Giving Thanks for Versant and Actian
I barely uttered a word to my friends at Versant when its pending acquisition by UNICOM was announced on October 1, 2012—no congratulatory e-mail, no “sounds like a great deal!” unsolicited remark, no blog post. I felt it was safer to say little because the deal didn’t make sense to me: Versant’s long-proven enterprise-class object database technologies run primarily on Windows, Red Hat Linux, and Solaris. UNICOM is well known for being a leading IBM mainframe and CICS integrator and consultant. While happy for Versant shareholders, who would realize a 17% premium on their shares ($11.50 proposed sale versus $9.85 share price at time of announcement), the rest of the deal simply did not compute. What would a leading mainframe consultancy do with a leading open system era object database with nothing of current substance to offer to IBM big metal shops?
Toss on top of my doubt Versant’s recent roll-out of its Versant JPA database edition: What was UNICOM-Versant going to do, port Versant JPA for IBM mainframes and then pitch IBM mainframes as a big data infrastructure or native Java transactional enterprise database? Yes, IBM mainframes support Java. But the notion over-stretched my imagination. The only hope in my mind was the fact that the UNICOM-Versant transaction did not restrict Versant from searching for alternative buyers until close.
To my surprise and delight, the day before Thanksgiving Versant announced its pending acquisition by Actian Corporation, and unveiled it had terminated the UNICOM deal. Not only did Actian pop the price to $13.00 per share, nearly doubling the premium over the UNICOM bid, but the Actian-Versant transaction makes more sense than UNICOM-Versant, on two fronts:
- Enterprise-ready: Actian, with its Ingres heritage customer base, already understands the enterprise. Versant does as well, though Versant boasts deeper science/engineering chops. Both vendors already offer what many of early stage NoSQL and NewSQL (I call this combination “Not Only SQL”) vendors hope to eventually offer: An enterprise-tested set of support processes and related tools.
- Big Data Opportunity: The relatively new CEO of Actian, Steve Shine, clearly understands the promise of big data and the challenge of going it alone as a database vendor. In Shine’s 18 months at the helm, he not only renamed the firm from Ingres to Actian, but shifted its fledgling speedster database, Vectorwise, down more of a big data indirect channel path, for example recently announcing partnerships with big data and BI solution vendors such as Inferenda and BiBoard. While operating as Ingres, the company scratched out a living for a half decade by propping up an elder relationship database with little appeal to new database buyers. The “Actian” re-branding, and ecosystem commitment to Vectorwise, plus now adding another top database performer to the stable in Versant with a fresh Java big data variant in Versant JPA, makes Actian an enterprise big data database pure-play to be reckoned with going forward.
Though Actian and Versant are both based in the Redwood City area of Silicon Valley, they already both possess a considerable European presence; Versant realizes roughly half of its revenue from Europe, and that number has increased during 2012 despite Eurozone economic pressures. All that said, there are no guarantees in what has become a crowded database market with almost every database vendor chasing big data to some degree. But the reinvigorated Actian, with not one but two compelling big data database options in Vectorwise and Versant, with more competitive marketing investments and indirect channel development, may finally hatch into the winning database alternative originally envisioned by Terry Garnett and David Helfrich of Garnett & Helfrich Capital when they first spun Ingres out of CA Technologies in 2005.