September interview: Eric Arbaretaz

Cedric Valtel

Interview with Eric Arbaretaz of Thésée Data Center, an innovative player in sovereign hosting, which continues to invest.

[Emmanuel M] : Hello Eric, and first of all thank you for this interview. Could you give us a quick overview of your career?

[Eric Arbaretaz] : I am one of the two founders of the company Thésée Datacenter and I am in charge of its technical management. After 10 years spent at IBM, I founded in 2007 Apis Engineering, a consulting firm specialized in the construction of data centers. During this period, APIS participated to more than 150 datacenter projects in France and Africa: Orange, France Television, Celeste, Banque de France, Télécity, BNP, Française des Jeux, various general councils and hospitals. A very innovative company, Apis Engineering has introduced in France many new concepts and technologies allowing to reduce the environmental footprint of datacenters: waste heat recovery, direct and indirect free-cooling, tri-generation, etc. In 2015, the company was acquired by Engie Cofely. After several years of preparation, the Caisse des Dépôts and the IDEC group entered the capital of Thésée Datacenter in 2019 and the construction of the datacenter was finally able to begin in March 2020. The Aubergenville campus will be inaugurated on September 23, 2021.

[EM] : Could you tell us more about your Thésée Data Center adventure ?

[EA] : A newcomer to the world of data center operators in France, Thésée Datacenter opened the doors of its data center campus in June 2021 and is currently welcoming its first customers in the Yvelines region. The sovereignty of our data is a major issue for our societies. Thésée is one of the few French players who can really guarantee the security of the data hosted in its datacenters. As a 100% French-owned company, Thésée is governed solely by French and European law and is therefore not subject to Cloud Act-type rules. For customers, this means that all of their computer data is secure and will never be transmitted to third parties without their consent. The Datacenter is distinguished by its in-depth security approach and the use of the most advanced technologies to ensure the protection of data contained within the datacenter.

This building is also the first colocation data center to be certified Tier IV in the Ile de France region, the highest level of certification guaranteeing a “fault-tolerant” site. This certification is particularly appropriate for data centers, since it requires that each component and each connection be able to withstand a failure, error or unforeseen event without affecting the critical environment or IT processes. And if it is so much in the news, it is because it will also be the first datacenter to integrate, from the outset, innovative solutions that not only reduce its environmental footprint but also lower its energy bill, and by extension, that of its customers. The PUE, an energy efficiency indicator, will be less than 1.2, which is one of the best environmental performances in France.


[EM] : Since the last few years, and particularly with the health crisis we are going through, the subject of sovereignty has become very important, what is your personal position and that of Thésée Data Center?

[EA] : The name Theseus refers to the hero who, with the help of the Ariadne’s thread, was able to escape the ordeal of the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur. The myth of the bull of Minos is a warning: some opportunities are too generous not to involve a counterpart. Daedalus, the architect of the labyrinth, embodies the technological advance, but an advance without ethics, without anticipation of risks. The whole Cretan myth can be seen as a reminder of the fragility of information systems in the age of Cloud Computing. The power of the American or Chinese Web giants is now competing with that of the States and affecting the freedom of self-determination of individuals. At the same time, the capacity to collect and accumulate data is exploding the ecological and energy weight of the digital sector. The ambition of Thésée DataCenter is to contribute to digital sovereignty and to minimize the environmental impact of the digital sector. And indeed, the health crisis has undeniably put the subject of sovereignty at the forefront. Our participation last week at the FIC reinforces our desire to be a player in the ecosystem that is being built in France to ensure our digital sovereignty. We are very happy to be part of SOLAIN250.

[EM] : Could you give us an overview of Thésée Data Center in some key figures?

[EA] : The Aubergenville campus will eventually consist of six buildings, each with 2,300 square meters of floor space, on 3 hectares of land. Each building offers two rooms of 534 m2, so the total hosting surface will reach 6,400 m2 for an IT power of 18 MW. The datacenter can accommodate all types of computing and computing equipment, including Artificial Intelligence, Deep Analysis, Deep Learning, simulation and rendering. The campus can thus meet the most varied demands in terms of IT space, from a single bay to a cage or a private room. A second data center in Voisins le Bretonneux was acquired in the spring of 2021 and offers 2,300 square meters of computing space. The TDC02 site is an “underground” data center, with a level of security that is very rare in the Paris region and particularly discreet, which makes it an ideal backup site for our main site. We already host about a hundred computer bays for a total power of about 1 MW distributed between the two sites.

[EM] : At the beginning of last year, there was a stir caused by the decision to host the Health Data Hub on Microsoft’s Azure, under the pretext that it did not have the necessary European technical capabilities. What did you think of this issue??

[EA] : This decision is indeed disappointing because the French ecosystem is largely capable of solutions that are just as qualitative and ensure our national sovereignty. All the software, application, infrastructure and equipment solutions exist within French companies. You only have to look at the SOLAINN platform to be convinced. Our market access strategy consists in targeting in particular IT services companies that need to outsource their hosting in order to better protect their servers from physical and cyber risks and to ensure the continuity of their activity. Thésée DataCenter wishes to be one of the major actors of this transformation and thus differentiate itself from its main competitors who essentially target the GAFAM market.

[EM] : Do you think that Europe and France in particular can catch up with the well-established American giants and the upcoming Chinese??

