Tech Gears Up for M&A Boom

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NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Cisco's $5 billion purchase of video software developer NDS, Dell's recent deal for SonicWALL and Avaya's $230 million acquisition of Radvision have raised the prospect of a tech M&A boom.

After an uncertain 2011, the tech sector has enjoyed a robust start to 2012, driven by strong software sales and robust demand for gadgets such as smartphones and tablets. With cash-rich companies like Cisco once again hitting the major M&A trail, there are expectations of more tech acquisitions.
Cisco CEO John Chambers.

"M&A has always been a key part of tech companies' strategy -- we have been successful at using that to drive our growth," explained Ned Hooper, Cisco's chief strategy officer, during an interview with TheStreet. "I think we're going to continue to see that."

The NDS deal is Cisco's first mega-purchase since spending $3.4 billion on videoconferencing specialist Tandberg in 2010, and grabbing wireless specialist Starent for $2.9 billion in 2009. Also in 2009, the networking giant spent $590 million on its ill-fated purchase of Flip video camera maker Pure Digital.

After shuttering the Flip business last year, Cisco is clearly refocusing its efforts on video infrastructure. Hooper explained that the total addressable market for service provider video is $26 billion, adding that NDS will boost deployments of the company's Videoscape technology, which lets service providers deliver content over multiple devices. "One of the places where they have done a tremendous job is mobile access to your TV subscription service over things like iPhones and iPad tablets," said Hooper.

This week's flurry of announcements from Cisco, Avaya and Dell has shone a spotlight on the M&A possibilities.

Acquisition chatter, for example, continues to swirl around networking specialist Riverbed , with Dell mentioned as a possible suitor. This, however, is not the first time there has been talk of Riverbed and Dell as a good fit.

Both companies declined to comment on this story when contacted by TheStreet. "Dell does not comment on speculation or rumor," explained a spokesman for the PC giant, echoing the response from Riverbed.

Dell, or course, is already flashing its cash, grabbing network security specialist SonicWALL for a rumored $1.5 billion earlier this week.

Analysts feel that Dell's move signals yet more activity in this space. "We believe this demonstrates a continuation of the consolidation trend in security with continued interest from larger technology providers," explained Todd Weller, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, in a note.

Attention may now shift to security star Fortinet , which was also recently rumored as a Dell target.

Fortinet is acknowledged as a leader in an area known as Unified Threat Management (UTM), whereby businesses tackle multiple security threats via a single device.

"The market chatter last week had Dell adding SonicWALL UTM rival Fortinet," noted Brenon Daly of The 451 Group, in a blog posting. "However, even on a rough, back-of-the-envelope basis, a purchase of Fortinet would likely cost Dell at least four times as much as it probably paid for SonicWALL."

In addition to Dell, Fortinet has already been touted as a potential target for HP , IBM and Oracle .

"Fortinet doesn't comment on rumors or speculation," explained a spokesman for the security specialist, in an email to TheStreet.

Fortinet has earned an impressive reputation thanks to its FortiGate appliance, an all-in-one security product that combines firewall, anti-virus, VPN and intrusion prevention systems. One of TheStreet's Breakout Stocks, the stock typically sees a boost from M&A activity in the security sector, and the shares have climbed more than 25% so far this year.

--Written by James Rogers in New York.

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