This article has been updated from Nov. 1 and originally appeared on Real Money on Oct. 31, 2016.
Though the most headline-grabbing tech acquisitions of 2016 have happened in other fields such as social media and semiconductors, the year has also seen the pace of M&A activity for enterprise hardware and software firms accelerate from 2015's already-rapid rate. And conditions still look good for continued deal activity.
Networking hardware vendor Brocade Communications (BRCD) is the latest enterprise firm to be acquired. On Wednesday, chipmaker Broadcom (AVGO) - Get Broadcom Inc. Report, the product of this year's massive Broadcom-Avago merger, announced it had agreed to buy Brocade for $5.9 billion, including$ 0.4 billion in debt. Broadcom will pay $12.75 per share in cash for Brocade, a 47% premium to Brocade's closing price in Oct. 28, when news of the potential merger first surfaced.
As part of the deal, Broadcom plans to divest Brocade's IP networking unit, which provides Ethernet switches, IP routers and Wi-Fi hardware and software. Brocade's shares were up 16% to $12.28 on Wednesday morning, while shares of Broadcom were up 1.1% to $172.19.
Pairing Brocade's portfolio of storage switches with Broadcom's lineup of storage adapter cards, controllers and chips will let it provide something close to a soup-to-nuts storage networking and connectivity product line for server and storage OEMs. But it also might not sit well with client Cisco Systems (CSCO) - Get Cisco Systems, Inc. Report, which is Brocade's biggest storage networking rival. Selling the IP networking unit prevents Broadcom from having to compete with other clients, such as HP Enterprise (HPE) - Get Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. (HPE) Report and Arista Networks (ANET) - Get Arista Networks, Inc. Report, and also diminishes its overlap with Cisco.
Either way, Brocade's sale follows ten-figure buyouts by private-equity firms for business intelligence software firm Qlik Technologies, WAN optimization hardware firm Riverbed, data warehousing software firm Informatica and videoconferencing hardware firm Polycom, among others. It also follows Cavium's $1.3 billion acquisition of connectivity hardware and chip developer QLogic (competes against Broadcom), and Brocade's own $1.2 billion purchase of Wi-Fi hardware provider Ruckus Wireless.
In addition to full-blown acquisitions, there have been sales of business units by larger tech companies. HPE is merging its Enterprise Services unit with Computer Sciences, and a big chunk of its software business with British software firm Micro Focus. Intel (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation (INTC) Reporthas struck a deal with P-E firm TPG to sell a 51% stake in its McAfee security software unit.
What accounts for all the deal activity? Low multiples are certainly a factor. Muted IT spending growth and fears about the impact of cloud software and services adoption on future spending has led to very reasonable valuations for many companies that can still claim limited competition, large customer bases and/or strong recurring revenue streams. That, in turn, has drawn the attention of P-E firms, particularly for companies the firms believe can be better managed in one way or another.
Fellow tech companies, meanwhile, often see a lot of strategic rationale to expanding their product lines via M&A. As cloud providers siphon away more and more IT dollars, many companies are clearly trying to use acquisitions to increase their presence at top customers, and become harder to dislodge along the way.
When looking at which companies might get acquired next, one obvious place to start is with companies that have already reportedly considered sales. Security tech firms FireEye (FEYE) - Get FireEye, Inc. Reportand Imperva (IMPV) - Get Imperva, Inc. Reportwere both reported this year to have explored selling themselves, but held off on account of wanting higher bids. Cisco and IBM (IBM) - Get International Business Machines (IBM) Report reportedly took a look at Imperva, and have often been mentioned in FireEye buyout speculation.
The Wall Street Journal reported two weeks ago that business intelligence software firm Tableau (DATA) - Get Tableau Software, Inc. Class A Reportrecently explored a sale. Application delivery controller and security hardware vendor F5 Networks (FFIV) - Get F5 Networks, Inc. Report reportedly received takeover approaches earlier this year and hired Goldman Sachs (GS) - Get Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS) Report to help weigh them. But with F5 having soared to new 52-week highs last week in response to strong earnings and guidance, the odds of a sale now appear lower.
It's not hard to imagine virtualization software vendor Citrix Systems (CTXS) - Get Citrix Systems, Inc. Report getting buying interest after the company finishes spinning off its GoTo collaboration software unit. Niche software vendors with differentiated products and moderate multiples, such as data governance software firm Varonis (VRNS) - Get Varonis Systems, Inc. Report and storage software firm CommVault (CVLT) - Get CommVault Systems, Inc. Report, are also possibilities.
There has been speculation that cloud customer support software vendor Zendesk (ZEN) - Get Zendesk, Inc. Reportor cloud talent management software provider Cornerstone OnDemand (CSOD) - Get Cornerstone Ondemand, Inc. Report could get bought, given how many peers have been purchased. And networking hardware vendor Juniper Networks (JNPR) - Get Juniper Networks, Inc. (JNPR) Reportrecently enacted change-of-control provisions that heightened sale hopes.
Readers might come up with some different enterprise tech names that they consider likely targets. That's quite understandable. Given the current environment, the number of companies that can be completely eliminated as potential targets isn't all that large.