Vision Buys Enforcive, Then Gets Sold And Merged With Syncsort
July 10, 2017 Alex Woodie
To say that it was busy couple of days for Vision Solutions last week would be an understatement. On Wednesday, the company announced its acquisition of IBM i security firm Enforcive. The following day, Vision announced that it was being bought by Centerbridge, a private equity firm that intends to merge it with ETL provider Syncsort.
When all the smoke from the fireworks cleared, here’s how the chips landed: Clearlake Capital Group, which acquired Vision Solutions barely a year ago and bought Syncsort in 2015, was offered $1.2 billion by Centerbridge Partners for majority stakes in both firms. That offer from a $30 billion equity fund was too good to pass up for Clearlake, which is about a quarter the size of Centerbridge. (Clearlake will retain a minority stake in the combined company.)
It was evident that Centerbridge sees the combination of Vision Solutions and Syncsort as more than the sum of its parts. (The size of the deal, which IT Jungle believes was more or less equally split between Vision and Syncsort, also shows that Vision’s valuation has increased over the past year – even after it sold the Double-Take business to Carbonite).
When the deal is closed in late summer, the combined entity will be known as Syncsort and managed by Syncsort CEO Josh Rogers. The Vision Solutions brand will disappear, even if Vision’s business strategy continues. The MIMIX brand, however, will continue on.
The central theme to this deal, “Big Iron to Big Data,” reflects Centerbridge’s confidence that IBM’s two big iron platforms – the IBM i midrange server and the z/OS mainframe – have a lot of life left in them and will be instrumental participants in the big data analytics projects of the companies that continue to use those platforms.
“We see a great opportunity to bring together Syncsort and Vision to create a global ‘Big Iron to Big Data’ platform that addresses critical business requirements for leading enterprises across all major industries,” stated Jared Hendricks, a senior managing director at Centerbridge.
Syncing Up, Sorting IT Out
Based in Pearl River, New York, Syncsort developed a reputation as a developer of ETL software for mainframes called DMX. Over the years, the company has branched out into other areas, including the burgeoning Apache Hadoop ecosystem. It developed a Hadoop-based product, called DMX-h, that allowed customers to perform large-scale data transformation workloads on data stored in distributed Hadoop clusters, without requiring customers to become experts in programming complex MapReduce or Pig scripts.
Over time, the company landed some pretty big Hadoop customers, including the Web analytics firm comScore, which needed to crunch billions of files every day on its 400-node Hadoop cluster. While Syncsort also supported the column-oriented data warehouse platforms like Vertica, it got so deep into the Hadoop big data ecosystem that at one point it was one of the top private firms contributing code to the open source Apache Hadoop project.
Last year Syncsort branched out into master data management (MDM) and data quality businesses with the acquisition of Trillium Software. Syncsort sees Trillium’s software as critical for helping its big data customers prevent its so-called “data lakes” from turning into unmanageable data swamps. Trillium also brings data validation and verification capabilities (using postal data like physical addresses as well as email addresses and phone numbers), which are important for customer 360 and other marketing initiatives.
So, how does all this impact the 4,000 or so Vision customers, spanning MIMIX, MIMIX Share, and iTera HA brands. In the eyes of Vision CEO Nicolaas Vlok, the IBM i customers will benefit from the increased access to Syncsort’s data management capabilities. And Syncsort’s 2,500 or so customers will also benefit from greater access to Vision’s tech.
“We’re going to offer new tools to the System i marketplace that will free up access to data and what can be done with data, on and off the platform,” Vlok tells IT Jungle. “And on the Syncsort side, we’re certainly looking forward to integrating some of our data movement, ETL and CDC technology into what they’ve had as a product suite. MIMIX Share would be the kickoff point for doing many things for them off the iSeries and onto the iSeries, populating Hadoop and Splunk environment, something we haven’t done in the past, but something that will get accelerated here in the near future. Syncsort has evolved their business model to also include big data,” he continues. “And it’s certainly a need you can see in the Power Systems space as well.”
While the Vision brand will disappear under the Syncsort umbrella, Vision’s master plan for executing a slew of IBM i-related mergers and acquisitions – which was hatched just after the Clearlake acquisition – is still kicking.
