The IP division was the factor that made rumors of a Broadcom-Brocade mashup puzzling. But in announcing the $5.9 billion deal earlier this week, Broadcom made it clear that it intends to sell off Brocade‘s IP business as quickly as possible.
Brocade’s real heritage is in storage networking and Fibre Channel technology. The IP division was built up through these acquisitions:
- Foundry Networks, acquired in 2008 for $3 billion. Foundry was a competitor to the likes of Cisco and Juniper in the router and switch business.
- Vyatta, acquired in 2012 for $44.8 million. Vyatta got its start selling open source routers. The company’s software later became the foundation for Brocade’s network functions virtualization (NFV) strategy, which included management and network orchestration (MANO).
- Ruckus Wireless, acquired this summer for $1.2 billion. Ruckus still has a strong brand name in WiFi equipment.
For Broadcom, the most problematic piece is the former Foundry. Broadcom’s Trident and Tomahawk chip families are the ASICs that power many systems vendors’ routers and switches. Arista is a key example, but Cisco and Juniper have adopted Broadcom chips for some designs as well.
Hanging onto the IP business would mean competing with those customers. Moreover, potential competition for Trident and Tomahawk is on the rise — Cavium has its XPliant chip, and startups Centec and Innovium recently raised funds.
Analyst Mitch Steves of RBC Capital Markets pegs the value of the business at about $2.5 billion, $1.5 billion of which is accounted for by Ruckus.
Someone ought to be willing to take on this business, says Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research.
“The stuff’s really good stuff,” he says. Foundry had built up a business with customers at the heart of the Internet, such as the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX).
And the IP business makes money. “They’re a cash-generating machine,” he says. “People beat on Cisco sometimes for having such high margins, but Brocade’s got higher margins.”
Whole or Piecemeal?
Networking is a difficult business, and it’s been difficult for competitors to gain market share against Cisco. (Arista is a notable exception.)
WiFi is a different matter, and that might make Ruckus more attractive than the rest of Brocade.
That might be particularly true since Aruba has been acquired by HPE, Kerravala says. Look at Dell, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, Juniper, and even Brocade itself, pre-Ruckus: “For a while they were all OEM’ing Aruba,” he says. “There are not enough independent companies for them all to own one.”
“It would not surprise me to see the IP-networking business sold piecemeal,” writes IDC analyst Brad Casemore in an email to SDxCentral. “Private equity, for example, might have an interest in the data center-switching and routing portfolios, whereas a vendor (or vendors) might be interested in Ruckus.”
On the other hand, Kerravala thinks there are still too many switch/router vendors, so he wouldn’t be surprised to see a peer pick up Brocade’s business.
In this sector, “the best way to build share quickly is to buy it,” he says, so he thinks Brocade could appeal to a player at the level of Extreme Networks or Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (the business that spun out of Alcatel-Lucent and was not included in the acquisition by Nokia).
“Juniper’s kind of a wild card too. They’ve been dancing around enterprise networking with a moderate amount of success,” Kerravala says.
And then there’s one cash-rich player that doesn’t have a full networking suite already.
“If they hadn’t just bought EMC, I would say Dell,” Kerravala says. “I do think Dell needs a better networking portfolio.”
One of Dell’s owners, private equity firm Silver Lake, also owns a stake in Avaya, another networking vendor. “They could do a little bit of engineering back there” and bring Avaya and Brocade’s technologies together, Kerravala speculates.
Another possibility is that a private equity firm could snatch up the entire business.
Private equity deals in tech seem to be on the rise, partly due to a glut of private equity firms. Just today, Apollo Global Management completed its $4.3 billion deal to take Rackspace private, and longtime FPGA vendor Lattice Semiconductor signed a deal to be acquired by relatively new player Canyon Bridge Capital Partners.