[EA] : Yes, it is quite possible, provided that the public sector and large CAC40 companies move towards sovereign solutions. Technologically, French companies have no complex to feed. France is one of the most active countries in open source software, and experience shows that this strategy can enable the public sector to promote digital and sovereign autonomy while reducing its total cost of ownership. The years to come are pivotal because it has been shown that GAFAMs are no longer in a position to impose their vision. This is why it is essential for Thésée DataCenter to deploy its offer quickly. The health crisis has accelerated the transformation: nearly 40% of French companies have planned to integrate measures for the digital resilience of their facilities, 60% of them will rely on colocation partners, and above all it is expected that 80% of companies with a private data center will close it by 2025..

[EM] : How do you respond to the criticisms of our governments, who do not hesitate to say that we do not have the technologies in France to meet the needs expressed, as in the case of the Health Data Hub?

[EA] : This is completely absurd and I think that at the French and European level, opinions are being reversed. I hope that concrete examples will show that awareness is turning into a determined plan of action on the part of decision-makers in public companies and in our large corporations. European solutions must be favored because it is a matter of public interest and the current crisis allows for an awakening so as not to sink permanently into economic and societal dependence on these countries..

[EM] : In industrial terms, it is important to master the largest part of the value chain, and Thésée Data Center responds to this on the infrastructure side. But is it realistic to imagine Data Centers equipped with servers running on European or even French chips??

[EA] : Of course I hope so. France is a real breeding ground for cutting-edge technologies and innovations driven by talented and ambitious entrepreneurs. The French and European stimulus plans give us the opportunity to get back into the race. Meeting entrepreneurs like Fadwa Sube and Isabelle Viel, directors of SOVERENCY, shows us the reasons to believe. Yes, France can become a champion of connected objects and relocate the production of chips within its territories. Everyone knows that the future of digital technology lies in Edge Computing and France can become a leader in this field. I am excited about the “Clairvaux Grand Coeur d’Europe” project and I can’t wait to see it start..

[EM] : What do you think are the most relevant innovations that you offer to your customers ?

[EA] :  The design of Thésée DataCenter is indeed very innovative. The choice of truly innovative, eco-friendly technologies such as indirect evaporative free cooling and AI-based cooling control increase the cost of the project during the investment phase, but ensure that we are much more energy efficient than our competitors and that the overall hosting cost is very competitive. Most of our customers deploy high-density computing racks (Cloud or HPC) where the energy cost is much higher than the cost of dry hosting. Our data center can host very high density racks, some of which exceed 20 kW. Modeling within the digital twin combined with numerical airflow simulation capabilities allows us to analyze and test future scenarios and make the most of the rather unique capabilities of our data center. The digital twin is an essential design and operational tool to achieve the level of performance and availability we have set for ourselves. The cooling technologies used and the constraints of high density mean that the design could not have been achieved without the use of digital twin-based design tools and thermal modeling technologies.

[EM] : The majority of French data centers are located in the Paris region, do you plan to implement in the near future in other regions??

[EA] : Thésée is part of the Nation Datacenter alliance and the strategy of this alliance is to establish itself throughout the country and very quickly in all major cities. The next project carried by Nation Datacenter, ROAHDATA, is located in Rennes. Business continuity plans resulting from the resilience constraints of Edge computing require more and more local datacenters. The increasingly connected city of the future must rely on local digital and energy infrastructures. The principle of Edge Computing is the benchmark for digital computing. The emergence of these new regional data centers, which will collect, store and process a very large amount of data created by the cities of the future, is inevitable.

[EM] : In the long term, can we hope to offer scalability capabilities equivalent to those of American behemoths? 

[EA] : Yes, but in a very different way. It is essential that the design and construction of these data centers supporting Edge Computing follow a new approach, different from those of very large data centers. The data centers of these American giants provide a highly centralized and energy-intensive digital function. The ecological weight of these giants raises questions in the context of the energy transition. They are expensive in terms of capital and carbon footprint because they are technologically designed solely for their needs. They do not allow any sharing of investments with other services and in particular those related to the different forms of energy. It is necessary to invent concepts where digital and energy are a set of services that are mutually valuable. They will thus provide an answer to the new needs of renewable energies that must be made available to the community and to companies.

[EM] : The question that arises with the cloud is the multiplication of giant data centers, however in terms of security (physical and cyber), as well as in ecological terms, is this the best model? What is your mission?

[EA] : Of course not. What we are inventing is a new structure of digital and energy services in a less costly and more efficient shared investment. It’s no longer just about data processing and storage as it is today. It’s about processing and storing digital data, plus the energy required for the new uses of the city of the future. The sharing and valorization of the different energies, including fatal energies of the different systems installed, will bring new life cycles with the close environment. It is on this condition that digital technology, which is currently responsible for 4% of the world’s energy consumption, can become sustainable. From a security point of view, I also think that the model of giant and hyper-concentrated datacenters is obsolete, suffering from what I would call the Pearl Harbour syndrome. In your opinion, in the event of a major conflict, for which we know that cyberspace would be one of the first battlefields, which would be targeted as a priority?

[EM] : We are coming to the end of our interview, what would be your conclusion?

[EA] : The data center market is changing rapidly. On the one hand, the electrical density of IT racks is increasing rapidly and is reaching the limit of many data centers’ capacity. And given the rising cost of electricity and the need to reduce the carbon footprint of IT activities, many data centers will quickly become obsolete because they will no longer be able to adapt to this market evolution. In addition, customers are increasingly demanding in terms of security and sovereignty for the most critical applications.

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