Windstream misses the message

Contact: Ben Kolada

As the telecom industry continues its buying spree, some firms are missing the bigger picture – hosting and datacenter services are the new growth channels for telcos. While CenturyLink and Verizon have each announced acquisitions in the growing datacenter services industry, Windstream Communications appears to be satisfied with consolidating telecom assets. The telco’s purchase of complementary competitive carrier PAETEC is its seventh telco rollup since its formation in 2006. And while PAETEC does provide a wealth of network assets, it contributes little in the way of revenue growth. For the price it’s paying for PAETEC, Windstream could have gobbled up a number of hosting properties at a fraction of the cost.

To be fair, Windstream’s PAETEC pickup does provide more than 50,000 high-revenue enterprise accounts and an expanded fiber footprint. But the target’s organic revenue has been flat in recent years, and growth this year is likely to come primarily as a result of the Cavalier Telephone buy it completed in late 2010. (We would also note that Cavalier’s revenue was in precipitous decline, due primarily to churn in its consumer division. Cavalier’s revenue dropped from $421m for full-year 2009 to an estimated $390m in trailing revenue at the time of its sale.)

Beyond fiber and enterprise accounts, Windstream is also interested in PAETEC’s datacenter services assets. And rightfully so, considering Windstream’s hosting assets could certainly use a boost. The company’s last pure M&A foray into the hosting sector was in November 2010, when it shelled out $310m for Hosted Solutions. That target only generated $51m in trailing sales, or about 1% of Windstream’s total revenue. But for the $2.2bn the telco is paying for PAETEC (including the assumption of debt), it could have easily expanded its hosting footprint in the US and abroad by acquiring both InterNap Network Services and Interxion. Applying a flat 20% equity premium to the pair would put their combined deal value at about $1.6bn on an enterprise value basis, or about three-quarters of PAETEC’s price.

Continued M&A activity in hosting sector expected in 2011

Contact: Ben Kolada, Aleetalynn Schenesky-Stronge

The past year set several records for M&A in the hosting and managed services sectors. Industry players, including fellow companies, private equity (PE) firms and telecom carriers, announced a total of 102 deals, eclipsing the previous record set in 2006. The aggregate value of last year’s transactions hit $4.8bn. True, records set in 2010 were partially the result of pent-up demand from the Credit Crisis, but we wouldn’t call the year a fluke. In fact, we expect that 2011 will continue the upward trajectory.

In 2010, we saw record acquisitions of all flavors. In terms of deal size, at an estimated $450m, SoftLayer Technologies’ sale to GI Partners and SoftLayer’s management topped our list of PE purchases of hosting providers. Buyout shops were also active internationally, with both Lloyds Banking Group and Montagu Private Equity each inking deals. Meanwhile, telecom providers were particularly active last year. Telco incumbent Cincinnati Bell announced the largest telecom-colocation transaction on record, and notable mention goes to Windstream Communications for its $310m pickup of Hosted Solutions. Meanwhile, wholesale datacenter provider Digital Realty Trust inked the sector’s largest acquisition of the year (in fact, the largest colocation transaction we’ve ever recorded), paying $725m for Rockwood Capital’s 365 Main portfolio.

On the macroeconomic side, we expect M&A in the hosting and managed services industries in 2011 to be driven by the following: enterprises converting capex to opex through IT outsourcing, increasing acceptance of outsourcing since that model successfully solved internal IT constraints; improving access to capital, allowing providers to continue to expand and innovate in order to meet market demands; and investment for growth, whether that be directly through M&A, via funding provided by PE, or both. On the microeconomic side, M&A will be predominately driven by consolidation and rollup to achieve scale, amass customer bases and add complementary infrastructure and service lines in order to create and expand new service offerings. Click here to see our full review of 2010 and our predictions for 2011.

Is Earthlink looking to link up to a hosting company?

Contact: Ben Kolada

Earthlink on Monday said that it is acquiring regional competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) One Communications for $85m in cash or stock, plus the assumption of $285m in debt. The deal is Earthlink’s second telecom play of the year, and from our view, it looks like the beginning of a strategy that’s already playing out at Windstream Communications.

The One Communications announcement came just three weeks after Earthlink closed the purchase of southeastern US CLEC ITC Deltacom. Both One Communications and ITC Deltacom are fairly large, as regional CLECs go. ITC Deltacom generated $451m in revenue in the four quarters before its sale, and we understand that One Communications came in at $575m in trailing sales. However, both companies’ sales were declining, and we suspect that the deals were primarily done to build out Earthlink’s facilities-based presence and lay the ground for an eventual hosting play.

