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Strasbourg: the site of the company OVH victim of a major fire


1. About OVH company

OVH is a French company created in 1999 by Octave Klaba and specializing in the hosting of web servers.

The company is the first European operator of the cloud (means to store data remotely) and is increasingly courted by individuals and professionals.


OVH victim of a major fire

The company has 30 data centers worldwide, more than half of which are in France.

OVH now competes with the leaders of the cloud world, the famous GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft).

Its headquarters are based in Roubaix (North of France), and the company has opened many branches, including some in the West, such as in Rennes, Nantes and Brest.


2. The Fire broke 

The fire that broke out during the night of March 9 to 10 on the site of the company OVH cloud in Strasbourg, specializing in computer servers has been "contained".

That was announced Wednesday morning the prefecture of Bas-Rhin.

The fire broke out around 1am in the Port du Rhin district, east of the Alsatian capital, not far from the German border, and mobilized 101 firefighters and 43 vehicles.

 

"Thanks to a strong mobilization of firefighters, the fire on the site has been contained," announced the prefecture in a statement, shortly before 7 am.

Operational resources have also been mobilized by the German authorities.

The prefecture specified that the site was not classified Seveso, contrary to what it had announced at first. It indicated that no toxic pollution had been detected, despite the large plume of smoke.

Major damage was caused to the Strasbourg site of OVHcloud, which hosts the data of many companies.

One building out of four was destroyed, but the fire did not cause any human casualties.


The fire is extinguished but the servers of OVHcloud in Strasbourg are still out of order.

The fire that broke out around 1am and the impressive smoke cloud… that resulted totally destroyed the main building of the Strasbourg site of the French champion of online computing ("cloud computing").


The fire, in progress since 3 am in the district of Port du Rhin, east of the Alsatian capital, is now "contained", said the services of the prefecture in the morning.

 

On the spot, a hundred firemen were mobilized and the employees of the company could only notice the damage on their arrival on the site., as shown in this video of a journalist of the Dernières nouvelles d'Alsace:

Contrary to what it had initially indicated, the Bas-Rhin prefecture has specified that the site is not classified as Seveso.


However, the industrial zone where the building is located, near the French-German border, has several Seveso sites.

No toxic pollution was detected, despite the large plume of smoke, according to the prefectural authorities. There were no victims.


3. One building destroyed, another badly damaged


On the technical level, this fire caused the destruction of one of the accommodation centers, the SBG2 building.

Part of another building, Strasbourg 1, was destroyed. According to Octave Klaba, the founder of OVHcloud., the servers of the Strasbourg 3 building are extinguished but were not affected, as well as those of a fourth building.

 

In total, the company counted Wednesday noon about twenty services down because of this incident. The objective is now to set up a restart plan, on buildings 3 and 4 and possibly SBG1.

This is a major blow for the company, which was planning an IPO this week.

In total, OVH has nearly thirty data centers around the world, half of which are in France.


The French "unicorn", whose headquarters are based in Roubaix, employs more than 2,200 people and claims more than 1.5 million customers worldwide thanks to its 380,000 servers.

The first of four data centers in Strasbourg was installed in 2012.

As several experts have pointed out on Twitter, the data contained in the servers of the destroyed building will probably be irretrievable., unless it has been backed up elsewhere, at other hosting companies or on other OVH servers.


4. A poorly designed fire prevention system?

It remains to be seen whether the fire prevention systems deployed in the OVH data centers in Strasbourg did not contribute… to accelerate the destruction of the servers.

OVHCloud's DCs are indeed equipped with water sprinklers that are activated only where there is a fire thanks to temperature sensors installed every two bays.


"This is nothing like the very high-pressure misting systems, where the water evaporates instantly, and which save the machines.

 Here, it sprinkles, and all the servers are dead," points out a La Fibre.info contributor in a report done at OVH in 2013.

Most data centers don't use water to fight fire, but inert gas that drains server rooms of oxygen to smother the fire while avoiding damage to equipment.

This is not the choice OVHCloud made.


5. Many websites offline

Leader in computer data hosting, OVH, now called OVHcloud, hosts many websites in France and abroad and serves as a service provider to many companies or developers.

"When you have spent a week setting up an infrastructure and the servers catch fire a week before going live," tweeted a dejected developer.


If the site data.gouv.fr was blocked for a while, it went back online in the morning.

However, several official platforms hosted by OVH (antidiscriminations.fr, marches-publics.gouv.fr) are still inaccessible.


The company hosts a multitude of services or institutions that have reported, as the sports clubs ASM Rugby.., AS Nancy Lorraine or the Pompidou Center in Paris, on social networks:  

German, Italian, Polish or Turkish sites are also affected, says the Dernières nouvelles d'Alsace.

The most cautious will have no trouble activating backups, contracting security. But small structures or amateur sites may not have this level of precaution and may never be able to recover their data.


"The fire affecting a major OVH site reminds us of a fundamental fact that is too often forgotten: a Web site, a critical Internet activity, is duplicated on at least two distinct providers.

Digital technology is not infallible and remains subject to the laws of the real world," notes Alexandre Archambault, a lawyer specializing in digital issues.


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