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Who could the big storage beasts be looking to buy?

Five companies hunt for acquisitions

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Who else makes the cut?

Third is Mimosa, the NearPoint archival software company. It is building a neat layered archive offering with separate data capture modules using a common archival platform layer which, in turn, reads and writes data from a physical storage layer. There is a possible services play - spec out and plan your archive - and Dell storage arrays would obviously fit in the storage hardware layer. (CommVault could be another software candidate in this general area.)

Fourth on our list is Panasas, the supplier of clustered file serving software for high-performance computing and other data-intensive environments. Dell has a strong presence in the supercomputer and HPC markets with its server blades and the ability to add a software dimension to this could increase sales value, and margin. There is a services play too, and Dell would have a technology it could use in the scale-out fileserver market, if that market reaches lift-off outside the HPC and media-rendering sectors

Number five is Nirvanix, the cloud storage startup. It has both API and NAS interfaces to its multi-national Storage Delivery Network. If Dell wants to participate directly in cloud storage services - rather than be content supplying storage hardware to cloud storage and general cloud service providers - then Nirvanix looks a good way in. Carbonite is another possible, as is Spare Backup.

Finally, there is Riverbed, the data acceleration company, which is building its business at impressive speed and has a good reputation. It has got an Atlas deduplication appliance in development which seems to have suffered a recent stall, but the main business seems solid and strongly growing. Like the cloud idea it complements Dell's existing business and there are service possibilities too.

Riverbed has a market capitalisation of $1.63bn, not being a startup like the previous suggestions, and would be, we'd suggest, an EqualLogic-like acquisition in size and prospects.

There are other possibilities that we rule out for Dell. Scale-out clustered NAS supplier Isilon has had troubles developing its company structure and is not yet in a healthy state after post-IPO missteps. This would be a company that would need treatment and development after an acquisition by Dell, and it's not clear there is a general need across Dell's market for the products Isilon offers.

Compellent's SAN products are selling into Dell's types of customers but Dell already has its Clariion and EqualLogic products there and it's not clear it has a SAN block-storage portfolio gap that Compellent could fill.

What about 3PAR? The InServe is a distinctly enterprise-class storage array with advanced thin-provisioning and ease-of-management features that would give Dell its own product to sit above the Clariions it OEMs from EMC. The firm has a $621.3m market capitalisation and a very good reputation. It is being subjected to an enterprise storage buying slowdown in the recession and currently making losses, which would lessen its attractiveness to Dell right now, so it might put 3PAR on a future possibility list for when the recession has ended.

Pillar Data might be a possibility if Larry Ellison's venture capital company would sell it. However, there is more overlap with the Clariion products than would be the case with 3PAR and so Pillar would seem to fail the Dell portfolio gap test.

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