Data centre review 2019 – step 3: Beauharnois, Canada, North America

Our series of infrastructure reviews is continuing across the Atlantic, with our Canadian data centre in Beauharnois.

Beauharnois is a small town of around 13,000 people, lying 40km southwest of Montreal in eastern Canada. It takes its name from the Marquis de Beauharnois, who was granted a seigneurial concession by French King Louis XV and served as Governor of New France between 1726 and 1747. This is the town where, almost three centuries later in 2012, OVH chose to set up its first data centre outside of France. What could be more natural than to build on our already strong ties with our Canadian cousins, and use the "Belle Province" of Quebec as a base to conquer the North American market?

Some of our BHS team members

Some of our BHS team members

Six years later, we are proud to proclaim our success.  There are currently 82 permanent employees on-site, looking after 50,000 servers and a server production unit that also supplies hardware to our two US sites in Hillsboro, Oregon and Vint Hill, Virginia.

As with any decision over where to locate a data centre, several criteria had to be considered:

  • potential to expand the site, to allow activity to grow;
  • proximity of a reliable and sufficiently large high-voltage electrical network;
  • proximity of telecommunication points of presence (PoP), for transferring data to and from our customers.

The Beauharnois (BHS) site ticks all three boxes. First, it consists of large industrial halls, made of brick and covering 26,000 square metres of the six-hectare site. Second, it is close to the Beauharnois hydroelectric power plant, one of the most powerful run-of-river power plants in the world. This monumental Art Deco-inspired construction extends over 900 metres, and has a 24-metre waterfall. Built on the Saint Lawrence River between 1930 and 1960, it was recently renovated, and has been continuously generating 2 gigawatts of power ever since.

Hydro Québec's electrical substation

Hydro-Québec’s electrical substation

Finally, Beauharnois is located near the PoPs of Newark, Ashburn and Chicago, which are major data exchange points between international operators.

OVH is also totally committed to protecting its customers' data, and has a unique position compared to the major cloud providers in the US and China. Following this logic, the installation of OVH at BHS allows us to offer cloud services in North America, without becoming subject to the Freedom Act or Patriot Act.

On paper, the choice seems obvious. But it took a good dose of creativity, ingenuity and daring to decide to convert an old aluminum smelter into an ultra-modern data centre.

This huge leap seems all the more impressive to me, because I started my career in metallurgical engineering. Those same halls that I used to survey 20 years ago, in which furnaces, tanks, rolling mills and presses processed material day and night, are now filled with straight lines of containers, where state-of-the-art servers continuously process data.

A line of containers in the new hall

A line of containers in the new hall

It’s a powerful reminder of just how much industry has transformed in the post-modern era, from material to data. More importantly, I see it as a sign of the spirit of sustainable development. How many industrial wastelands have been left abandoned after heavy industry upped and left? The site in Beauharnois has been cleaned up and is being renovated inside and out, to give it a second life. The energy supplied by Hydro-Québec is 100% renewable, since it comes from the dam’s 36 turbines. This is a good example of economic development that respects the environment.

By setting up in Beauharnois, OVH was a pioneer. Today, the town is getting lots of requests from businesses in the new economy, especially in the field of cryptocurrencies, who recognize the potential of this region.

The BHS data centre will cruise into 2019 with construction starting on a new hall – the fourth of eight planned for the site. We will also increase electrical capacity by installing a new 2MW unit, and plan to implement the latest cooling technology that we have developed and successfully introduced in France.