Who will buy Canonical and SUSE?

This article is based firmly in the realm of speculation.

Because, sometimes, speculation is fun.

Specifically, I want to (attempt to) answer a question that's been rumbling around the tech world (primarily the Linux and Free and Open Source portions) for some time:

"Who is going to buy Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu) and SUSE?"

In July of this year, IBM completed their purchase of Red Hat at a cost of $34 Billion dollars.  Yeah, that's Billions.  With a B.  Which, for those curious how much money that really works out to, is more than the GDP of roughly half of the nations on Earth.

In other words: More than a little pocket change.

Red Hat made a name for itself, in large part, because of their Enterprise-focused version of Linux.  But our rouge fedora bestowed brethren are not the only Enterprise-y, Linux-y companies on the block.  Canonical and SUSE are both, to a certain degree, independent... and prime for acquisition.

But who might purchase those two Linux-loving firms?  And when?  And... why?

Let's start with SUSE.

Note: This writer used to work for SUSE, specifically in marketing, for several years.  I left SUSE over 2 years ago (I was so tied to the SUSE brand, that SUSE issued a press release about the event), I've done no work with SUSE since then, and the speculation that follows is based entirely on publicly available information -- no insider information of any kind.

In order to see where a company is going, first you need to understand where it's been.  Let's do the quick-quick version of recent SUSE history.

In 2004, SUSE was purchased by Novell for $210 Million.  Then, in 2011, Attachmate purchased Novell... making SUSE part of Attachmate.

In 2014 Micro Focus announced that it would be purchasing Attachmate for $1.2 Billion.  SUSE, being a group within Attachmate, went along for the ride and became a business unit within Micro Focus.

In 2018, SUSE announced that it was to be acquired (from Micro Focus) by a company known as EQT, for a hair over $2.5 Billion.  EQT might not be immediately known to followers of technology as EQT tends to focus on purchasing and re-selling companies at a profit -- primarily in Europe and often in the Real Estate, Health Care, and Transportation fields.  Think of EQT as being sort of like a Real Estate Flipper... only for companies.  The sale was completed in the first half of 2019.

With that in mind, clearly EQT has always planned to have an exit strategy from SUSE.  They're in this to earn a profit, after all.

Luckily, EQT posts the dates they purchase and then sell off companies in a handy-dandy table.  Making it fairly easy to determine that the average amount of time a company stays owned by EQT hovers between 2 and 6 years.  As such, I think "2 to 6 years from now" seems a good likely guess for when EQT will sell SUSE to another firm.

Being as SUSE remains profitable, if they continue to grow their profitability, there's every reason to believe the purchase price will be somewhere north of the $2.5 Billion EQT paid.  That just stands to reason.  Where, exactly, the sale price lands depends on how SUSE performs (and what happens in the market) between now and then.

But, here's the big question: Who will buy SUSE?

If I were a betting man, my money would be on SAP.  Here's my thinking:

SAP has, for some time, been a key part of the SUSE business.  SUSE has been pushing SAP hard lately... to see this for yourself, do a search for "SUSE SAP" on Twitter.  SUSE mentions SAP with great regularity... almost more often than Linux itself.

Tie that in with the fact that, in July of this year (mere months after the EQT purchase was complete) the longstanding CEO of SUSE was replaced with an executive (Chief Revenue Officer) from SAP.  In the few short months since then, the new SUSE CEO isn't the only executive to move from SAP to SUSE.

So, to recap:

- SUSE has been acquired numerous times (every 3 to 4 years, lately).

- SUSE is owned by a firm that flips companies (typically in 2 to 6 years).

- SUSE leadership is quickly being replaced (at least in part) by SAP alumni.

- SUSE is pushing their ties to SAP.

My guess: SUSE will be purchased by SAP in 3 to 4 years for $6 Billion.

Total guess... and based on nothing but public info.  But I'd be willing to bet a burger on that one.

Now, what about Canonical?  Who will buy the company behind Ubuntu?

This one I am less certain about.  Far less certain.  I know what my gut tells me but, to be honest, there is no where near the amount of data to back up the feelings in my ever-so-trustworthy gut.

Canonical was started (and funded) by one very rich guy, Mark Shuttleworth.  How rich is Shuttleworth?  He paid $20 Million to be a space tourist.  That's pretty doggone rich.

Canonical has, historically, had a number of products (and attempted product initiatives) that didn't quite work out (including Ubuntu Phone, Ubuntu for Android, Ubuntu for TV, and several software initiatives) -- the company has dialed back on those in order to focus on the Enterprise.  Shuttleworth spoke, last year, about the possibility of taking outside investment, taking the company public, and the possibility of an acquisition (however unlikely he views it).

Canonical's Linux-based Ubuntu is hugely popular with cloud hosting providers, such as Amazon and Azure.  Considering there tends to be three predominant flavors of Linux on such cloud servers -- and two of them (Red Hat and SUSE) have had acquisitions this year... that leaves the third one (Canonical) as the odd man out.

All of which makes the question of "Will Canonical sell itself?" a bit hard to answer.  Considering that all the other similar firms are being acquired, that makes the odds high... but with no strong public indications otherwise.

That said, assuming Canonical sells itself to another company (which I think it will, if I had to guess), who would that company be?

I would put my money, if you really twisted my arm, on the firms that stand to gain the most by bringing a popular Linux distribution in-house.  Those with strong public cloud businesses coupled with other offerings that could be complemented by the addition of Ubuntu (such as developer tools and the like).  Amazon, Microsoft, and Google being the most noteworthy.

There are strong reasons for and against all three of those possibilities.  But, if I had to guess?  I'd say Microsoft.

Microsoft has been spending a fair bit of money to expand their Open Source presence (including the purchase of GitHub for $7.5 Billion, and purchasing a seat on the Linux Foundation board).  The next logical step?  Why not purchase a company that makes a version of Linux.  One that Microsoft already supports on their Azure online service.

There's some logic to it.  Not convinced.  But seems highly possible.  If I shook a magic 8 ball a few times, half of the time it would say "Ask Again Later" and the other half "Signs Point To Yes."

Which means that today we have:

Red Hat Linux, Ubuntu, and SUSE Linux.

In a few years those could be replaced by:

IBM Linux, Microsoft Linux, and SAP Linux.

I mean... stranger things have happened.


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