Virtustream goes out with a bang for $1.2bn, ushering in the next stage of cloud M&A

Virtustream goes out with a bang for $1.2bn, ushering in the next stage of cloud M&A
Virtustream's talk of a potential IPO has paid off as EMC has bought the cloud software and services firm. The target will become EMC's managed cloud service business and will be operated as a separate EMC Federation division, reporting to CEO Joe Tucci. This wasn't the only offer Virtustream received, but it was an easy decision, according to CEO Rodney Rogers, despite the fact that the valuations of the rival bids – and the value of a potential public offering – were all in the same range as the sale to EMC. Unlike earlier deals involving IaaS providers, this one hinges on Virtustream's advanced managed services and expertise in enterprise-class software.

Deal details

In its most ambitious cloud acquisition yet, EMC is handing over $1.2bn in cash for cloud services and software vendor Virtustream. The storage giant is no stranger to $1bn-plus transactions: with today's announcement, it has made six of them since 2002, though all but two of the targets (RSA in 2006 and Documentum in 2003) were storage providers. While Virtustream is its largest acquisition, several of EMC's purchases last year – Spanning Cloud, Cloudscaling and TwinStrata – were made to bolster its cloud offerings across different deployment models.

At the end of 2014, it became clear that Virtustream and its investors believed that the company had reached escape velocity in terms of revenue, customers and partners – especially the expertise it has in delivering mission-critical and SAP applications into the cloud – and it began to plan for an IPO. At the time, Virtustream reported that it had reached a $100m annual run rate – 60% generated by cloud IaaS and 40% by cloud software. The company raised $125m in venture capital. Its last round, a $40m series D, was led by SAP Ventures. Virtustream's software is licensed and sold to other providers and partners, and is both an IaaS platform and an operations management and orchestration platform.

The 451 Take

We feel that every application has a best execution venue. Some are mature, while others are evolving, but all of them are headed toward the cloud. Moreover, given the investments being made, success for cloud providers will depend on their services being destinations – not only for new application deployments, but also for the 're-platforming' and migration of existing apps and servers. That means services and support, not just technology. Virtustream's exit proves that additional services – based on desired business outcome and the ability to take work off the plate of the IT shop – are key to moving enterprises into the cloud. Like most provider acquisitions, there's more value in the target's expertise and operations than in its technology per se. Anyone can build a cloud today – not everyone can sell it directly to enterprises.

Deal rationale

EMC now understands that organizations want technology in new, simpler consumption models and in multiple variations in order to support different customer requirements and workloads – public, on-premises private and managed private cloud. While the vendor already has strong public cloud (VMware vCloud Air) and private/hybrid cloud (VCE) offerings, it lacked a managed services offering. Virtustream brings precisely this: a best-execution-venue capability for large enterprises that it will manage for customers. This is the best of both IaaS and outsourcing, without the drawbacks of either. EMC says it will also incorporate Virtustream into its Federation Enterprise Hybrid Cloud, which is an on-premises private cloud offering that provides onramps to public cloud services such as VMware vCloud Air. This will enable customers to move their entire application portfolio into a cloud environment. Virtustream has many clients already running multi-geography and multi-node operations.

EMC and Virtustream had been getting inexorably closer recently. At the end of last year, Virtustream announced that its xStream Cloud Management software could be used to move SAP apps to VCE Vblock-based private and hybrid clouds. The company subsequently became a member of the VCE Technology Alliance Partner program alongside VMware, Cisco, EMC and others. It's also a vCloud Air Network partner.

It will be interesting to see whether 'Federation across the Federation' happens. Virtustream has the ability to federate between providers running xStream, having obtained this technology via the acquisition of early pioneer Enomaly in 2011. The company thinks that there may be additional opportunity in enabling enterprises with overbuilt capacity to resell their idle infrastructure. Other platform suppliers such as OnApp have successfully built federated services, but from provider to provider, not with large enterprises.

Target profile

Virtustream was considered a novel and potentially risky venture-backed startup. When it was founded in 2009, hosting was not viewed as exciting startup territory, though it was clear that something was afoot with the rise of cloud computing. The company's star really began to rise as its SAP expertise increased. It can now offer, for example, a full subscription service, including cloud infrastructure, software licenses and software maintenance, for SAP Hana. Virtustream's customers include large enterprises such as Coca-Cola, Domino Sugar, Heinz, Hess, Kawasaki Motors, Lexmark and Scotts Miracle-Gro.

The company is particularly strong in IT transformation and ongoing service delivery: it's very good at forklifting enterprise apps such as SAP from legacy hardware into its IaaS environment, after which it provides high levels of ongoing managed services, not least of which is compliance. In the US and UK, where Virtustream has existing operations, it offers enterprise IaaS directly. Outside of these regions, it works with partners – SIs and local service providers – to serve additional regional and local markets. Now Virtustream will be carried by EMC's global partner ecosystem.

Acquirer profile

EMC is one of the world's largest data storage providers, with more than $24bn in 2014 revenue and 60,000-plus employees worldwide. The company provides a wide range of storage appliances and software, and has diversified into services and cloud-enabling technologies over the past several years. Since 2007, it has owned VMware, the leading enterprise virtualization vendor. EMC is also now an IaaS provider, and together with Cisco and VMware, sells converged hardware (vBlocks) for private cloud under the name VCE. In 2013, it spun off PaaS firm Pivotal, now headed by Paul Maritz. Joe Tucci has been CEO of EMC since 2001, and the company recently launched major initiatives into open source software. It is also a major investor in OpenStack, and bought OpenStack platform startup Cloudscaling last year.

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