Canadian expansion woes haven’t stopped OVHcloud from betting big on the Great White North

PARIS — The founder of Europe’s largest cloud provider flubs a few chords trying to replicate a Guns and Roses solo, but audience members don’t seem to care. The applause in the Paris Expo Porte de Versailles conference hall, which is hosting the seventh annual OVHcloud Summit, grows louder every time Octave Klaba – or “Oles” as he’s nicknamed in France – starts over.

But it was hours prior on the same stage, with his guitar still in a case, when he really captivated the more than 1,000 people in attendance.

To line up with its 20th anniversary, OVH renamed itself to OVHcloud, signaling a commitment to cloud computing from which it claims 70 per cent of its revenue now flows from. Klaba touts the company’s latest accomplishments – expanding business in Asia, updating its baremetal machines with the latest generation Intel Cascade Lake and AMD EPYC 2nd generation CPUs, the launch of a new partner program – before going down memory lane to reflect on the company’s 20-year journey.

OVHcloud has come a long way since its early days as a web hosting provider in 1999. Now a public cloud service provider in six different regions – including Canada – OVHcloud manufactures its own servers and builds its own data centres and commits to running on open source software. Its public cloud is built on OpenStack, one of the fastest growing open source communities in the world that’s designed to manage public and private cloud infrastructure. Its efforts over the past decade have helped the company break a few top 10s, including Cloud Spectator’s Best IaaS Service Providers list.

OVHcloud CEO Michel Paulin, talking about the U.S. CLOUD Act. Photo submitted.

But the company’s ambitions lie beyond being known for cheap server prices. In addition to a growing cloud business, it’s actively helping shape regulatory frameworks around privacy in Europe through the Cloud Infrastructure Service Providers in Europe (CISPE), an effort that helped bring documents like GDPR to life.

“The old world is collapsing, and the new one is built on data,” Klaba says in French.

When it came to the topic of challenges facing the company during its ramp up to Top 10 status, Canada got its first big shoutout of the day.

“It’s no doubt the rollout of our data centre in Canada,” he says, referring to one of the world’s largest, one most eco-friendly, data centres located inside a former Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum plant in the Montreal suburb of Beauharnois. “Local operators didn’t want to supply us with the necessary fibre. You can imagine that a data centre without any connections doesn’t really work.”

Left, Guillaume Gilbert, OVHcloud’s marketing communications manager for the Americas, alongside Francois Sterlin, chief industrial officer, touring a data centre research lab in Hamilton in June. Photo by Alex Coop.

The data centre was finally established in 2012, six years after the initial plans for the data centre were set in motion.

OVH also faced some hardships trying to land a big deal with one of Canada’s major communications providers. In 2016, Rogers announced that it had entered into a partnership with OVH to deliver a public cloud solution. But the partnership didn’t last, according to François Sterin, OVHcloud’s chief industrial officer.

Without elaborating further, Sterin says the two entered into a partnership “too early” without a clear vision.

“We [OVHcloud] weren’t operating at the level we are today,” he says, citing a combination of next generation hardware and geographical expansion that’s propelling the company into the next decade with renewed confidence in its ability to make noise in Canada.

Klaba’s faith in Canada remains steadfast as well. OVHcloud CEO Michel Paulin says the founder’s psychic abilities haven’t led OVH astray so far.

“He’s a specialist with an impressive background and he has a vision. He’s proven many times that he was on the right track, going back six or seven years ago. He was right about water cooling and hosting private cloud,” he explains, citing the cloud provider’s proprietary water-cooled servers, which back in June, Sterin was touting at the Great Canadian Data Centre Symposium in Hamilton, Ont.


OVHcloud’s proprietary water cooling technology on display in Paris. Photo by Alex Coop.

But while Klaba has praised Canada’s emphasis on data sovereignty, Paulin – acknowledging the fact he’s had little interaction with the Canadian market – doubted Canada’s commitment to the issue.

“I had the feeling that it wasn’t a big concern,” he says, referring to conversations he’s had with Canadian customers and partners, comparing Canada to Germany, Italy and Denmark. “I think GDPR is the main source of this emphasis for us in Europe.”

Paulin didn’t shy away from the topic of privacy during the event.

Together with Klaba, the two shook their fists at big tech from U.S. and China, and insisted that the applications people use everyday don’t all need to be from Silicon Valley, adding Europeans shouldn’t settle for services provided by corporations that are playing footsies with organizations that give away your data without consent.

Paulin took shots at the U.S. Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act’s (CLOUD Act), a law passed by U.S. Congress in 2018. He noted how it not only conflicts with Europe’s GDPR rules, something the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) confirmed in an impact assessment published in July, but appears to push the door further open for the U.S. to obtain sought after data beyond its borders without much of a fight.

“Unfortunately Europe’s position on data privacy is not universal throughout the world,” Paulin tells audience members. “We should question the way it’s being used.”

The CLOUD Act amended the U.S. Stored Communications Act (SCA) to allow U.S. law enforcement through a warrant, a court order, or subpoena to access electronically-stored communications data located outside the United States; as long as the sought after information is relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation.

The EDPB’s July impact assessment indicated cloud providers that find themselves in a situation where the SCA has issued a court order against them risk suffering heavy GDPR fines if they comply. These are difficult situations, but he believes Europe’s efforts are far greater compared to other parts of the world.

“I’m proud of what Europe is trying to do,” he says.

Canada’s 10-principle Digital Charter, launched last November, promises to apply unspecified fines to the private sector for not protecting privacy in future legislation and regulations, bringing federal privacy private sector legislation closer to GDPR standards.

And while moves like this are a great sign, it doesn’t hurt to partner with OVHcloud, indicated Benoit Amet, partner program director for OVHcloud, pointing specifically to Canadian businesses with customers in Europe. It doesn’t hurt to have a guiding figure to help navigate the turbulent waters, he says.

“We take care of our customers data. We differentiate ourselves with those values, and you retrieve this value through the new program,” he explains.

With an influx of IoT devices dotting the enterprise and manufacturing landscapes, the business opportunities grow, but so do the attack surfaces. OVHcloud wants to have a solution to every type of opportunity, and it knows that’s impossible without an ecosystem of partners.

The organization knows its not meant to trade blows with the current lineup of tech giants dominating the cloud market, but it firmly believes it’s meant to be on the stage, offering a broad range of products and services in an increasing number of global locations and enterprises of increasing size.

“Partners are a big focus for us now,” he says. “It doesn’t work without them.”


**Alex Coop’s travel and hotel accommodations were paid for by OVHcloud. The company did not review this article prior to publication.


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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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