The industry is abuzz with speculation that IBM will sell its x86 server business to Lenovo. As usual, neither party is talking publicly, but at this point I’d give it a better than even chance, since usually these kind of rumors tend to be based on leaks of real discussions as opposed to being completely delusional fantasies. Usually.
So the obvious question then becomes “Huh?”, or, slightly more eloquently stated, “Why would they do something like that?”. Aside from the possibility that this might all be fantasy, two explanations come to mind:
1. IBM is crazy.
2. IBM is not crazy.
Of the two explanations, I’ll have to lean toward the latter, although we might be dealing with a bit of the “Hey, I’m the new CEO and I’m going to do something really dramatic today” syndrome. IBM sold its PC business to Lenovo to the tune of popular disbelief and dire predictions, and it's doing very well today because it transferred its investments and focus to higher margin business, like servers and services. Lenovo makes low-end servers today that it bootstrapped with IBM licensed technology, and IBM is finding it very hard to compete with Lenovo and other low-cost providers. Maybe the margins on its commodity server business have sunk below some critical internal benchmark for return on investment, and it believes that it can get a better return on its money elsewhere.
Some Reflections On The Deal For Competitors, Partners, and Customers
On December 3, SAP announced the acquisition of SuccessFactors, a leading vendor for human capital management (HCM) cloud solutions. SAP will pay $3.5 billion (a 52% premium over the Dec 2 closing price) out of its full battle chest and take a $1 billion loan. SuccessFactors brings about 1,500 employees, more than 3,500 customers, and about 15 million users to the table. In 2010, the company reported revenues of $206 million and a net loss of $12.5 million. A price of $3.5 billion is certainly a big premium, but the acquisition catapults SAP into the ranks of leading software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution providers — a business that will grow from $21.3 billion in 2011 to $78.4 billion by 2015 (for more information, check out our report “Sizing The Cloud”). The deal will certainly help SAP to achieve its 2015 target of $20 billion revenue and 1 billion users as it mainly targets the 500,000 employees that SAP’s already existing customers have. The deal is expected to close in Q1 next year. However, because most of the stocks are widely spread, stakeholders might hold back for now, waiting for possible counter bids from competition.
As a former investment analyst, I remember the feeling when stock market screens turn deep red. Such days turn one’s stomach upside down on a dealing floor. But even from the outside, such days are unnerving. The big question in the telecoms markets making the rounds at present is how the current market turmoil will affect the telcos. The 2008 financial crisis might provide some clues to what we could expect in 2011 and 2012, albeit in a less-pronounced fashion:
Consumer spending on communications will remain pretty stable. During the last financial crisis, spending on communications remained largely untouched by the consumer. We do expect a slight migration towards flat rates for customers with the desire for greater cost certainties and towards prepaid by customers with the desire to lower their communication expenditure. One obvious danger in times of turmoil are price wars between service providers. They can offer only short-term growth relief, but at a high cost. Resulting poor margins will be felt for a long time.
Businesses will put nonessential IT projects on hold or water them down. We have not yet seen evidence that COOs and IT departments have tapped the brakes on their tech buying, but they certainly have become more cautious. If the economies of the US or Europe go into recession — a possibility, but not our baseline forecast — that will hit IT budgets, as happened in 2008 and 2009. I am hearing from telecoms providers that their enterprise sales pipelines are already under pressure as customers slow their IT investments and look for ways to reduce their telecom services spending. Projects that support end-users with their sales efforts, e.g., sales force automation projects, are likely to be less affected than others.
The acquisition of Skype puts Microsoft into a commanding position in the consumer UC as a service market. To date, Microsoft has had little to say when Skype, Yahoo, AIM and others talked about enabling IM and adding voice and video. Their Microsoft Messenger voice services were less well known and less widely adopted. Today, Microsoft turned the tables, paying $8.5 billion to acquire Skype and its 170 million customers who value the “free” in free voice/video services so highly that they are willing to accept variability in quality of service and a service level agreement that specifically spells out, “Skype cannot guarantee that You will always be able to communicate with other Skype Software users, nor can Skype guarantee that You can communicate without disruptions, delays or communication-related flaws or that all Your communication shall always be delivered to other Skype Software users. Skype will not be liable for any such disruptions, delays or other omissions in any communication experienced when using Skype Software.” So, what did Microsoft get?
· 170 million customers whose online communications connections were one of the first social communications communities, and who are loyal to the Skype experience
· A worldwide peer-to-peer network that is proving increasingly able to deliver usable voice and video streams to PCs and increasingly mobile devices
· A portfolio of P2P technology media encoding algorithms with proprietary, non-public specifications