AT&T scored a buyer for its data center colocation operations, signing a deal to unload the assets to Brookfield Infrastructure for $1.1 billion. The deal follows months of rumors about the divestiture and makes a (very) small dent in the $85 billion check the telecom giant just wrote to acquire Time Warner.
The Brookfield deal includes 18 internet data centers in the U.S. and 13 international data centers. Those data centers serve more than 1,000 companies worldwide. The deal is expected to close by early next year, at which time all customer contracts, employees, fixed assets, leased, and owned facilities will transfer to Brookfield.
The Wall Street Journal earlier this year reported that AT&T was looking to unload its data center holdings. The report stated AT&T generated about $135 million in earnings per year from those assets with a potential sale price expected at around $1 billion.
AT&T said it will use the proceeds from the sale to pay down debt, which recently ballooned due to the Time Warner deal. Reports indicate that AT&T’s debt load was at more than $180 billion following the deal.
Follow the Leader
Analysts noted a data center sale would follow recent trends by other operators in exiting the increasingly competitive and commoditized data center space.
“Once upon a time there was logic to combine transport with the data center, but that logic never materialized in the real world,” explained Roger Entner, founder and president at Recon Analytics. “What customers are looking for is to pick the best transport and pick the best data center. With that the whole case for a carrier-owned data center disappears.”
Entner noted that AT&T’s data center market share paled in comparison to players like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. And that AT&T’s data center business was more of a distraction internally than it’s worth to operate.
“What aggravates the whole situation is that in data centers it’s all about economies of scale,” Entner said. “If you are the largest you will have the lowest prices. Being a $100 million data center business is just not enough scale. And, the five to 10 minutes AT&T’s management uses to discuss its data center business each quarter is probably about five to 10 minutes too much.”
What a Deal!
For Brookfield the purchase price could be seen as a relative bargain.
Verizon in 2016 sold 24 data centers to Equinix for $3.6 billion. The 24 sites consisted of 29 data center buildings across 15 metro areas comprising about 2.4 million gross square feet. It also included about 900 customers.
The Verizon-Equinix deal followed on the heels of CenturyLink announcing plans to sell its global data centers and colocation business to a group of private equity funds for $2.15 billion in cash and a minority stake valued at $150 million. That deal included 57 data centers across 2.6 million square feet of raised floor capacity.
AT&T in late 2015 sold its managed services business, which included data center space, to IBM for an undisclosed amount. That deal reversed a 1998 transaction between the two companies that had IBM selling its Global Network business to AT&T for $5 billion.
Leading up to that deal, AT&T was also looking to sell its data centers. However, it eventually just moved the hosting business.
Brookfield, which controls more than $75 billion in global infrastructure assets, is establishing a subsidiary to own and operate the data center locations. That subsidiary will be run by Tim Caulfield, who is currently CEO of IT management consultancy Antara Group, with unnamed AT&T executives also set to join the leadership team.
AT&T will continue to offer services linked to the data centers and remain an anchor tenant at those locations. AT&T services tied to the data centers include its Data Center Connectivity Ethernet, internet, and VPN service; its NetBond for Cloud service; the FlexWare platform that supports software-based router and firewall services using SDN and NFV; and a consulting service.
The two companies will also work under a joint marketing agreement that will allow for each to offer data center-based services to their respective customers.