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12/16/2011
09:27 AM
Rob Preston
Rob Preston
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Top 10 Tech Acquisitions Of 2011

Among the trends that drove the biggest M&A deals: software as a service, mobility, big data, and social networking.



While 2011 wasn't a year of historically huge tech merger and acquisition deals, activity was nonetheless vigorous. Google alone bought more than 20 companies, while the likes of HP, Oracle, SAP, Dell, and Microsoft rounded out their mature product portfolios with acquisitions. Among the strongest riptides in enterprise IT M&A: software as a service (SaaS), mobility, big data, and social networking.

What follows, in reverse order, is one editor's take on the 10 most important (though not necessarily the largest) enterprise IT acquisitions of the year. Not included on this list are the big OEM-oriented deals: Western Digital's $4.3 billion deal to buy Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, for instance, or Texas Instruments' $6.5 billion acquisition of National Semiconductor.

10. VMware and Socialcast: Virtualization market leader VMware isn't immune to social business fever, acquiring Socialcast, a maker of cloud-based communications and collaboration software that mimics "the interaction style of social networks, but with the security, management, and integration functions of an enterprise system," as my colleague David Carr reported in May. The Socialcast deal (terms weren't disclosed) followed two other cloud acquisitions by VMware: slideware maker SlideRocket in April and open source email software maker Zimbra in January 2010.

9. SAS Institute and Assetlink: This acquisition (no price tag was disclosed) isn't top 10 tech M&A material unto itself, but it's important in the context of the red hot trend it represents: the move by CMOs to apply analytics to their ad campaigns, promotions, social outreaches, and other marketing programs in order to prove and refine their effectiveness. Assetlink makes "marketing resource management" software, used to plan and budget ad spending, manage the content, create workflows, and manage leads. Its acquisition by SAS, announced in February, follows like-minded deals by IBM (it shelled out $480 million for Unica in October 2010) and Teradata ($525 million for Aprimo in December 2010).

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8. Dell and Force10: Dell's acquisition of switching vendor Force10 Networks (financial terms weren't disclosed), following its $960 million deal in December 2010 to acquire storage virtualization vendor Compellent Technologies, enhances its credibility as a big league data center supplier, alongside Cisco, HP, and Brocade. Force10's market share is small--just 1%, according to Dell'Oro estimates around the time of the July 2011 deal--but its technology is considered first rate and Dell will bring it to many more customers.

7. Microsoft and Skype: Among the biggest tech deals of 2001, Microsoft's $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype is also emblematic of one of the biggest CIO trends: the consumerization of enterprise IT. The lines between business and consumer IT are blurring, and Microsoft is looking to capitalize on that trend by integrating the consumer-oriented Skype videochat software with its enterprise unified communications and messaging platforms. Speaking of consumerization, will 2012 be the year Microsoft finally lands Yahoo?

6. Oracle and RightNow: It's almost as if Larry Ellison plunked down $1.5 billion of Oracle's money to get back at a former protege, Marc Benioff, whose Salesforce.com and its cloud-based services have been stealing most of the thunder in enterprise software. Within weeks of his orchestrated rebuff of Benioff at the Oracle OpenWorld conference at San Francisco's Moscone Center, Ellison announced Oracle would be acquiring RightNow, a leading maker of SaaS-based customer service and management apps and a semi-competitor to Salesforce.

As my colleague Chris Murphy noted in a story on the RightNow deal, "Oracle, one of the tech industry's most acquisitive companies, isn't too concerned about overlapping products when it comes to buying into hot markets." Oracle had previously introduced its suite of enterprise software, Fusion, with a cloud-based option for CRM, as well as a hosted version of its PeopleSoft software licensed on a per-user, per-month basis.

5. Salesforce.com and Radian6: It wasn't among the biggest of tech acquisitions in 2011, a cash and stock deal valued at about $320 million, but it's strategically important to one of the industry's hottest vendors, as Salesforce.com pushes its "social enterprise" agenda, including its Twitter-like Chatter service. Radian6, a maker of social media monitoring and analytics services, has since become the basis of Salesforce's Social Marketing Cloud, a collection of services it rolled out in November to help companies manage their brands and engage with customers across the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

4. AT&T and T-Mobile: The biggest tech deal of 2011 ($39 billion) is actually the biggest non-starter, as competitors, regulators, trustbusters, lobbyists, and politicians dig in to stop this merger of the No. 2 and No. 4 U.S. mobile carriers. AT&T said in November that it's withdrawing its merger application from the FCC to focus instead on winning the antitrust lawsuit the Department of Justice had filed against it in August. Meantime, AT&T is reportedly trying to sell a sizable portion of T-Mobile's assets to a smaller mobile carrier in order to sway the DOJ. AT&T's incentive to compromise: It will owe T-Mobile parent Deutsche Telekom $6 billion in cash and compensation should the deal fall apart.

Two telecom M&A deals in 2011 with more immediate implications for enterprise customers are Verizon's $1.4 billion acquisition of cloud pioneer Terremark and CenturyLink's $3.7 billion acquisition of cloud and hosted service provider Savvis. (CenturyLink is the nation's third-largest telecom carrier, having merged with Qwest in April.)

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3. Google and Motorola Mobility: Google's $12.5 billion deal to acquire this Motorola spinoff, a maker of smartphones and set-top boxes, was the second-largest tech deal of 2011. As my colleague Paul McDougall reported in August, the deal, which still must pass regulatory muster, is a clear sign that Google intends to take on Apple--and to a lesser extent RIM and Microsoft/Nokia--as a supplier of tightly integrated mobile devices, namely its Android operating system on Motorola smartphone and tablet hardware. Motorola's extensive patent portfolio also appealed to Google, as it seeks to fend off Apple and Microsoft lawsuits claiming Android squats on some of its intellectual property.

2. HP and Autonomy: This $10.3 billion deal was the biggest enterprise software acquisition of the year--too big, according to many pundits, as the price tag was almost 12 times Autonomy's 2010 revenue. But HP's CEO at the time, Leo Apotheker, since ousted and replaced by Meg Whitman, needed to make a splash amid investor concerns that the hottest IT markets were passing HP by. And no question, Autonomy's no slouch. It's a leader in enterprise content management software--search, archiving, e-discovery, and more--helping customers make sense of their big (unstructured) data.

1. SAP and SuccessFactors: SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott told InformationWeek in October that SAP was ready to "let the tiger out of the cage" when it comes to cloud computing. Its $3.4 billion deal to buy SuccessFactors, a maker of cloud-based HR, recruitment, and collaboration software, announced a month later, opened that cage. And by naming SuccessFactors' dynamic CEO, Lars Dalgaard, to head up its cloud business, SAP is finally moving beyond its roots as an on-premises software company and its half-hearted early attempt at SaaS, Business ByDesign, aimed at midsize customers. Expect SAP to move even more aggressively into the cloud, through acquisition or internal development--probably both.

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief, InformationWeek
[email protected]

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