Will IBM Buy Zend / PHP ?

There is a report on the Washington Post that confirms that Zend (the lead commercial sponsor behind PHP) is laying off some of its workforce. The article speculates that the reason is due to Zend wanting to be cash flow positive in order to be a more attractive acquisition target.

Which begs the question – Who will acquire Zend?

In my view, there can only be one company and that company is IBM. Let me explain by first eliminating the other potential suitors.

Sun has already spent its cash on MySQL (the ‘M’ in the LAMP stack) shelling out $1 billion. Most MySQL databases that I’ve ever seen or touched were connected by PHP in some way so it might make sense for Sun, but for the fact that they have Java. Though Sun has said they’re not out to replace the LAMP stack, considering the have Java and Solaris, I’m somewhat skeptical.

Oracle was at one time rumored to be in the hunt for PHP. Zend has a strategic relationship with Oracle producing a Zend Core (certified PHP) stack for Oracle databases. The way I see it now, Oracle might benefit from owning Zend as it would contribute to its overall end to end stack strategy, but it’s certainly not a core advantage in that Oracle doesn’t have its own deep PHP platform type of development.

Which leads us to Big Blue — IBM.

QED Wiki, Project Zero (now a Websphere product) and some interesting mashup technologies at IBM all  utilize Zend developed or led technologies. IBM is a strong contributor to the Zend Framework (which might be considered an alternative to .NET and JavaEE). From my own limited experience at events where both IBM and Zend executives were speaking, there is a very cordial working relationship between the two firms.

Zend would give IBM its own  language play, something with which to counter Sun’s Java, offer a complement for IBM’s existing Websphere developments as well as providing IBM with a strategic services differentiator versus HP (and its EDS division). PHP is a competitive technology to Java and the simple logic that I have would seem to imply that Zend would be a strategic buy for IBM.

Considering that Zend is currently a privately held company it’s difficult to guess what their cash flow might be and what they might be worth. The ridiculous price that Sun paid for MySQL has also no doubt inflated expectations which might make a deal difficult to achieve — after all it’s quite likely that there are at least as many PHP deployments as there are MySQL deployments.

I don’t think that IBM will pay $1 billion for Zend, but I do think that eventually they will find the price that is right.

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