If that’s correct, then the ISP will be setting itself on a similar track to the one laid by Windstream Communications. The Little Rock, Arkansas-based company picked up six telecom service providers before announcing last month that it was buying hosting provider Hosted Solutions. At least three other telcos have scooped up hosting companies just in the past two months. The reason for the shopping spree is pretty simple if we consider the relative growth rates of the two sectors: While the core telecom market continues to decline, hosters are putting up fairly solid growth – and that should continue. In their 2010 ‘Multi-Tenant Datacenter North American Market Overview’, our colleagues at Tier1 Research project that the sector’s total North American revenue will hit $11.1bn in 2013, up from an estimated $6.8bn this year.

Select recent telecom-hosting transactions

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value
December 15, 2010 Telephone and Data Systems TEAM Technologies $47m
November 22, 2010 Sidera Networks Cross Connect Solutions Not disclosed
November 4, 2010 Windstream Communications Hosted Solutions [ABRY Partners] $310m
November 3, 2010 Cbeyond MaximumASP (assets) $31m
May 12, 2010 Cincinnati Bell CyrusOne [ABRY Partners] $525m
March 22, 2010 TDS Telecommunications VISI $18m
January 25, 2010 Cavalier Telephone NET Telcos (assets) Not disclosed

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Windstream makes hosting splash among private equity waves

Contact: Ben Kolada

Windstream Communications bought into business services once again, this time picking up managed hosting, colocation and cloud computing provider Hosted Solutions. The deal is the first hosting play for Windstream, and shows that private equity buyers aren’t the only ones shopping in the sector.

Windstream is paying $310m in cash for Hosted Solutions, which posted $52m in trailing sales. The deal values Hosted Solutions at 12.7x its trailing EBITDA, and more than double the price that ABRY Partners paid for the company in April 2008. Hosted Solutions employs 125, and Windstream initially plans to retain the majority of those employees, though we expect there will be some corporate turnover as part of the integration.

Although telcos have gone shopping for colocation and hosting companies this year (with the most notable deal being CyrusOne’s sale to Cincinnati Bell), private equity firms have dominated the headlines. We recorded 10 hosting and colocation deals this year with deal values of at least $100m. Of this group, half of the targets went to private equity buyers, and four of those deals involved the target company simply jumping from one PE portfolio to another. Further, buyout shops, including firms both in the US and abroad, accounted for nearly half (46%) of the total spending for these 10 deals.

Top 10 hosting and colocation deals of 2010

Buyer category Number of acquisitions Percent of total spending
Private equity 5 46%
Hosting/colocation 3 32%
Telecommunications 2 22%
Total spending $3.8bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

The Art of hosting

Art Zeile is at it again. The private equity arm of Wachovia recently bought privately held HostMySite for an estimated $60m. Wachovia Capital Partners has tapped Zeile and his management team to lead the company, and intends to aggressively grow the venture through further acquisitions. Despite an unfavorable market for M&As, both Wachovia and Zeile are very bullish about going on a shopping spree. And they have a pile of cash – to the tune upwards of $150m – to do so. We hear that talks are already under way. But while awaiting official word of forthcoming deals, we take a stab at identifying some potential candidates.

Although it’s in a unique position as one of the leaders in the niche managed dedicated hosting space, HostMySite is currently not a heavyweight by any means. It is running about $20-25m in revenue at the moment. Nonetheless, it is the future prospects and track record of the new management that have Wachovia and a few other undisclosed investors so willingly parting with their money. Zeile and his team founded Inflow Inc in 1997, successfully navigated it through the bubble era, and with a few strategic acquisitions turned it into a $70m company. Inflow was sold to SunGard Data Systems in early 2005 for almost $200m.

The managed dedicated hosting sector has seen a lot of consolidation over the past few years. One of the main reasons for this is the prevalence of on-demand and outsourced hosting. The dominant players in the space are looking to build up scale and expand geographically to better meet their customers’ increasing needs.

According to insiders, HostMySite is looking at buying up small to medium-sized companies with revenue greater than $10m, largely focused on managed dedicated hosting. It has a preference for companies based in the West and Midwest, for geographical diversity. The market is littered with hosting providers, but few that fit those parameters, especially ones focused mostly on managed dedicated hosting. We did manage to come up with a few potential targets: LiquidWeb, ServePath, and INetU. All three are making names for themselves in the managed dedicated hosting space – but with revenue between $10-20m, they’re still small enough for a potential acquisition.

Frankly we would be surprised if at least one of these companies wasn’t acquired in the near future, either by HostMySite or another company. In fact, given the revenue multiples typically applied to acquisitions in this space (between 2.5 to 3.5 times trailing 12-month revenue), all three could conceivably be bought for about $100m – leaving ample cash for future endeavors.

Recent select managed hosting acquisitions

Date Acquirer Target Deal value TTM revenue
April 2008 ABRY Partners Hosted Solutions $140m $39m*
December 2006 Fujitsu Services TDS AG $132m NA
June 2008 International Game Technology Cyberview Technology $76m $53m
February 2006 VeriSign 3united Mobile Solutions $65m NA
April 2008 Layered Technologies FastServers.Net $13.5m* $9.5m*

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