Private equity goes back to the hosting table in a big way

Contact: Ben Kolada

So far this year, three private equity (PE) firms have each shelled out at least $400m for a hosting provider, making 2010 the most active year for big-ticket hosting deals for PE shops. And these firms are no novices. Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, GI Partners and Oak Hill Capital Partners have a combined $32bn in capital under management, and each has had previous experience in the hosting sector. The fact that they’re coming back to the hosting market – and paying relatively rich valuations to do so – is a hearty endorsement of the sector’s long-term growth potential.

In the most recent deal, Welsh Carson teamed up with Peak 10 management to buy the company from Seaport Capital and McCarthy Capital. Although terms of the transaction weren’t disclosed, we understand the buyout consortium paid just north of $400m for Peak 10, or about 12 times the company’s annualized 2010 EBITDA. For comparison, Savvis, in which Welsh has been invested since 1999, is currently trading at 5x annualized EBITDA.

In another management buyout, SoftLayer Technologies’ management announced in August that it was partnering with GI Partners to buy the dedicated hosting specialist from its angel investors. Again, terms weren’t disclosed, but we believe the deal valued SoftLayer at about 10x its annualized EBITDA, or about $450m. As my colleagues Philbert Shih and Aleetalynn Schenesky-Stronge noted, GI Partners is a well-known participant in the hosting and Internet infrastructure space, having invested in Digital Realty Trust and The Planet. GI Partners intends to combine The Planet and SoftLayer, with SoftLayer’s management left in charge. The combined company, which would have $270m in estimated revenue for 2010, could go public as early as next year.

SoftLayer was GI Partners’ second hosting play of the year. In April, the firm banded together with Oak Hill Capital and ViaWest’s management to buy the company from a consortium of PE investors. Oak Hill Capital was the lead investor, with GI Partners and management retaining minority stakes. We estimate the price of the deal at $420m, which works out to about 10x ViaWest’s cash flow. Oak Hill Capital isn’t new to the datacenter industry, having previously invested in TelecityGroup.

More PE moves could be in the works, as we’re aware of quite a few more properties for sale. If the flurry of M&A activity during the recent VMworld conference is any indication of what happens when a group of likeminded individuals gets together, our 2010 Hosting & Cloud Transformation Summit could lead to a number of hosting and Internet infrastructure deals. The conference opens today in Las Vegas and continues through Wednesday.

Select PE hosting deals in 2010

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value
September 1 Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe/Peak 10 management Peak 10 $400m*
August 4 GI Partners/SoftLayer Technologies management SoftLayer Technologies $450m*
April 20 Oak Hill Capital Partners/ViaWest management ViaWest $420m*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate