Barney sets up Turbidite to buy Asian data centre operators

Barney sets up Turbidite to buy Asian data centre operators

02 March 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Bill Barney has set up a new company to buy data centres, mainly in south-east Asia and mostly from local telecoms companies.

The new company, called Turbidite, is backed by Hong Kong property group New World Development, and its CEO, Adrian Cheng, will chair the board.

Barney (pictured), who was CEO of Global Cloud Xchange (GCX) until a year ago, is targeting what he calls “orphaned data centres”, most of them sub-10MW, that are outside the scope of the hyperscale companies.

They are missing an opportunity, he told Capacity in an exclusive interview. “If you look at the Asia-Pacific region, there is a huge number of people, especially 30-45-year-olds, who are underserved by infrastructure.” Not only are they underserved, but “they are the sweet spot” in terms of attractiveness to services, he added.

The new company, announced in Hong Kong on 3 March, is called Turbidite, a geological term for an underwater landslide. “We think we’ll revolutionise the undersea cable industry,” he said to Capacity, in the interview, which will be published in the February/March issue of the magazine.

He is joined in the venture by Wilfred Kwan, who was COO at GCX, and a former Morgan Stanley executive, Don So, who is CFO of the new company as well as head of business incubation for New World Development, which is quoted on the Hong Kong stock exchange with a market cap of HK$95.59 billion (US$12.32 bilion).

Barney believes that big five hyperscalers — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft — have largely ignored many markets, such as south-east Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. These emerging markets have potential “not just for data centres but also for networks”, he said.

Turbidite is already talking to three potential acquisitions, he told Capacity, and hopes to make an announcement of one within a few days, the others later in the year.

The target is data centres with 50 to 100 racks. “We will be a network of international data centres, in the Asia Pacific at first and the Middle East: Egypt later on.”

He is recruiting a sales force in Asia, Europe and the US, though there are no staff announcements yet.

“We’ll be in M&A mode in the first 12 months,” he said, with “a focus on a lot of underserved growth. We want to focus on maximum eyeballs.”

Turbidite’s decision to be based in Hong Kong will be seen as a vote of confidence in the special administrative region of China, which has seen challenges from mainland China and also from the US because of its relationship with China. Barney said: “Hong Kong is probably one of the most resilient cities in the world. It’s a financial centre, it’s diverse, it has a lot of energy and there’s a lot of talent here.”