Dude, is Dell doing a disk deal again with Compellent?

December 9, 2010 – 2:55 pm

Over in Eden Prairie (Minneapolis Minnesota suburb) where data storage vendor Compellent (CML) is based, they must be singing in the hallways today that it is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

Sure we had another dusting of snow this morning here in the Minneapolis area and the temp is actually up in the balmy 20F temperature range (was around 0F yesterday) and holiday shopping is in full swing.

The other reason I think that the Compellent folks are thinking that it feels a lot like Christmas are the reports that Dell is in exclusive talks to buy them at about $29 per share or about $876 million USD.

Dell is no stranger to holiday or shopping sprees, check these posts out as examples:

Dell Will Buy Someone, However Not Brocade (At least for now)

Back to school shopping: Dude, Dell Digests 3PAR Disk storage (we now know Dell was out bid)

Data footprint reduction (Part 2): Dell, IBM, Ocarina and Storwize

Data footprint reduction (Part 1): Life beyond dedupe and changing data lifecycles

Post Holiday IT Shopping Bargains, Dell Buying Exanet?

Did someone forget to tell Dell that Tape is dead?

Now some Compellent fans are not going to be happy with only about $29 a share or about $876 million USD price given the recent stock run up into the $30 plus range. Likewise, some of the Compellent fans may be hoping for or expecting a bidding war to drive the stock back up into the $30 range however keep in mind that it was earlier this year when the stock adjusted itself down into the mid teens.

In the case of 3PAR and the HP Dell budding war, that was a different product and company focused in a different space than where Compellent has a good fit.

Sure both 3PAR and Compellent do Fibre Channel (FC) where Dells EqualLogic only does iSCSI, however a valuation based just on FC would be like saying Dell has all the storage capabilities they need with their MD3000 series that can do SAS, iSCSI and FC.

In other words, there are different storage products for different markets or price bands and customer application needs. Kind of like winter here in Minnesota, sure one type of shovel will work for moving snow or you can leverage different technologies and techniques (tiering) to get the job done effectively the same holds for storage solutions.

Compellent has a good Cadillac product that is a good fit for some SMB environments. However the SMB space is also where Dell has several storage products some of which they own (e.g. EqualLogic), some they OEM (MD3000 series and NX) as well as resell (e.g. EMC CLARiiON).

Can the Compellent product replace the lowered CLARiiON business that Dell has itself been shifting more to their flagship EqualLogic product?

Sure however at the risk of revenue cannibalization or worse, introduction of revenue prevention teams.

Can the Compellent product then be positioned lower down under the EqualLogic product?

Sure, however why hold it back not to mention force a higher priced product down into that market segment.

Can the Compellent product be taken up market to compete above the EqualLogic head to head with the larger CLARiiON systems from EMC or comparable solutions from other vendors?

Sure, however I can hear choruses of its sounding a lot like Christmas from New England, the bay area and Tucson among others.

Does this mean that Dell is being overly generous and that this is not a good deal?

No, not at all.

Sure it is the holiday season and Dell has several billion dollars of cash laying around however that in itself does not guarantee a large handout or government sized bailout (excuse me, infusion). At $30 or more, that would be overly generous simply based on where the technology fits as well as aligns to the market realities. Consequently, at $29, this is a great deal for Compellent and also for Dell.

Why is it a good deal for Dell?

I think that it is as much about Dell getting a good deal (ok, paying a premium) to acquire a competitor that they can use to fill some product gaps where they have common VARs. However I also think that this is very much about the channel and the VAR as much if not more than it is just about a storage product. Servers are part of the game here which in turn supports storage, networking, management tools, backup/recovery, archiving and services.

Sure Dell can maybe take some cost out of the Compellent solution by replacing the Supermicro PCs that are the hardware platform for their storage controllers with Dell servers. However the bigger play is around further developing its channel and VAR ecosystems, some of whom were with EqualLogic before Dell bought them. This can also be seen as a means of Dell getting that partner ecosystem to sell overall, more dell products and solutions instead of those from Apple, EMC, Futjisu, HP, IBM, Oracle and many others.

Likewise, I doubt that Mr. Dell is paying a premium simply to make the Compellent shareholders and fans happy to create monetary velocity to stimulate holiday shopping and economic stimulus. However, for the fans, sure, while drowning your sorrows in egg nogg of holiday cheer that you are not getting $30 or higher, instead buy a round for your mates and toast Dell for your holiday gift.

The real reason I think this is a good reason for Dell is that from a business and financial perspective, assuming they stick to the $29 range, it is a good bargain for both parties. Dell gets a company who has been competing with their EqualLogic product in some cases with the same VARs or resellers. Sure it gets a Fibre Channel based product however Dell already has that with the MD3000 series which I realize is less function laden then Compellent or EqualLogic; however it is also more affordable for a different market.

If Dell can close on the deal sticking to its offer which they have the upper hand on, execute including rolling out a strategy as well as product positioning plan. Then educate their own teams as well as VARs and customers of what products fit where and when in such a manner that does not cause revenue prevention (e.g. one product or team blocking the other) or cannibalization instead expanding markets, they can do well.

While Compellent gets a huge price multiple based on their revenue (about $125M USD), if Dell can get the product revenue up from the $125 to $150 million plateau to around $250 to $300 million without cannibalizing other Dell products, the deal pays for itself in many ways.

Keep in mind that a large pile of cash sitting in the bank these days is not exactly yielding the best returns on investment.

For the Compellent fans and shareholders, congratulations!

You have gotten or perhaps are about to get a good holiday gift so knock of the complaining that you should be getting more. The option is that instead of $28 per share, you could be getting 28 lumps of coal in your Christmas stocking.

For the Dell folks, assuming the deal is done on their terms and that they can quickly rationalize the product overlap, convey and then execute on a strategy while keeping the revenue prevention teams on the sidelines you too have a holiday gift to work with (some assembly will be required however). This also is good for Dell outside of storage which may turn out to be one of the gems of the deal in keeping or expanding VARs selling Dell based servers and associated technologies.

For EMC who was slapped in the face earlier this year when Dell took a run at 3PAR, sure there will be more erosion on the lower end CLARiiOn as has been occurring with the EqualLogic. However Dell still needs a solution to effectively compete with EMC and others at the higher end of the SMB or lower end of the enterprise market.

Sure the EqualLogic or Compellent products could be deployed into such scenarios; however those solutions are then playing on a different field and out of their market sweet spots.

Lets see what happens shall we.

In the meantime, what say you?

Is this a good deal for Dell, who is the deal good for assuming it goes through and at the terms mentioned, what is your take?

Who benefits from this proposed deal?

Note that in the holiday gift giving spirit, Chicago style voting or polling will be enabled.

Ok, nuff said.

Cheers gs

Greg Schulz – Author Cloud and Virtual Data Storage Networking (CRC Press), The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press) and Resilient Storage Networks (Elsevier)

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