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Internet outage caused by data centre fire, says Russia – but Google disagrees

Author : Sophia Bell, Assistant Editor, PBSI

15 March 2021

Russian authorities have claimed that a destructive data centre fire in Strasbourg on March 10 was responsible for the disruption of access to a large number of websites, including Google and YouTube.

Representative image: Shutterstock
Representative image: Shutterstock

Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor reported that a fire had broken out in the facilities of Europe's largest cloud services provider, OVH, in Strasbourg, France on March 10. The major incident led to difficulties with accessing Google, YouTube and other major internet services. 

Octave Klaba, Chief Executive of OVH, tweeted that 100 firefighters were immediately on the scene but were unable to control the blaze. No one was injured in the fire, but it was so severe that it destroyed one data centre building completely and another suffered partial damage. Klaba asked customers to activate "disaster recovery" plans in the wake of the incident.
It is not known what caused the fire, but OVH is working to rebuild the data centre equipment as soon as possible. In the meantime, all four data centres are closed.

Previous to the incident, Russia had announced that it was deliberately slowing down the speed of Twitter on all mobile phones and on half of desktop devices in the country because of its alleged failure to remove banned content. It further threatened to block the social media platform if it did not comply with its deletion demands.

Twitter was one of five platforms – alongside Google, Facebook, TikTok and Telegram – that were sued by Russia, following the introduction of a new law aimed at forcing websites to remove illegal content. Roskomnadzor claimed that Twitter had failed to remove 3,000 posts inciting children to partake in illegal protests, promoting suicide, including child pornography and glorifying drug abuse. 

However, some activists believe that these bans are linked to a desire to quash posts aimed at galvanising support for opposition leader and Vladimir Putin critic, Alexei Navalny. Navalny’s imprisonment in January, following an assassination attempt, sparked the biggest anti-government protests for a decade, with marches in about 150 Russian cities, according to 
the Guardian.

Roskomnadzor, however, stressed that the data centre fire was “not connected to the agency’s actions on [the] restriction of speed of access to the Twitter social platform in Russia".

Google, on the other hand, has since denied Russian users’ problems with accessing websites such as YouTube and Google were not related to the fire in France. In a 
statement on 12 March, the company claimed that the outage was caused by an unrelated networking issue. 

"At 02:00 Pacific Time on 10 March, we became aware of an upstream network issue that partially impacted internet service for users in Russia. We believe the cause of this incident was a misconfiguration of the routers at a local third-party internet service provider.

"Following extensive investigation, we have no evidence to indicate that the fire in OVHCloud's data centre, or Google's own infrastructure, was the root cause of this incident,” Google claimed.
This article was originally featured on Hazardex' sister publication, PBSI.

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