in it,” he said, potentially leading them to go into negotiations asking more than firms are willing to pay.

No. 10 – R1 Soft

Finally, R1Soft, a lesser-known software company that’s a subsidiary of BBS Technologies, could be a good fit for a buyer, said Wendt. “What’s interesting is that they expose the APIs on backup software,” he said. “It can automate whole backups to a management portfolio.” For an acquirer, it could be an easy way to plug into existing infrastructure.

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