IBM Is Looking to Buy-Is EMC in Its Crosshairs?

6/30/11Follow @ERPAdvice

Big Blue celebrated 100 years of success in the tech industry earlier this month. It’s a rare feat in an industry where companies are often rendered obsolete in a decade, oftentimes sooner. In fact, IBM has managed to stay relevant while literally thousands of tech companies have come and gone. So, what’s its secret recipe? One reason for its success is its aggressive attitude toward buying companies with great technology that integrate well into its portfolio.

As an ERP (enterprise resource planning) market analyst at Software Advice, I was intrigued by all the fanfare that’s been showered upon IBM this month. I also wanted to know more about its mergers and acquisitions strategy and which companies it might buy next. So, to predict the future, I rolled up my sleeves and went digging into the past. Since IBM is an acquisition machine, I limited my search to the last decade of deals.

After I culled the data, it became obvious that there are three markets that IBM likes to go shopping: professional services, middleware, and business analytics. For anyone familiar with IBM’s company profile, this isn’t really a shocker, but the sheer volume of purchases is surprising. In the past decade, IBM bought 14 companies in services, 13 companies in middleware, and made a couple of multi-billion-dollar deals in business analytics.

The Massachusetts Connection

There’s one more trend that I noticed in its purchasing history: IBM loves to buy companies in Massachusetts. Since 2003, it has picked up some 18 companies in the Massachusetts area (these 17 plus Netezza). Massachusetts is an obvious place to shop, with world-class tech universities; it’s a hotbed of technology innovation; and there are dozens of successful companies. In thinking about the Massachusetts connection, there is one company in particular that I couldn’t help but think about IBM buying: EMC.

EMC is the Holy Grail of Massachusetts technology. Its data storage and warehousing business is a multi-billion-dollar operation, and it has one of the most successful virtualization companies on the market (VMware). IBM is already involved in data storage—and is a competitor of EMC—but it has yet to make an aggressive move into the virtualization market. An IBM-EMC combination would create an utterly dominant force in the data storage industry.

IBM’s strategy in the virtualization market has been to play it safe on the sidelines and funnel money and support into things like the Linux KVM hypervisor, hoping that it could compete with VMware. It hasn’t worked. Instead VMware has become the go-to name for all things related to virtualization technology. But that’s exactly what makes buying EMC such an enticing proposition.

Would IBM Buy EMC?

So, what would IBM have to give up? The short answer is: a heckuva lot. IBM’s market cap hovers right at $207 billion, and EMC’s sits at a comparatively modest $55 billion. That means that IBM would have to give up about 20 percent of its company and then some to land EMC. It’s a massive sum of money, but IBM is one of the tech companies that can actually pull off an EMC purchase. While it’s a huge investment, there are massive revenues to realize from a deal of this magnitude. In 2010, EMC brought in $17 billion. If you throw in IBM’s scale on top of that, there’s no telling what kind of revenue they could do together after a deal.

Personally, I think IBM could make it happen. But the move may be a bit too bold for a company that prides itself on focus and on being fairly conservative. On top of that, IBM has already said that it intends to spend “only” $20 billion on mergers and acquisitions in the next five years. An EMC purchase would tear through that and then some. In some respects, however, it’s a deal that might be too good, and pricey, to make happen.

But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours? I’m currently hosting a poll on my blog at Software Advice. Come vote and make your voice heard at: IBM Mergers & Acquisitions: Who’s Next? For reference, EMC is currently in third place. I look forward to hearing from you.

Derek Singleton is an ERP Market Analyst for Software Advice. He writes about enterprise technology topics and trends, with special focus on the manufacturing and distribution software markets. Follow @ERPAdvice

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