Will the Sun shine on $7.4bn Oracle match?

Oracle is to tie the knot with Silicon Valley neighbour Sun Microsystems, after jilting IBM at the altar.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The acquisition, announced only days after the IBM deal fell through, offers ten cents more at $9.50 a share, representing a 40% premium on Sun’s current share price, and is about twice what the company was trading for back in March before news of the IBM approach leaked out.  The deal is worth $7.4bn in total, $5.6bn net of Sun’s debts.

It’s all a bit like that old marital tradition (rarely called upon, thank goodness) where, if the bridegroom fails to show up on the big day, the best man has to step into the breach. Oracle and Sun have long been two of the Valley’s closest allies, their respective founders Larry Ellison and Scott McNealy among the industry’s most colourful characters. Ellison is famed for his love of expensive toys, including cars, yachts and even fighter jets; McNealy for his golfing prowess and outspoken criticism of rivals, especially Microsoft.

So news that Larry was stepping in to save his old mate’s blushes could have been expected to go down a storm with the market. That it didn’t (Oracle’s share price actually fell, albeit by only 1.25%) is partly a reflection of the unseemly haste of the proceedings, and partly of some head-scratching over what the business rationale of the deal really is.

Ellison says that it will make Oracle into the only company which can offer a fully vertically-integrated service – ‘applications to disk, where all the pieces work together so customers do not have to do it themselves’. That may be so, but it will be a hard sell - many customers prefer to avoid putting all their IT eggs in one basket, for rather obvious competitive and risk-management reasons.

However, it should certainly satisfy Ellison’s legendarily vast ego by propelling Oracle at last into the IT premier league. With Sun on board, Oracle will now take its place in a new big four alongside HP, IBM and Microsoft. Somewhere he must have wanted to be for a long time, given his track record of aggressive growth by both organic and inorganic means.

Sun’s most obviously attractive assets as far as Oracle is concerned are its Java software platform and Solaris operating system, both of which should give Oracle access to new customers and greater functionality. But Sun is best known as a manufacturer of high-performance computer hardware, a business in which Oracle has no experience or prior interest whatsoever. And while it generates huge sales - $13bn in revenues over the last four quarters - it lost $1.9bn in the same period. That suggests there are some serious strategic and/or management problems to be tackled.

Then there’s the question of what to do about Scott. Having bailed his company out so publicly, will Larry Ellison, not by repute one of the world’s most forgiving types, be able to find it in his heart to give McNealy a job, too? Only time will tell.



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