OVHCloud data center goes up in flames: can the data be recovered?

What are the implications of the fire that broke out on the night of March 9 at the OVHCloud site in Strasbourg, destroying entire servers?

Following the fire that broke out on the night of March 9 at the OVHCloud site in Strasbourg, one of the four data centers on the campus (SBG2) was completely devastated by flames. A second (SBG1) is partially damaged: four of its twelve server rooms have been destroyed. Mercifully, OVHCloud announced that there were no casualties involved.

One of the two devices that initially caught fire had been subject to interventions the morning of the same day before being put back into operation in the afternoon. Following the fire, electricity was cut across the entire site as a precautionary measure, indirectly impacting the two remaining data centers (SBG3 and SBG4). OVHCloud plans to gradually relaunch the surviving infrastructures and servers by March 25.

In an unfortunate twist, OVHCloud had announced just one day previously its intention to launch public stocks on the market, even though OVHCloud founder and President Octave Klaba and his family had already announced their intention to retain the majority of the shares.

For those new to the question of mass stockage of data, there is a common misconception of data floating in an immaterial “cloud”. In fact, it is stocked in very material data-centers, raising issues concerning not only their energy-consuming nature, but the risk for companies of leaving their precious data in the hands of an exterior provider. With some data going up in flames in the Strasbourg fire, many companies will be forced to rethink their data back-up strategy.

Crucially, within SBG1, the private cloud offer of OVH (Private Cloud) was hosted in one room, and its backup in another room in the same datacenter. Both were destroyed in the fire. Unless the clients of this Cloud had taken precautions to implement a second backup with another provider, they will be facing permanent loss of data.

Speaking on Twitter, some Cloud clients who had failed to back up their data are now facing potential loss of vital corporate data. In the agonizing wait for the facility to be reactivated, they will have to hope that their server had been spared by the fire.

On March 13, OVHCloud founder Octave Klaba tweeted the news that an email was being sent to all clients to indicate the status of their primary and backup data (if they were subscribed to this service), including for bare metal, Public Cloud and Hosted Private Cloud servers, or NAS. The OVH site provides here Q&A support information for clients suffering website or data issues.

OVH will now have to answer some very prickly questions concerning their fire prevention policy. SBG2 is based on technology dating back to 2011, a self-ventilating tower that operates through the pressure difference between the top and the bottom of the building. SBG3 is based on generation 2016 technology that saved it from going up in flames.

Firefighters fought through the night to fight the flames

What is not yet clear is if the fire-fighting system deployed in OVH's Strasbourg data centers were working. The facility possesses a fire detection device and fire drills are carried out twice a year. But were the first flames that broke out in the SBG2 data center identified by this system?

Unlike most data centers on the market, the OVH Strasbourg data center was not equipped with water jets (as is the case in the OVHCloud datacenters in Beauharnois, Canada), nor with high pressure misters capable of absorbing the flames without inundating the machines, nor with inert gases that empty the server rooms of their oxygen to suffocate the fire.

Meanwhile, in the context of the GAFAMs entering Europe, threatening to impose their presence, this incident is a blow for the previously positive image of French Tech, which sees its most emblematic figure suffering the biggest industrial disaster in its history.

What are the key takeaways from the incident? Experts are underlining the importance of clients subscribing to a backup service on a datacenter at a different location, or even at another provider to compensate for failures that could affect all of the supplier's data centers, such as a network crash with repercussions for all services of that network. It has been brutally revealed that the all-powerful data leaders are not untouchable. In a data-reliant world, the Strasbourg disaster goes to underline that a thorough data-preservation strategy – not to mention a carbon-reduced data compliance policy – should be at the forefront of all corporate and institutional agendas.

Source: Journal du Net