After over a year of discussions about the future of the Dell-VMware relationship, on April 14, 2021, it was confirmed that Dell (NYSE: DELL) will spin off its 81% majority stake in VMware (NYSE: VMW) to create two independent companies, effective CY4Q21. Evidenced by the market’s immediate reaction, the spinoff will be an overall positive move for both companies, giving Dell the chance to reorganize as a leaner, more targeted organization while offering VMware more go-to-market flexibility. Of course, as independent companies, Dell and VMware will face challenges, but increasingly differing portfolios, revenue models and market views will position both companies for longer-term success as separate entities.
While mostly beneficial to VMware, the spinoff will offer stand-alone Dell some pockets of opportunity
While it is true that VMware has been Dell’s secret sauce for years, the announced spinoff will not necessarily cost Dell a long-term competitive advantage. Given the investments VMware has made in the last five years to accelerate its cloud strategy and position itself as more than a virtualization software company, it makes sense for VMware to operate separately. This is true even from a branding perspective, given Dell EMC’s play in many legacy markets.
However, there is also a potential upside for Dell, as the separation could enable the company to be less reliant on VMware and move beyond the big bets it placed on software-defined hardware solutions, which have generally performed below market expectations over the past few years. TBR suspects this strategy will allow Dell to become more focused on capturing the roughly 80% of enterprises that continue to operate on premises by providing them with access to cloud services and flexible pricing within their own data centers. There are already signs of this strategy developing.
While this release could be viewed as Dell giving the market a sense of what its post-spinoff portfolio could look like, at issue for the company is that it will now be more directly aligned with competitors such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) (NYSE: HPE), Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Lenovo. Given HPE’s head start in the market through its GreenLake brand, Dell will be forced to explore new avenues for differentiation with Project APEX, and this could largely come down to Dell’s still unique five-year go-to-market agreement with VMware and any potential influence from Dell Technologies CEO and Chairman Michael Dell, who will remain VMware’s chairman of the board post-spinoff.
Apart from the near-term impacts and challenges in the competitive landscape, the spinoff is best viewed in opportunities. Following the sale of RSA and current speculation regarding Secureworks (Nasdaq: SCWX), Dell has recently focused on shedding underperforming brands to become a leaner organization. TBR suspects the spinoff of VMware, along with potential sale of integration PaaS (iPaaS) subsidiary Dell Boomi, will present an opportunity for Dell to streamline its operating structure and support the large investment it made in legacy EMC.
Additionally, TBR believes Dell has in many ways backed the innovative concepts and ideas that have emerged from VMware, namely intrinsic security, but have not been fully executed. As such, this spinoff could help Dell become more selective in which markets it wants to innovate and truly scale in, which may include enabling enterprise hybrid cloud, edge computing and data management. TBR expects Dell will turn to its partner network as an immediate avenue for growth, yet as the company more aggressively pursues new growth areas, tuck-in acquisitions that complement the EMC software cannot be ruled out and, down the road, could be essential to competing on par with peers.
Corporate structure does impact performance
In theory, the ownership structure and model of firms do not impact their business model, but in practice they sure do. The evolving case of Dell and VMware is one of the most — if not the most — complicated in the history of the IT market. VMware has grown accustomed to operating under a complex and dependent ownership structure; the firm has not been fully independent since EMC acquired it in 2004 for $635 million.
Since that time, VMware has been an embedded gem within both EMC and Dell, driving growth and profitability well above the traditional hardware segments that made up the majority of both firms. VMware’s consistent performance over the past 15 years is driving this latest change in ownership structure, with VMware set to be spun out of Dell and have its most independent ownership structure since 2004. For VMware, the change is all positive, giving the firm a single-minded clarity to operate in its own best interest, without the weight of supporting the corporate performance of either EMC or, more recently, Dell