OVH Founder Pledges to Build a Lab for Data Center Fire Research

The lab, he says, will look for the best ways to extinguish data center fires and share findings with the industry.

Yevgeniy Sverdlik

March 22, 2021

3 Min Read
OVH SBG2 data center in Strasbourg destroyed by fire on March 10 2021
OVH SBG2 data center in Strasbourg destroyed by fire on March 10 2021PATRICK HERTZOG/AFP via Getty Images

About one and a half weeks after a fire destroyed one of OVH’s Strasbourg data centers and caused its entire Eastern France campus to shut down, the French cloud provider’s founder and chairman, Octave Klaba, pledged to establish a laboratory to research the dynamics of data center fires and look for the best ways to extinguish them.

The goal is to share the lab’s findings with the rest of the industry in order to “evolve” industry standards around fire suppression systems and avoid a repeat of the OVH fire, which didn’t cause any injuries but resulted in prolonged service outages for a large number of the company’s customers.

“I want to share the conclusion that we will have in this lab with all industry, because … nobody wants to have this kind of incident in the data center,” Klaba said in a video update on the ongoing recovery efforts in Strasbourg posted to Twitter Monday evening local time. OVH has a dedicated webpage for regular updates, but the founder’s Twitter account has been the source of the most frequent play-by-play updates.

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The fire research lab pledge is one of several longer-term strategic initiatives Klaba announced in response to the incident. Last week he said the company would start providing backups for all of its customers by default, with no additional cost to the customers.

As standard in the industry, OVH has been offering backup services as a product for customers who are able and willing to pay extra for additional reliability. After the Strasburg campus went offline, however, many of its customers who hadn’t bought those services appeared to have expected them from OVH anyway.

In the Monday update, Klaba also said OVH would open source its data center cooling technology, developed inhouse. The company used to rely on free cooling (using outside air to cool servers) but in 2016 switched to its own cooling design he referred to as “water cooling of the rooms.”

Fire detection and suppression have been a major part of standard data center design and operation practices, and when the SBG-2 OVH data center in Strasburg burned down, the natural question many asked was why didn’t the building’s fire suppression system stop it from spreading throughout the facility.

All OVH data centers have both fire detection and suppression systems, Klaba said. The design of these systems, however, varies from location to location, due to climate, and even from room to room within a data center based on each room’s purpose.

Suppression mechanisms for fires in electrical rooms, for example, are different from the ones for fires in server rooms, he explained.


On Saturday Klaba tweeted that OVH would no longer attempt to restart SBG-1, the data center on campus the fire damaged only partially. The previous plan of bringing it back online was scrapped following an incident Friday, when inactive, unconnected batteries inside one of the rooms started smoking, causing fire fighters to return to the site.

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“We don’t plan to restart SBG1. Ever,” Klaba wrote in the tweet. Servers from SBG-1 would be moved to other OVH data centers and booted up between Wednesday and Friday.

The OVH team started restoring virtual private server and bare metal services at SBG-3, the largest of the two remaining data centers on the campus, Sunday. The company plans to restore power and restart the network at SBG-4 on Wednesday evening, at which point the process of restarting servers in that facility will begin.

Root cause of the fire is still being investigated. The investigation has concentrated on two UPS systems inside SBG-1. According to Klaba’s statements earlier, firefighters who arrived at the scene shortly after the fire started took thermal images and saw the two units ablaze.

“It will take few months to have the conclusion of this investigation and once we have it, we will share it with you,” he said Monday.

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