Dell Avoids Aster and Dodges a 296 Million Dollar Mistake

Another one bites the dust as Teradata has acquired Aster Data for a reported $263 million.  This represents 89% of Aster Data shares as Teradata already owned 11% of Aster bringing the true acquisition cost to $296 million or $275 million after subtracting Aster’s $21 million in cash.  In any case, that’s a lot of money for a company of Aster’s age and size.

For Teradata this acquisition makes sense as they continue to compete against HP (Vertica), IBM (Netezza), EMC (Greenplum), Oracle, and SAP (HANA).  Teradata is faced with an age-old question for technology companies; hold on to their proprietary ways of the past or reach for the open and commoditized ways of the future.  It is not clear to me which direction Teradata will choose. However, it is clear to me that, unlike Dell, Teradata is the right company in the right industry to make such a gamble on Aster; the database guru’s at Aster, Tazo Argyros and Mayank Bawa, will find themselves at home within the halls of Teradata.

While I applaud Dell for continuing to blaze their own path, it seems others within the technical community are harder to please.  Per Gigaom’s Stacey Higginbotham’s article posted on March 3, 2011:

So for Dell, and any other big data wannabes out there, the only proven options left to
start
fulfilling this niche are ParAccel, Infobright, and Ingres’s VectorWise Platform.”

I’d hardly call Dell a “big data wannabe” and perhaps some have misconstrued their attempted acquisition of 3Par as a precursor to Dell entering this space.  In fact, Dell has been quite clear that any software acquisitions must have an impact on their strategic lines of business.  While Aster and other big data start-ups have the potential of driving Dell’s server and storage sales, their valuations and competitive landscapes make them a risky move for Dell.

Dell is quickly becoming the king of “Cloud Neutrality” as they are providing key pieces of the solution to their customers while working with various infrastructure providers such as Juniper, Cisco, and more. By purchasing disruptive Cloud software companies within the areas of management, orchestration, security, and monitoring, Dell could further their leadership in this market.  Think the completion of UEC; very exciting!

Since I’ve never started a billion dollar company from my dorm room, I’ll defer to Michael Dell to make the right moves for his company.  Perhaps they’ll enter the big data market with a smaller software acquisition and integrate it into other cloud offerings thereby indirectly attacking the market.  For now, Teradata has gotten a bit stronger while Dell has avoided a $296 million mistake.

Note To Dell: Forget Big Data and Go For Cloud Infrastructure

It seems like five seconds after HP purchased Vertica, the entire world focused on Dell and their big data strategy.  This was further compounded by the fact that Dell blew out their earnings with a $15.7 Billion fourth quarter and Michael Dell suggested that they would target smaller acquisitions to help their server and storage divisions.

Speculation is rising that Dell will purchase Aster Data Systems a Stanford University start-up that is backed by Sequoia Capital.  Aster’s nCluster sports a massively parallel processing (MPP) data warehouse with integrated MapReduce that is built on commodity hardware.  Whose commodity hardware?  You guessed it, Aster partners with Dell to provide the Aster Data MapReduce DW Appliance.

However innovative and powerful Aster’s solutions are, their rumored valuations are sky high.  According to Gigaom’s article Cloud Startup Values are Getting Insane published on September 24, 2010, Aster’s valuation is rumored, “somewhere between $85 and $120 million.”  Furthermore, Aster took issue with Gigaom’s assessment saying, “The valuation you/GigaOm stated recently is more reflective of the previous B round that closed Q4 2008, and while we don’t disclose the actual valuation of the latest C round it is in fact materially greater than the Series B.” Really?  Let’s get back on track.

Dell is a remarkable turnaround story that is predicated on their decisions to blaze their own trail in the industry.  Rather than purchase network equipment or security vendors, Dell has been acquiring interesting software companies such as Scalent, Boomi, and Insite One, with a purpose or focus on the Cloud.  Why change this focus?  When you think Dell do you think database warehousing? Software?

Dell’s future growth hinges on their Data Center Solutions (DCS) and Cloud Computing.  They have two choices; make a major market disrupting acquisition or take some risks by purchasing smaller but highly disruptive software companies.  It’s no secret that I am a proponent of Dell purchasing Rackspace, even in the face of a rising market valuation and the prospects of another bidding war.  Rackspace is that good and Dell knows it.

Enough, who else should Dell purchase?  There are the obvious, Joyent, and the obscure, Nimbula.  They could lean forward, OnApp, or take a risk, Appistry.  They could choose infrastructure, GoGrid, or go a bit crazy, Marathon Technologies.  They can go services, Appirio, or go international, ElasticHosts. And on, and on, and on, …

Regardless of what path Dell chooses, Michael Dell has done one incredible job of turning and changing the course of a $60 Billion company. While some have written that Dell is “yesterday’s company”, I’d watch out as they may just surprise you and the entire industry.