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Report written by Lorine Schieber

Central Europe Datacentre (Strasbourg 1): Launching a Container Datacentre

Central Europe Datacentre (Strasbourg 1): Launching a Container Datacentre

OVH launches its newest Central Europe datacentre in Strasbourg. Called Strasbourg 1, the building is a new task for the company as the servers will be housed in containers! Lionel Deny, datacentre operations manager, tells us the backstage of this project.

When did this datacentre project start?

It all started about two years ago and, like many projects, this one was an idea from Octave. Strategically, he wanted to get closer to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, particularly Germany, mainly to reduce latency. And we wanted to stay in France because it is a field we know: we are mainly looking for simplicity in management, we certainly do not want to impose new constraints. As our fiber goes through Strasbourg, we chose to move there.

How did you conduct this in-house project?

Since this is not our practice to send full-time staff to develop a new datacentre, we worked on this project in addition to our day to day job. Mr Klaba, the President, Germain Masse, the datacentres Manager, Cédric Kubacki, Strasbourg 1 Manager, and myself have spent time on this project and it's been quite dense! We worked with the datacentre plans while seeking land where we could install our servers, and making the necessary arrangements with institutional actors. These aspects were treated in parallel until we get the building permit, then we started implementing the project in spring 2011. In just over six months, Strasbourg 1 was ready to welcome its first servers!

Was the concept of a container datacentre raised from the beginning of the project?

Yes, the use of containers was a real desire! Our idea was to obtain a modular building and have it be especially quick to implement. The land we chose was perfect: it was a parking lot! We started with the technological advances developed in Roubaix 4 and, ultimately, it's a simpler solution than Roubaix 4 and ready to use: we take boxes that we put together, and voilà!

Concretely how does the deployment work?

Everything happens in much the same way as in our datacentres in Roubaix, except that there is a little more transportation and organisation (laughs)! We modify the containers in the North, before shipping them to Strasbourg. Racks and servers are built and assembled in Roubaix, then transported by truck in Alsace in suitable modules that we have developed specifically for this purpose. Our on-site team receives and assembles racks, fills the hosting rooms and installs servers in racks. We recruited a little less than a dozen of people there.

You also managed the human aspect in parallel?

Absolutely! It was a new experience, because we had to train people to work on something that does not exist! When our new team arrived in our Central Europe datacentre (Strasbourg 1), there was still no running server, while the technicians were to be operational and available 24h/7 to meet the needs of our clients from the start of the production. So the whole team in Roubaix went to Strasbourg, where they followed the usual training process on running servers. Then they went back to Strasbourg to finalise the establishment of the datacentre.

Did you have any doubts during the project?

Of course! At first I asked myself many questions: Why Strasbourg? Why there? But it's clear that today it would not be wise to rely on a development strategy in Roubaix only. We had to renew our solutions and perspectives, so we quickly buried the "why" questions. But generally, we have consistently challenged the entire project, this is what has moved us forward.

What is the most moving moment when a new datacentre is launched?

Everyone knows a particularly emotional moment: for the HR team, for example, it was when the first employee got hired. Octave is moved from the first ping, Germain when the first server is delivered, while Boris, the financial controller savours the first invoice! For me, it's more the human side that takes me to the guts: a cohesive team, working on a great project and enjoys its success!

It is February, does the extreme cold which currently prevails in the region make it too complicated?

Of course it does! Winter in Alsace is known to be rigorous enough and this year it is particularly harsh. We had problems with UPS, heating, wedged fiber optic, as frozen in the sleeves. The cold was especially hard for the team morale. I remind you that a datacentre is built to cool the servers and no heating system is planned there. The servers themselves, somehow, heat the ambient air. But until recently, the datacentre was empty and the air was so cold. We sent lots of heaters to warm Strasbourg facilities and teams. Having to endure this cold for days is discouraging. But we know what we want to do, we'll get there, it's not the cold that will stop us! It was unexpected, yet it brings the teams together!

Watch the video presentation of the Central Europe datacentre (Strasbourg)