Pop quiz: Where is the world’s largest datacentre located?
Your first guess would be probably be somewhere in Silicon Valley, right? Apparently you’d be wrong. Germany, perhaps? Switzerland? No and no. London? New York? Hint: It has nothing to do with finance. Hong Kong? Singapore? It’s not in Asia.
In fact, if you had guessed anywhere outside of Quebec, you’d be wrong: The world’s largest datacentre is a former Rio Tinto Alcan aluminum plant located in the Montreal suburb of Beauharnois, and it’s owned by French Internet services provider OVH.
“It was a very good building for us,” OVH founder and CTO Octave Klaba recalls. “Old, but very close to what were looking for. So when we decided we wanted to be in North America and were looking for a good place to establish out first datacentre, we decided to start there.”
Established in 2012 and powered entirely by green energy, the tier four-quality datacentre presently houses some 30,000 servers that collectively generate one terabyte of data per second, he says, though it has the capacity to eventually hold 360,000.
Housing its North American servers in a single massive datacentre makes business sense for OVH, since a key component of the company’s operations is a water cooling system that is less energy-intensive – and therefore cheaper to run – than standard fan-based systems, Klaba says, allowing OVH to both higher-capacity servers and share part of the subsequent savings with its customers.
The water cooling system is also the reason OVH doesn’t subscribe to the traditional four-tier ranking system, Klaba says, since a server’s rank is largely determined by its electrical efficiency.
“What is important for us is not the power supply, but how does service is provided to the customer,” he says.
Klaba says OVH’s decision to place its largest server in the Greater Montreal Area was an easy choice for reasons both functional – its lack of language barriers and proximity to Toronto and New York City, two key components of OVH’s eastern North America network – and legal, since Canadian enterprises are leery of their information crossing the border and therefore being subject to U.S. investigations under the latter nation’s Patriot Act.
In fact, the latter condition also reduces OVH’s culture shock, he says, since European privacy laws have much more in common with their Canadian equivalents than American.
“Canadian customers care about the sovereignty of their data,’ Klaba says. “They want to know that nobody will check their information without the legal documents that allow them to do so… and they know the best protection is to make sure their data stays in Canada.”
The Beauharnois datacentre is merely one component of OVH’s expanding North American presence, which includes a Quebec City-based research and development centre that the company opened in 2014, a public cloud service the company began offering in collaboration with Rogers Communications Inc. earlier this summer, and a Toronto commercial office that will officially open at the end of the month.
OVH has also collaborated with a series of American service providers to install a fibreoptic network that runs between Montreal and Virginia, passing through multiple cities including Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, and Newark, New Jersey along the way.
“North America has always been an important step in the evolution of OVH,” Klaba says. “Now that we’ve expanded – we can scale out inside very quickly, we have good prices, we have a huge network – we look forward to bringing our services to the larger Canadian and American markets.”