Jul
01
2020
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Unpacking how Dell’s debt load and VMware stake could come together

Last week, we discussed the possibility that Dell could be exploring a sale of VMware as a way to deal with its hefty debt load, a weight that continues to linger since its $67 billion acquisition of EMC in 2016. VMware was the most valuable asset in the EMC family of companies, and it remains central to Dell’s hybrid cloud strategy today.

As CNBC pointed out last week, VMware is a far more valuable company than Dell itself, with a market cap of almost $62 billion. Dell, on the other hand, has a market cap of around $39 billion.

How is Dell, which owns 81% of VMware, worth less than the company it controls? We believe it’s related to that debt, and if we’re right, Dell could unlock lots of its own value by reducing its indebtedness. In that light, the sale, partial or otherwise, of VMware starts to look like a no-brainer from a financial perspective.

At the end of its most recent quarter, Dell had $8.4 billion in short-term debt and long-term debts totaling $48.4 billion. That’s a lot, but Dell has the ability to pay down a significant portion of that by leveraging the value locked inside its stake in VMware.

Yes, but …

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. As Holger Mueller from Constellation Research pointed out in our article last week, VMware is the one piece of the Dell family that is really continuing to innovate. Meanwhile, Dell and EMC are stuck in hardware hell at a time when companies are moving faster than ever expected to the cloud due to the pandemic.

Dell is essentially being handicapped by a core business that involves selling computers, storage and the like to in-house data centers. While it’s also looking to modernize that approach by trying to be the hybrid link between on-premise and the cloud, the economy is also working against it. The pandemic has made the difficult prospect of large enterprise selling even more challenging without large conferences, golf outings and business lunches to grease the skids of commerce.

Mar
10
2020
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Dell spent $67B buying EMC — more than 3 years later, was it worth the debt?

Dell’s 2015 decision to buy EMC for $67 billion remains the largest pure tech deal in history, but a transaction of such magnitude created a mountain of debt for the Texas-based company and its primary backer, Silver Lake.

Dell would eventually take on close to $50 billion in debt. Years later, where are they in terms of paying that back, and has the deal paid for itself?

When EMC put itself up for sale, it was under pressure from activist investors Elliott Management to break up the company. In particular, Elliott reportedly wanted the company to sell one of its most valuable parts, VMware, which it believed would help boost EMC’s share price. (Elliott is currently turning the screws on Twitter and SoftBank.)

Whatever the reason, once the company went up for sale, Dell and private equity firm Silver Lake came ‘a callin with an offer EMC CEO Joe Tucci couldn’t refuse. The arrangement represented great returns for his shareholders, and Tucci got to exit on his terms, telling Elliott to take a hike (even if it was Elliott that got the ball rolling in the first place).

Dell eventually took itself public again in late 2018, probably to help raise some of the money it needed to pay off its debts. We are more than three years past the point where the Dell-EMC deal closed, so we decided to take a look back and see if Dell was wise to take on such debt or not.

What it got with EMC

Dec
11
2018
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Dell’s long game is in hybrid and private clouds

When Dell voted to buy back the VMware tracking stock and go public again this morning, you had to be wondering what exactly the strategy was behind these moves. While it’s clearly about gaining financial flexibility, the $67 billion EMC deal has always been about setting up the company for a hybrid and private cloud future.

The hybrid cloud involves managing workloads on premises and in the cloud, while private clouds are ones that companies run themselves, either in their own data centers or on dedicated hardware in the public cloud.

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy, says this approach takes a longer investment timeline, and that required the changes we saw this morning. “I believe Dell Technologies can better invest in its hybrid world with longer-term investors as the investment will be longer term, at least five years,” he said. Part of that, he said, is due to the fact that many more on-prem to public connectors services need to be built.

Dell could be the company that helps build some of those missing pieces. It has always been at its heart a hardware company, and as such either of these approaches could play to its strengths. When the company paid $67 billion for EMC in 2016, it had to have a long-term plan in mind. Michael Dell’s parents didn’t raise no fool, and he saw an opportunity with that move to push his company in a new direction.

It was probably never about EMC’s core storage offerings, although a storage component was an essential ingredient in this vision. Dell and his investor’s eyes probably were more focused on other pieces inside the federation — the loosely coupled set of companies inside the broader EMC Corporation.

The VMware bridge

The crown jewel in that group was of course VMware, the company that introduced the enterprise to server virtualization. Today, it has taken residency in the hybrid world between the on-premises data center and the cloud. Armed with broad agreements with AWS, VMware finagled its way to be a key bridge between on prem and the monstrously popular Amazon cloud. IT pros used to working with VMware would certainly be comfortable using it as a cloud control panel as they shifted their workloads to AWS cloud virtual machines.

In fact, speaking at a press conference at AWS re:Invent earlier this month, AWS CEO Andy Jassy said the partnership with VMware has been really transformational for his company on a lot of different levels. “Most of the world is virtualized on top of VMware and VMware is at the core of most enterprises. When you start trying to solve people’s problems between being on premises and in the cloud, having the partnership we have with VMware allows us to find ways for customers to use the tools they’ve been using and be able to use them on top of our platform the way they want,” Jassy told the press conference.

The two companies also announced an extension of the partnership with the new AWS Outposts servers, which bring the AWS cloud on prem where customers can choose between using VMware or AWS to manage the workloads, whether they live in the cloud or on premises. It’s unclear whether AWS will extend this to other companies’ hardware, but if they do you can be sure Dell would want to be a part of that.

Pivotal’s key role

But it’s not just VMware that Dell had its sights on when it bought EMC, it was Pivotal too. This is another company, much like VMware, that is publicly traded and operates independently of Dell, even while living inside the Dell family of products. While VMware handles managing the server side of the house, Pivotal is about building software products.

When the company went public earlier this year, CEO Rob Mee told TechCrunch that Dell recognizes that Pivotal works better as an independent entity. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said at the time.

Virtustream could also be a key piece providing a link to run traditional enterprise applications on multi-tenant clouds. EMC bought this company in 2015 for $1.2 billion, then later spun it out as a jointly owned venture of EMC and VMware later that year. The company provides another link between applications like SAP that once only ran on prem.

Surely it had to take all the pieces to get the ones it wanted most. It might have been a big price to pay for transformation, especially since you could argue that some of the pieces were probably past their freshness dates (although even older products bring with them plenty of legacy licensing and maintenance revenue).

Even though the long-term trend is shifting toward moving to the cloud, there will be workloads that stay on premises for some time to come. It seems that Dell is trying to position itself as the hybrid/private cloud vendor and all that entails to serve those who won’t be all cloud, all the time. Whether this strategy will work long term remains to be seen, but Dell appears to be betting the house on this approach, and today’s moves only solidified that.

Apr
21
2018
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Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

Jan
29
2018
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Why the Dell rumors might have substance

 By now you’ve probably heard that the Dell board is supposed to be convening later this month to figure out how it might reorganize itself to deal with the mountain of debt it took on when it bought EMC in 2015 for $67 billion. The rumors began on Friday and involved a couple of possible scenarios including Dell going public or Dell buying the remainder of VMware (which I’m not… Read More

May
02
2016
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Michael Dell reveals new branding scheme for the Dell-EMC conglomeration

Michael Dell in front of a Dell-EMC mainframe. Michael Dell today revealed the new names, and yes we are talking multiple names, for the artist formerly known as the Dell-EMC deal. EMC will be deprecated for the main branding Dell Technologies, but will live on for the enterprise brand Dell EMC while the client services business will be called Dell, Inc. according to multiple reports. Confused? I’m sure you’re not… Read More

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