As part of what Aglaganian calls CGI’s “sober and discreet approach,” there are no corporate logos on display. At the back of the building, there is an internal loading dock with secure doors both inside and out, so that trucks can enter as if into a space station’s air lock. “You can unload without getting rained on, but you can also do it without being seen. So no one can see you unload a Sun 20K server that’s worth a couple of million bucks,” Aglaganian explains. A large screen in the lobby security office shows feeds from dozens of security cameras around both the outside and the inside of the building, as well as CGI’s backup Montreal data centre, which is housed in the Complexe Desjardins office tower in the city centre. The security facilities are designed to allow guards to live on-site if need be (as they did during the famous ice storm of 1999), and they have a separate ventilation system to allow them to survive a gas attack.
In case of a power outage, there are diesel generators and enough fuel on site to keep the centre operating for up to 36 hours, Aglaganian says. The building is mostly devoid of people and spotlessly sterile, though at peak times 75 people work here. The air conditioning is designed to produce double the required capacity, and can run on either cold water or Freon gas. The company’s data-handling capabilities boast both vertical and horizontal redundancy, Aglaganian stresses. That means everything here is buttressed at the backup centre. “One of my principles in data-centre management is ‘own the building.’” he says. “Total control.”
The building, by the way, has a shell and perimeter barrier of reinforced concrete, in the style of American embassies, to prevent vehicular penetration. The exterior doors are bullet- and blast-proof. All of the security processes are regularly audited. “We have had no physical attacks, knock on wood,” Aglaganian says. And then he changes the subject.
In the 12 years that CGI has owned it, this centre’s computing power has trebled. More growth is on the way. “We’re attractive to our friends south of the border,” Aglaganian explains. “Why? We have some of the cheapest electricity in the world and it’s green hydro power.” Not surprisingly, perhaps, Hydro-Québec is a CGI customer.
As for the data coursing through the building, “We have a wide variety of customers here, the government sector—provincial and federal, the health-care business, whether it be diagnostics or imaging, hospitals that run fairly critical systems with us. We have banking and financials, insurance companies,” Aglaganian says.
But operators of data centres can never be totally sure about the content or provenance of every bit of data that’s arriving and leaving through the fibre-optic pipes, he says: 180 customers rely on CGI for data services at this facility, and almost any given bit of data could be pulsing through at any given time. “I don’t know if I can mention some of our customers in the States,” Aglaganian hazards with a glance to a corporate communications officer listening in on his presentation. “That depends,” says the communications officer with a wry smile. In any case, CGI does not allow clients’ data to cross borders.
From the beginning, computer technology and the intelligence and military worlds have been deeply interwoven—and so it is now with CGI. In recent years, the company has moved aggressively into the cybersecurity arena. It operates a major cyberlab in Ottawa, known as the IT Security Evaluation and Test Facility, where governments and businesses rely on CGI to harden their core technologies before they’re deployed. It is one of only three such facilities in the country. “When you look around the world—not only the U.S.—there’s a lot of similarities between governments. They’re shifting more to cybersecurity,” Roach explains. “Cyber is not only government; it’s industry as well.”
In 2011, CGI formed a Canadian Defence, Public Safety and Intelligence unit under the leadership of Lieutenant-General (retired) Andrew Leslie. Leslie quickly recruited Ken Taylor, a former cyberwarrior with the Canadian Department of National Defence, and John Proctor, an internationally recognized security and risk expert who had logged 22 years with the British and Canadian forces.