Created in 1999, internet service provider OVH has grown almost as fast as the industry it serves. Its founders are the Klabas, a tech-savvy Franco-Polish family from a generation of miners. Mother, father and sons continue to play leading roles within the company.
Seventeen years in, OVH now owns a worldwide fiber-optic network and boasts datacentres across Europe, and in Singapore, Australia and Canada. It serves a million customers, employees 1200 people and runs 250,000 physical servers.
Speaking to fDi Magazine, France’s minister for digital affairs Axelle Lemaire described OVH as “one of the most exciting companies” in France, a European answer to an industry and market dominated by US companies.
“Our vision is to become a global leader” on the same scale as Amazon, CEO Laurant Allard told fDi Magazine. OVH is investing €1.5bn over the next five years, €250m of which will come from private equity firms KKR and TowerBrook, ending OVH’s history of financial independence.
Already, six datacentres are under construction across Europe, in the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Holland. Marking OVH’s entry into the US, two more will be built in Virginia and on the West Coast. Delays in the latter are due to “unexpected competition with marijuana producers. All the major buildings with installed energy have been taken”, jokes chief technology officer Octave Klaba.
However, “[while] our global ambition is clear…Europe is still the main target” explained Mr Allard. When asked about India and China, he said “[They are] not yet on the plan, but will be one day.”
To enter the US while preserving its European identity, OVH is working on a legal structure that will exempt its non-US assets from the Patriot Act, under which US governmental agencies can access service providers’ user data. OVH has always been particularly dedicated to protecting the data of its customers, such as Wikileaks, which it safeguarded in 2010.
The current battle is against France’s proposed ‘black box’ surveillance bill, a more radical French version of the Patriot Act. OVH calls it “anti-economic” because “customers want privacy and protection of data”, and contends that “French providers will leave France”. Increased privacy is a distinct attraction and advantage for European companies such as OVH over their US competitors.
Separately, last month saw OVH withstand the largest distributed denial of service attack ever recorded. It is unclear what reputational impact this has had. The company stated: “Every day we fend off attacks. [It] can’t be avoided in the hosting business.”
OVH certainly lives up to its motto “Innovation is Freedom”. Unusually, the company owns its entire process, from designing and building datacentres to its very own physical servers. The in-house R&D team have an impressive track record, especially in green technology, with their homegrown ventilation and water cooling systems. Consequently, OVH’s carbon footprint is smaller than average.
The company’s start-up spirit is reflected in its Digital Launch Pad programme aimed at supporting start-ups at every stage, from idea to product. “We invite start-ups to come and challenge our infrastructures,” says Mr Allard. Since the programme began in January 2016, 450 start-ups have signed up.
Techradar.com and other commentators contend that OVH is disproportionately unknown, considering its size and success. Mr Allard admitted to fDi that “our brand awareness is not great” and that “an aggressive communication plan” was in development.
When asked about other challenges, Mr Allard said that “we must always keep changing, always improve and keep up with growth. This is why we love innovation”. Time will show if OVH can keep up with itself and the growth in demand for cloud services.