Two weeks ago, Michael Dell made the big announcement that Dell Technologies would spin off their shareholding in VMware, leading to a share price spike for both companies. A lot has already been written about the move – we would like to highlight a market-based view which we feel will be significant for the two companies going forward.
First let us break down the facts around the deal:
As has been analysed threadbare the deal reduces the total debt Dell is carrying and will even reduce the ratio of Dell debt to EBITDA. As a result, it is highly likely that Dell’s credit rating will move up from their current BB+ level to investment grade – which can have a lot of implications for future capital raising. There is also a buzz in the market that Dell Technologies may also sell off Boomi soon and write down another USD 3 Billion approximately in debt.
It is interesting to note that the company has been willing to let go off VMware even though it will dilute their profitability ratios – VMWare business being obviously more profitable than Dell’s traditional businesses which are heavily based on products.
The last few years has seen Dell reselling a fair amount of VMware products. From a number of perspectives Dell has been a key reseller for VMware and now contributes almost 34% of VMware’s revenues.
This chart is a testament to the power of execution that is inherent within Dell. This performance was aided by market growth – but even then it is remarkable how Dell has been able to scale up taking VMware to their customers. The two companies have very different sales cycles. A VMware sale typically has a longer cycle with a completely different set of touchpoints from the boxes that Dell is so good at selling – which have shorter cycles. The sales cycle for EMC products is closer to VMware’s which would have helped. The sales of the VXRail hyperconverged appliance have also jumped in recent times and this would have driven an equivalent spike in VMware revenues. It is still a remarkable achievement to be able to bring these three diverse groups together and grow revenue.
Market Impact of the Spin-Off
Does it make sense then for VMware to part with their largest reseller? Would it not be better for VMware to continue to drive this and use Dell’s execution skills to drive more growth? Data suggests that there could be another twist to this story.
VMware has been growing impressively as a company when one looks at the black line and while the growth has slowed in percentage terms, this is on a much higher revenue base. FY2021 revenue is close to 2x the revenue in FY2014. However, when one considers it without the Dell reselling revenue (the red line) it looks a lot less impressive especially in the last couple of years when it is an anemic 3%. When comparing this growth we also see a slowdown of sorts in recent years for VMware.
Til Dell acquired EMC – and VMware in consequence – they were working closely with other vendors such as Nutanix and driving solid growth for them. As they pivoted to doing more with VMware, did this then mean that other vendors – of either bare metal or cloud – drifted away from VMware?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that vendors such as HPE became more cautious and tried to diversify their business. It is entirely possible that if we looked at VMware as two separate businesses – one with Dell and one independent – the independent business has been losing share in the last few years.
The optical separation from Dell may then help VMware in rebuilding stronger relationships with the other players in the market including the hyperscalers. This may fuel further VMware growth. To do that VMware will have to manage a balancing act:
- On the one hand keep growing their reseller revenue with Dell. They are on a good wicket so far and need to make sure this continues. While the revenue from appliances – which come loaded with VMware – is a sure-fire proposition, other growth needs to be harvested carefully. Dell has a multitude of offerings and taking their eyes of the VMware ball is super easy.
- Build trust and closer ties with the other vendors to keep driving revenue. VMware’s leadership in the market means they already have ties with other industry leaders like HPE, AWS and so on. These will need to become much deeper; VMware will need to build the trust that they will give these vendors equal status even as they are building new appliances with Dell.
The one complicating factor here is that Michael Dell remains the Chairman of the Board of VMware. This may give other vendors pause and they may still want to keep their options open instead of putting all eggs into the VMware basket.
VMware is at a fairly critical inflection point in their business. The growth of cloud technologies still bodes well for virtual machines which has been their mainstay, but this is also likely to drive growth for more containerisation. They have great products for that part of the business also. However, as container adoption is likely to explode VMware would not want vendors to shift, to say Red Hat, and develop deeper partnerships with them or other competitors. They would like to keep the vendors on VMware – be it a virtual machine or a container. One does feel the future battle for VMware really rests on how well they will be able to grow in the container space. This will have to be done while continuing to innovate to keep the lead in the virtual machine space. Doing it will be quite a feat!!
Finally, what then of Dell? The company seems to have a talent for running businesses which are in long-term secular decline – but running those businesses well. Their PC business is delivering almost 7% operating income and has continued to show growth. The PC market last year was on fire thanks to the pandemic which dramatically increased the demand for devices – growth was double digits for a market which has declined almost every year since 2011. As Dell is fond of saying the PC industry has sold over 5 billion machines since the PC was declared dead!
The server market seems to have stagnated over the last couple of years which is a bit of a surprise given the growth in cloud. Dell’s revenue has declined two years in a row pointing to possible issues which need fixing in that part of the business.
As the company focuses on these key challenges in the market it probably makes sense for them to lower their debt and earn more freedom to operate. One never knows – given the number of surprises that Michael Dell has engineered over the last decade such as taking Dell private, acquiring EMC, stabilising it, then going public again, making a windfall in the process – if he has some other rabbits yet to be pulled out of his hat!!!
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