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Report written by Christophe Brunet

They have adapted OVH’s model to the North American conditions

At every step of its development, OVH have associated with the most trusted partners. Whether they are craftsmen, architects, or building specialists, they all bring their know-how to the table, while taking the hosting provider’s needs into account. The recent establishment of OVH in North America stays true to the model. Here is our meeting with Pascal Dupuis, owner of JR Mécanique and coordinator of construction for the BHS datacenter, and Guy Niquette, owner of A. Lecompte & Fils, in charge of the electrical systems.

When did you meet the OVH teams for the first time?

Guy Niquette : Mid-2011, OVH was looking for contractors to build its BHS datacenter in Beauharnois (Quebec). As they had in France, they wanted to work with family-owned, open-minded SMEs. Moreover, these businesses should not have previously worked on datacenters before, so they can bring in new ideas. We were contacted directly by Henri Klaba (CEO of OVH) who wanted to meet with us. The meeting was supposed to last 20 minutes… but it went so well that we talked for an hour and a half! Three weeks later, we were invited to spend three days at the French headquarters of OVH, in Roubaix. We visited the datacenters, listed all their needs and met with the managers. Then, we came back to Quebec with a handshake, a contract and a whole load of work. That is the moment my life changed (laughs).

Pascal Dupuis : My story sounds a lot like Guy’s, but happened a little bit later. The electrical systems management being crucial in a datacenter, it is normal that OVH started with this aspect. I therefore met Henri Klaba a few months later, in the fall of 2011. He also invited me to France: for four days, we worked alongside the teams there. We visited Roubaix and Strasbourg’s datacenters. Then, we quickly started talking about the conception of the BHS hosting towers: which are “mini Roubaix 4” built-in the building. (See clip below)

What were your main challenges?

Pascal : On the construction level, we had to adapt OVH’s know-how to the North American norms. Before getting to a satisfying model, we created at least 40 versions of tower number 1… We also informed our European colleagues of the Canadian climate. In France, they are not really worried about snowstorms! In Quebec, one meter of snow can fall within 24 hours, with temperatures below -25°C, so we had to take that into account so the systems do not freeze. The French team was at first very skeptical of our drastic norms, but they were convinced after they experienced a real Quebec winter!

Guy : It is true that in France, they do not have to worry about frozen ground. The foundations are subsurface. Meanwhile, in Quebec, we have to dig 1.5 meters into the ground. If we did not do that, our buildings would rise during winter, even when they are as big as BHS!

Pascal : The language barrier was also a big challenge for us. We all speak French, but we do not share the same vocabulary! This led to a few funny situations with our French colleagues.

Can you give us a few examples of misunderstandings?

Guy : OVH’s managers would often ask us for “devis”, which, in Quebec, is a report of project specifications. Only after four or five meetings did I understand that they wanted a commercial offer! French people also use a lot of anglicism, while we are trying to speak French (laughs). For instance, we use the term “gicleur” (part used to control a liquid’s flow), while the technicians in Roubaix only knew the word “sprinkler”. Over time, we have stolen a few French expressions, such as “Nickel!”.

BHS is not powered the same way as the other Canadian datacenters. Why have you implemented this unique model?

Guy : Instead of powering the datacenter with 600 Canadian volts (medium voltage), we directly use the 480 American volts. This simplifies the spreading of material and OVH’s standards in North America, because there is easier access to equipment for datacenters in the US than in Canada. For example, the inverters we need are not available in 600 volts here. We now wish to follow this logic and we are working on powering BHS like OVH’s European datacenters. The results of this project will be the future tower 3, equipped with 415 volts systems, the “European way”, while still complying to Canadian norms.

How have you succeeded in bringing this project to life?

Guy : We spent a lot of time with building and electricity authorities to create the “small European package” that fits within the Canadian norms. For me, as an electrical systems designer, it was a completely new way of thinking. I had never thought about how tension is delivered in Quebec. However, the real challenge was to find a supplier: here, no company commercializes 415 volts equipment. And we cannot simply import European material and connect it, because Canadian authorities would not allow it… After receiving negative answers from many suppliers, the engineers at Siemens finally agreed to follow us on this adventure. They developed equipment that follows Canada’s regulations, with European tension. It is a first in North America!

Looking back, in what way does your partnership with OVH differs from past experiences?

Guy : At OVH, everything is constantly questioned. It is a fundamental characteristic of the company, which explains why it is so ahead of its time in its field. As a partner, we have to find simpler – not necessarily cheaper - solutions to optimize the datacenter’s capacity. Everyday, we question yesterday’s work.

Pascal : Indeed, with OVH, you can never do the same thing twice. Because if you do, it means you have not worked hard enough and the original idea has not improved.

Guy : It takes up a lot of energy. And we sometimes have to work during the night because of the time difference between here and Europe. But all of this is entirely compensated by the human aspect and motivation at OVH. Everyone is working together towards a common goal: to accomplish something extraordinary. And that is very encouraging.