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30/03/2012
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Report written by Sophie Lavergne


The first dedicated server to be delivered in North America


The first dedicated server to be delivered in North America !

In Québec, it's March 28th, and it's 7:16 PM in Beauharnois. In France, it's March 29th, and it's 1:16 AM in Roubaix. This is the moment when a new digital bridge is built between North America and France. It's been months of hard work, but OVH's first transatlantic datacenter's official test phase begins now. It's a dream come true. At full capacity, what will be the world's largest data center will host over 360,000 servers. IT Director Germain Masse speaks about this historical moment.


Back in January 2012, OVH.com bought an industrial wasteland south of Montreal. Three months later, the first test phase was starting. How did a project of such scope grow so quickly?

There is a method to the chronology of events that led to this. After having designed and built our last data center in Strasbourg, we had a proof of concept for the one in Beauharnois. We had proceeded differently from what we were used to in Roubaix, and had been put to the test. We had to redefine our approach, dealing with the distance, building whole new teams and designing new strategies. All these new experiences made the project of a Canadian data center possible. With Beauharnois, we're taking the challenge two steps further. It is located within an environment
we are not familiar with. On the other side of the Atlantic, things are different: we have no existing network, electricity standards are not the same, and we are greeted by a different social and legal context. That makes for a lot of unknown factors, which in turn account for much of the human and technical difference in performance.


What challenges did you overcome?

Thanks to the existence of our 15 international subsidiaries , we were already familiar with building legal structures. It is still rather different in Canada, because the project is all about much larger infrastructures and investments than anything we've done before. We not only had to buy up some Canadian network, we also had to go for cross-border network, so we could serve the United States, and that comes with its own challenges. We had to set up a new team, and to train it in our own way. Without the possibility of quick coming and going, the competency transfer is complexified. To manage such heavy logistics is not the only problem when the unexpected can happen. People move and equipment is shipped from one location to another, but if a simple stamp or approval is missing on a customs form, everything freezes. We then require people that are already on the inside in North America to find solutions and shake up things. We must also consider the six hour time difference. This only leaves three to four hours during which all the teams from each side of the Atlantic are active. As soon as it's 6 PM in France (noon in Canada), employees start going back home, and the company doesn't run at full speed anymore. Whole days could be lost to this phenemenon if we do not all learn to work together.


How is the alpha test phase a good thing?

We're getting to know about each team's role. When the first server is delivered, when it's connected, "when it pings", as we like to say, we get ecstatic. That's also the moment we realize they're so much to do before we can even market our offers. The alpha test period is a opportunity for us to seek out issues and correct bugs with much more effectiveness than if we had done the tests by ourselves. In this case, 1000 clients start making all sorts of tests in every possible way. They will abuse the infrastructure, reboot the servers and reinstall them, etc. Every chance we have of finding any kind of mishap on our own is thus multiplied.


How long do you think it will be before the services are marketed?

About six months. We hope to be able to do this before August. There still has a lot of work to be done, mostly legal issues to straighten out so that the products can be marketed from Canada to the United States. We also still need to set up commercial and technical support teams. This is exactly why we have planned three distinct phases. Alpha, beta, and marketing. The beta period will help us to learn more about local market. It will also be opened to all clients, both old and new. And although there still will be a lot to do, it is very likely that new servers will be offered at that point.


What do you make of this first step?

That OVH.com is able to build up a data center from scratch, anywhere in the world, in a matter of months. Many competitors are into international development, but their models have nothing to do with ours. They settle in already existing data centers, and need to rent space, network and buy electricity. We do all these things ourselves! We don't rely on anyone to supply us with these services. Instead, we buy a whole building, and change it to our liking, including electricity and cooling systems, its network, and the server assembly line area . No other competitors has these skills. This is what makes it all a unique venture.