Who's Going to Buy MarkLogic?

It's a truism of venture capital-fueled software vendors that they either hit liftoff or get cast off. There's no middling, happily-expanding-ten-percent-annually,-thank-you growth path like there is for smaller software companies who never dip into the VC well.

Some VC-funded firms do hit liftoff. Consider Jive or ExactTarget, who both went public. Some software firms sell at their apogee to other vendors for a handsome return to venture investors.

When They Don't Go Public

But what if that never happens? What if the software vendor grows nicely, but not at rocket-ship rates? At some point, the investors need to exit, and that usually leads to some sort of asset sale.

Which brings me to MarkLogic, the XML repository vendor with some nice technology in search of a general-purpose use case. MarkLogic has been successful, but never took off. Venture funds started investing in MarkLogic in 2002, with the latest round in 2009. To be fair, the company is trying to extend its runway with a "Big Data" story, but I'm guessing that at some point, perhaps some point soon, their investors will get itchy and try to exit.

But Sell to Whom?

I don't have any inside scoop on this, but I suspect both Oracle and IBM could be interested in the underlying MarkLogic technology, and both vendors could do good things with it. Other potential suitors include EMC, SAP, and OpenText. Hopefully not OpenText, though: that's where products usually go to die.

So if you're a MarkLogic customer, you may find yourself cutting maintenance checks (probably bigger checks) to a new vendor. If enough customers still show interest, that vendor will continue to support and maybe even advance the platform.

This outcome is certainly better than the alternative: a total meltdown a' la Hot Banana or Serena Collage, or a fire-sale to a direct competitor who squeezes you into a new platform, like the poor folks still running AquaLogic and WebLogic portals under Oracle.

Customers always suffer in any acquisition, but some takeovers are more painful than others. For its customers' sake, I hope MarkLogic fits nicely into its next home.

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