Sunday, April 3, 2016

Consolidate and diversify – reshaping the vendor vista!

Randy Meyer, the former senior manager overseeing all of NonStop, who is now Mission Critical Systems VP and GM, has been lobbying all and sundry within the NonStop vendor community to become bigger and M&A actions offer one way to achieve this. The news coming from ETI-NET has been hard to miss of late and now, there’s even more changes taking place …

Visitors to the Las Vegas strip, whether it is to attend the HPE Discover conference or a similar event will be hard pressed to miss the condominium complex known as Veer Towers. Leaning away from each other, in a manner that suggests they will fall down, Veer represents an engineering wonder but its quirkiness also adds to the overall carnival-like atmosphere of Las Vegas where anything is possible. Its symbolism isn’t lost on me – a kind of engineered contrarianism, where, should you go left, I will most likely go right! Veering from center is something I frequently do, although less kindly souls might remind me that all too often I stray far from the beaten path.

At the recent ATMIA US Conference in New Orleans I had the opportunity to catch up with ETI-NET CEO, Andy Hall. Working for the start-up Netlink, Inc. in 1986, I was deep into a discussion with Tandem Computers about a likely investment in Netlink and… who should show up at our Raleigh offices but Andy Hall! When I returned to Sydney in 1987 and joined Tandem Computers, Australia, out of nowhere, Andy calls me to tell me he is in Melbourne, at the offices of the Tandem distributer MIS, trying to sell used cars! If there is anyone in the industry that shares my preferences of straying far from the path then it has to be Andy, but unlike me, where my moves were anything other than chess-like, Andy always had a purpose. 

I kept the above photo, taken as the deal between Tandem and Netlink was completed, as it was only recently that I realized flanking the other distinguished gentlemen was Andy and me. Andy, alongside Jerry Held, his boss at the time, and me, alongside Tandem CEO Jimmy Treybig. Like others in the NonStop community, I continue to run across Andy at one user event or another and whether it was a simple wave from afar, or a nod as we passed each other on escalators, we kept in touch. Sitting in the lobby of the New Orleans hotel, draining a glass or two of wine, with many of the ATMIA event participants around us, it was an occasion to catch up, but even then I was unaware of what was to follow.

On becoming a part of HPE’s Mission Critical Systems group a portfolio that included Unix, Linux and Windows together with NonStop, it is Randy Meyer, the former senior manager overseeing all of NonStop, who is now the group’s VP and GM. With a heritage in NonStop Randy made it clear to all and sundry that for NonStop to grow and sustain a real presence in the Mission Critical Systems portfolio the NonStop vendor community needed to consider consolidating around a fewer number of much larger NonStop banner wavers. Perhaps more importantly, these same NonStop banner wavers needed to consider diversification – it would be good to see solutions and middleware capable of spanning systems from NonStop to Linux.

Following recent announcements we can include ETI-NET in this list of up and coming banner wavers. In November, 2015, we all saw the news of ETI-NET purchasing Insider Technologies where, according to a news release of November 4, as published on ETI-NET’s web site, “Joint engineering between the companies is already underway to adapt Insider’s SENTRA and REFLEX technologies with ETI-NET’s open systems archive architecture and to enable high-velocity monitoring of payment transaction execution, fraud identification, social media sentiment and compliance research, as well as maintaining oversight of high-value message traffic delivery.”

I have to admit I had lost track of Insider Technologies and wasn’t up to speed on its products.  It wasn’t so much a case of Insider Technologies being left unnoticed, flying under the radar, as it was a case of me being focused on other vendors. The last time I sat down with Insider Technologies’ management was in the early 2000s when I was still working for ACI. However, irrespective of its place within the NonStop vendor community, simply finding a home in a bigger and better financed organization, such as ETI-NET, isn’t a situation to be ignored. ETI-NET has its work cut out for it but digesting Insider Technologies will be a lot easier for Andy to accomplish than selling a garage full of used cars.

This isn’t the end of news coming from ETI-NET as they have just wrapped up another purchase and indeed, this is going to see them get a lot bigger. On March 22, 2016, came the news that “ETI-NET, the worldwide leading provider of backup systems for industries that never stop, completed today the acquisition of Virtual Tape Systems (VTS) and SPHiNX.” Furthermore and reflecting the scope of the deal, ETI-NET reported that, “The acquisition includes VTS and SPHiNX software, intellectual property, research and development, customer contracts and support agreements.”

Crossroads product portfolio included software apart from VTS and SPHiNX, most notably, the Strongbox product business and this will find a home in a new subsidiary, Strongbox Data Solutions, Inc. (SDSI), set up for the purpose of focusing on storage solutions for unstructured data. SDSI will become a peer of ETI-NET with Andy continuing as CEO of ETI-NET as well as being on the board of SDSI. In a bold move to further diversify, while VTS is well known to HPE and to the NonStop community, SPHiNX adds support for platforms apart from NonStop.

While I will hold back from providing more information on SDSI for a later post, the important news for the NonStop community is that this deal really strengthens ETI-NET’s position in the back-up, data protection, and disaster recovery marketplaces. While it will signal to the NonStop community that ETI-NET now has more than one solution for back-up, in talking to Andy as well as other executives close to the deal, it’s very clear to me that ETI-NET will continue working with VTS customers, providing them with the level of support as well as with the new features and releases that they expect given the nature of the contracts in place.

“There will be no changes in this respect from the customer perspective when it comes to VTS,” Andy reiterated. “We aren’t going to veer from our plan to grow and having said that, there’s not going to be any first or second tier users; they will all be ETI-NET customers. We have simply consolidated our position in the marketplace even as customers will have a choice based on the options we now bring to the table. We know that tape is not dead. We know that even with cloud computing files ultimately have to go somewhere – whether it’s an issue of regulation or simply having at hand files for research purposes, we have cost effective solutions for whatever today’s applications call for from today’s data center managers. It’s also a really good group of people we will now have that too bring added diversity to the skill sets we are assembling and this should be good news not only to customers but to HPE as well.”

Consolidation within the NonStop vendor community is of value for a very simple reason – both NonStop customers and HPE are looking for a select number of much larger vendors in the NonStop marketplace, where the risk of failure, or indeed, simple atrophy as founders retire, is greatly lessened. While NonStop will unlikely ever attract the likes of Microsoft, Google, Oracle or even SAP-HANA, there’s real value for all stakeholders within the NonStop community in the presence of bigger vendors and ETI-NET is clearly demonstrating a desire to be among the biggest. And the M&A activity is far from over, even as Andy works on the finer details of integrating a diverse group of companies into a single consolidated entity.

Pursuing consolidation, while at the same time adding product diversification, will always be challenging for anyone in the NonStop vendor community. However, looking at the imminent impact HPE’s transformation to hybrid infrastructures will likely have on all products in the HPE Mission Critical Systems portfolio, files will have to have backups and data will need to be archived. The NonStop banner wavers will not be ignored and NonStop customers will be better served by vendors with much deeper pockets and those with broad product portfolios. From what I have read these past few weeks and from the discussions I have had, ETI-NET may have just pulled off one of the deals of the year and for that, the folks like HPE’s Randy Meyer must derive satisfaction – the NonStop vendor community is strengthening even as it is getting bigger!

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