HP Drops webOS, Spins PC Business, Buys Autonomy

Against a dire financial backdrop, HP kills mobile unit, plots spinning-off its PCs and buys UK’s Autonomy

August 18, 2011 may well turn out to be a pivotal day in the 72-year history of Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest IT provider.

Not only did CEO Leo Apotheker reveal that it is shutting down its webOS hardware division – meaning it is giving up on its relatively new tablets and smartphones – he also said that HP is seriously considering the divestiture of its personal computer businesses, much as IBM did in 2005 with its own sale to China’s Lenovo. The HP board will have some serious decisions to make in the next few days and weeks.

Apotheker Stirs Up A Remedy

The day boiled down to simple subtraction and addition – and not just in reference to the 2011 third-quarter financial report it delivered, which was the most dire one in recent years. A clear indicator is this: the stock closed at $29.51 on the New York Stock Exchange, an all-time low in most valuation metrics for the company, because it’s trading at only about six times earnings.

Apotheker (pictured) has said several times that he wants the company to expand its scope in software and services that deliver computing power via the cloud. On the hardware side, HP has been focusing more of its energies on servers and storage and lessening its attention on desktop and laptop PCs – largely because the market has stalled in the face of sky-rocketing tablet sales.

On the addition side, HP clearly is changing its business model to one that embraces software over hardware. The company announced that it plans to acquire UK-based Autonomy, a 15-year-old company that was founded as a result of research and development at Cambridge University, for $10 billion (£6bn) and change.

HP Bids For Cambridge’s Autonomy

Autonomy is a fast-growing, multifaceted IT provider that placed itself on the global storage map by acquiring Iron Mountain’s digital archiving, e-discovery and online backup business for $380 million(£230m) in cash in May 2011. Apotheker described it as one of the “oldest and most established IT companies to compete successfully and profitably for new business in the cloud computing sector”.

Finally, HP delivered a downer of a financial report, with all divisions except storage either flat or dropping a bit in revenue from 2010. Overall, net revenue of $31.2 billion (£18.9bn) was up a percent from the prior-year period as reported and down two percent when adjusted for the effects of currency.

When companies such as EMC, Oracle and others are making double-digit profits each quarter, this causes red flags at HP, which issued new downward guidance ahead of its next sales quarter.

Looking at the figures, Autonomy stands to add a mere one percent to HP’s overall revenue, at least at the outset. This deal, if completed, would cost HP a whopping 15 percent of its market cap. So the inevitable question was posed to Apotheker: is this acquisition too expensive for HP at this time, considering the overall economy, current market pressures and the stock price?

Apotheker was ready for this and read a prepared statement. “Autonomy gives HP a great opportunity to accelerate our vision to decisively and profitably lead a new phase to the enterprise information management space,” he told conference call listeners. “It also brings HP higher-value business solutions to help customers manage the explosion of information.”

Reaction To News Comes Fast

Initial reactions to the news were many and varied. From the sarcastic:

“If HP spins off their PC business… maybe they will call it Compaq?” tweeted Dell CEO Michael Dell.

To the more considered:

“If the rumours are true [about Autonomy], then HP stands to add a substantial software company to complement Vertica and 3PAR, for instance,” Charles King, primary analyst at Pund-IT, told eWEEK. “Really interesting company. They can provide the search analytics at the big data-type software layer that HP lacks right now.”

Enterprise Strategy Group e-discovery analyst Katey Wood wrote in her blog, “On the product side, it will mean some serious portfolio rationalisation. In archiving, Autonomy possesses its Zantaz archiving line, including Digital Safe, the acquired Information Governance assets of CA, and now Mimosa following the recent acquisition of Iron Mountain’s digital assets, while HP has its own Integrated Archiving Platform. In records management, HP has TRIM where Autonomy has Meridio and iManage content management from its acquisition of Interwoven.

“But, like the Brady Bunch, this group must somehow form a family… Hold onto your e-discovery hats!” she added.

Craig Carpenter, general counsel and VP of marketing of e-discovery provider Recommind, told eWEEK, “It’s no secret HP has been wanting to move into cloud software and services. Given the hyper-growth in corporate data, the information management industry is the right place to make that move. We’ve seen especially strong demand for hosted eDiscovery review, which HP gets with the Autonomy purchase. Regulation, litigation and corporate data volumes are only going to increase, so this is a smart move for HP.”

Autonomy Build-Up

Autonomy has been quietly gathering the pieces it needs to become a big-time digital content handler. In 2005 Autonomy acquired Verity, one of its main competitors, for approximately $500 million (£300m). In July 2007 it acquired Zantaz, an email archiving and litigation support company, for $375 million (£227m).

It bought Web content management provider Interwoven, a niche provider of enterprise content management software, for $775 million (£470m) in 2009. In June 2010, the company acquired the information governance business of CA Technologies; terms of that sale were not disclosed.

Autonomy, with a market cap of $7 billion (£4.2bn), is the second-largest pure software company in Europe (behind Germany’s SAP) and has offices worldwide. Its customers include T-Mobile, Exxon, Toyota, Nestle, McGraw-Hill, General Motors, Federal Express, Sony, Kaiser Permanente, the US Department of Defense, and a number of other Fortune 1000 enterprises.

Originally published on eWeek.