Though the most headline-grabbing tech acquisitions of 2016 have happened in other fields such as social media and semiconductors, the year has also seen the pace of M&A activity for enterprise hardware and software firms accelerate from 2015's already-rapid rate. And conditions still look good for continued deal activity.
Networking hardware vendor Brocade Communications (BRCD) might be the next enterprise firm to be acquired. Bloomberg reported on Monday Brocade is in advanced talks to sell itself, and that Broadcom (AVGO) , the product of this year's massive Broadcom-Avago merger, is a potential buyer. Brocade closed up 22% on the news, leaving its market cap standing at $4.3 billion.
Pairing Brocade's portfolio of storage switches, Ethernet switches, IP routers and Wi-Fi hardware with Broadcom's lineup of Ethernet and storage adapter cards, controllers and chips would let it provide something close to a soup-to-nuts networking and connectivity product line for server and storage OEMs. But it also might not sit well with Cisco Systems (CSCO) , HP Enterprise (HPE) and other Broadcom clients who would find themselves directly competing with the company.
Either way, a Brocade sale would follow ten-figure buyouts by private-equity firms for business intelligence software firm Qlik Technologies, WAN optimization hardware firm Riverbed, data warehousing software firm Informatica and videoconferencing hardware firm Polycom, among others. It would also follow Cavium's $1.3 billion acquisition of connectivity hardware and chip developer QLogic (competes against Broadcom) and Brocade's $1.2 billion purchase of Wi-Fi hardware provider Ruckus Wireless.
In addition to full-blown acquisitions, there have been sales of business units by larger tech companies. HPE is merging its Enterprise Services unit with Computer Sciences, and a big chunk of its software business with British software firm Micro Focus. Intel (INTC) has struck a deal with P-E firm TPG to sell a 51% stake in its McAfee security software unit.
What accounts for all the deal activity? Low multiples are certainly a factor. Muted IT spending growth and fears about the impact of cloud software and services adoption on future spending has led to very reasonable valuations for many companies that can still claim limited competition, large customer bases and/or strong recurring revenue streams. That, in turn, has drawn the attention of P-E firms, particularly for companies the firms believe can be better managed in one way or another.
Fellow tech companies, meanwhile, often see a lot of strategic rationale to expanding their product lines via M&A. As cloud providers siphon away more and more IT dollars, many companies are clearly trying to use acquisitions to increase their presence at top customers, and become harder to dislodge along the way.
When looking at which companies might get acquired next, one obvious place to start is with companies that have already reportedly considered sales. Security tech firms FireEye (FEYE) and Imperva (IMPV) were both reported this year to have explored selling themselves, but held off on account of wanting higher bids. Cisco and IBM (IBM) reportedly took a look at Imperva, and have often been mentioned in FireEye buyout speculation.
The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that business intelligence software firm Tableau (DATA) recently explored a sale. Application delivery controller and security hardware vendor F5 Networks (FFIV) reportedly received takeover approaches earlier this year and hired Goldman Sachs (GS) to help weigh them. But with F5 having soared to new 52-week highs last week in response to strong earnings and guidance, the odds of a sale now appear lower.
It's not hard to imagine virtualization software vendor Citrix Systems (CTXS) getting buying interest after the company finishes spinning off its GoTo collaboration software unit. Niche software vendors with differentiated products and moderate multiples, such as data governance software firm Varonis (VRNS) and storage software firm CommVault (CVLT) , are also possibilities.
There has been speculation that cloud customer support software vendor Zendesk (ZEN) or cloud talent management software provider Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD) could get bought, given how many peers have been purchased. And networking hardware vendor Juniper Networks (JNPR) recently enacted change-of-control provisions that heightened sale hopes.
Readers might come up with some different enterprise tech names that they consider likely targets. That's quite understandable. Given the current environment, the number of companies that can be completely eliminated as potential targets isn't all that large.