The main theme of the Mergers & Acquisitions panel was: things have changed. Brenon Daly, Financial Analyst at The 451 Group, opened by saying that differences in valuation have become the main barrier to closing deals. Don Dodge of Microsoft (who has an excellent blog here) agreed, noting that it is following the public valuations down - he noted that MSFT was down around 30. Lisa McClure Byrnes of Canaccord Adams agreed, and noted that cash has become incredibly important again, noting that improvements in cash burn can actually set the stage for re-negotiation or re-valuation. Ethan Topper, CEO and Partner at Union Square Advisors seemed to have a slightly different take on things - he noted it was tough for potential acquirers now because of uncertainty about the future. He felt the M&A market would cool significantly as M&A teams become more wary of rejection by their commitment committees. Gerry McAndrews, Sr. Director of Corporate Development at EMC, said that one thing sellers can do is help potential acquirers mitigate risk by reducing the capital outlay and pursuing OEM or partnership deals first so there are no "diligence surprises". (He also noted that using Corp Dev teams to drive OEM strategy is a great idea.) In closing Don noted (firmly tongue-in-cheek) that "fear is temporary" but "greed is forever" - so M&A may slow but will continue.
Matt Aslett's Database Management Trends panel was extremely interesting. Matt started out talking about the main trends he sees: cloud databases and storage, parallel database processing, databases "as a service", open source challengers, etc. It's clear the database hasn't stopped evolving. From there we moved on to a panel featuring Bob Zurek, CTO at Enterprise DB, and Emma McGrattan, SVP of Engineering at Ingres. Emma opened by blasting a leading database vendor early and often for quality issues and 'outrageous' pricing. She talked extensively about the Ingres sweet spot and how closely they work with customers to achieve particular goals. She also noted that Ingres doesn't pursue a rip/replace strategy (and implied that was EDB's model) but prefers to work on new applications. Bob rejected the idea that EDB was all about rip/replace, but did agree about excessive pricing. He said Enterprise DB is all about storing transactions and "high performance, high availability" applications. Bob then spoke about open source databases. In his view Enterprise DB has a quality advantage versus the larger vendors because of their open source roots. He described the community as extremely expert and intensely focused on quality and optimization. He noted that most enterprise DB support calls involve questions about how to do something hard and that was a nice contrast to typical software support where reporting, working around and fixing bugs is the main activity. It was great to hear these two technology leaders talk about quality so passionately. (Attivio shares the same goals around quality.)
Our sincere thanks to The 451 Group and especially Nick Patience for inviting us to such an excellent conference. I look forward to attending the next one.