“Bringing Vision and Syncsort together does not change the M&A path for Vision,” Vlok says. “There are acquisitions in the pipeline. Enforcive was the first one that we brought to market and we expect to continue to do acquisitions that will fall in under the Vision organization, even in the Syncsort environment.”
Centerbridge wants to continue M&A activity under the combined Vision-Syncsort organization, says Vlok, who will continue to run Vision as CEO for now, but plans to step away from day-to-day operations and become a strategic advisor once the merger is complete.
“Part of the thesis is to continue to invest in M&A as a combined entity, and even accelerate M&A,” Vlok says. “So expect Vision to continue to be active beyond Enforcive in the System i market.”
Which brings us to the Enforcive Information Systems acquisition (which would have probably been enough news for a sleepy Independence Day week that didn’t see much else happening in the IBM i midrange world).
Enforcive, you will recall, is the Israeli IBM i security software company that formerly went by the name BSafe Global Security (it changed its name several years ago at the reported urging of RSA Security, the Dell EMC subsidiary that has a product by the same name).
The company maintains an office in New Jersey, but has struggled to sell its software into IBM i accounts in the United States. Most of its IBM i customers are in Europe and the Middle East.
The move into security may seem a bit of a mismatch for a high availability software firm, but once you start peeling back the layers on the onion, it actually makes a lot of sense, according to Alan Arnold, Vision’s CTO and executive vice president.
For starters, Vision’s customer are aware that they need better IBM i security. “We’re bringing a solution to market that’s going to allow us to fulfil that requirement that our customers have been telling us about, either in per person or through the Vision Solution’s annual State of Resilience survey,” says Arnold.
Higher demand for security and high availability was also reflected in HelpSystems‘ 2017 IBM i Marketplace Survey. Ironically, HelpSystems, which already had a slew of IBM i security products, acquired BugBuster‘s RSF-HA high availability (now RobotHA) product late last year to compete with Vision, and now Vision is returning the favor with its acquisition of Enforcive and its suite of IBM i security software.
Philosophically, security and high availability can be viewed as two ends of the resilience spectrum. But IBM i customers really don’t care about that – they just want to be protected from known threats like fires and hurricanes, as well as emerging threats like ransomware and the recent WannaCry outbreak.
The two threats are “absolutely” merging, Arnold says. “You tell me the difference: If I can’t have my system because somebody’s hijacked it, or it’s down because of an earthquake. The system is down regardless. Guess what? We can help them with that. They are two different situations, two different areas, but at the end of the day, we’ll be able to keep that environment up and running.”
Vision’s move into security is strategic, Arnold says. “It’s a strategic piece that our customers have been asking us about for a while, with the integration between high availability and security,” he says. “Especially on the Power i platform, the integration is just very tight.”
IBM‘s built-in journaling function plays a big role in both security and high availability. If an IBM i shop has the audit journal turned on (which they should), the system will track every change made to the database. This is the same underlying technology that powers Vision’s data replication capability in MIMIX and iTera HA.
Vision has plans to further integrate Enforcive’s software and MIMIX. Getting better analytics to parse through the journal entries for both security and HA is one area. Higher up the stack, Arnold also has plans to give customers a single screen that shows them their current security and HA states. “At any point in time, you can go to one screen and see exactly what’s going on,” he says. “You’ll see from HA where you are, what state are you’re in, but you’ll also see your security state at the same time.”
Vision has been researching the IBM i security market for a while, and identified Enforcive as a market leader. The fact that it offers an integrated IBM i security suite with a common user interface, as opposed to cobbled-together products and mismatching screens, are viewed in the Vision camp as Enforcive’s strengths. Its distribution channel, particularly in North America, was viewed as its weakness. The latter is an area where Vision can provide a significant bump in visibility.
“We’ve been eyeing the security market for quite some time,” Vlok says. “We’ve done a lot of homework. We’ve researched it well with customers and potential prospects out there. We’re excited to have Enforcive join the Vision family.”
Vision had been in talks with Enforcive for months. The company’s CEO, Shimon Bouganim, tragically passed away earlier this year. Arjan Cohen, who stepped into the CEO’s role, will go back into sales following the acquisition by Vision.