- Associated Press - Thursday, August 26, 2010

SEATTLE (AP) - Hewlett-Packard Co. has again raised its bid for 3Par Inc. above an offer from rival Dell Inc., suggesting that the little-known data-storage maker could be worth more with one of the PC companies’ marketing muscle behind it.

The latest offer from HP for $27 per share in cash, or about $1.69 billion, is nearly three times what 3Par had been trading at before Dell made the first bid last week.

Earlier on Thursday, Dell said 3Par had accepted its second offer of $24.30 per share in cash, or $1.52 billion. Dell made its first offer, $18 per share, for 3Par on Aug. 16, and HP responded Monday with a bid of $24 per share.

HP and Dell, two of the world’s largest personal computer makers, are looking at 3Par as a way to build up their “cloud computing” businesses, which involve delivering software, data storage and other services to customers over the Internet. Either company would buy 3Par in part to cut data-storage costs.

Before the bidding began, 3Par had been trading at about $10 per share. Some analysts described even Dell’s initial offer price, at two-thirds of HP’s latest bid, as too steep.

But Andy Hargreaves, an analyst for Pacific Crest Securities, said Thursday that Dell and HP are willing to pay more than twice 3Par’s previous value because they believe they have the marketing and distribution muscle to turn 3Par into a much larger business. Revenue for 3Par in the most recent fiscal year, which ended in March, was $194 million _ less than 1 percent of Dell’s revenue in the most recent year.

Dell may have even made what it knew was a low offer to start, Hargreaves said, to take advantage of turmoil at HP, where CEO Mark Hurd had just resigned in the wake of a sexual-harassment allegation against him. Hurd had led HP through many acquisitions aimed at broadening the business beyond PC sales.

In an interview, Hargreaves said HP’s first offered showed it “was still willing to make a bid, even if there’s no CEO.” A response to Dell’s second offer indicates that HP is serious about a deal and not just inflating the price to make Dell rethink its pursuit.

Shaw Wu, an analyst for Kaufman Bros., said HP’s motives appear defensive to keep Dell out of the game. He cited the extent of the overlap between HP’s own technology and 3Par’s promise.

Dell, for its part, may want this deal more because it’s more dependent on selling computers than HP. PC sales made up more than half of Dell’s revenue in the most recent fiscal year and slightly less than a third at HP.

Dell must also see buying 3Par as a more profitable alternative to reselling storage systems from EMC Corp., a top storage provider, Wu said.

The back-and-forth bidding over previously obscure 3Par underscores how serious the two PC makers are about finding more profitable businesses than selling computers.

The companies that made personal computers affordable and ubiquitous must now draw new buyers by selling more sophisticated PCs at ever-lower prices. The cost of parts, meanwhile, has increased, putting even more of a squeeze on profits.

Cloud computing holds the promise of richer profits for technology providers because many companies aren’t buying their own computer servers for certain tasks anymore. Instead, they’re paying to have software they would have stored on those machines delivered to them over the Internet.

Dell, HP and others are riding this trend by offering those kinds of cloud-computing services directly on a subscription basis, along with the equipment and software for customers to build their own cloud systems.

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