Photo: Todd Antony
Deep inside the Swiss Alps, a former nuclear bunker is now the ultimate hiding place for the world’s most sensitive secrets. Wired gains access to the server farm designed to survive a full-scale military attack.
The cockpit of Christoph Oschwald’s silver Audi A8 is preternaturally quiet as he steers through the Swiss countryside towards our destination. Wired has been instructed not to disclose its exact whereabouts. It’s late June, “the longest day of the year”, Oschwald notes. It should be 25°C outside. Instead, it’s an unseasonably chilly 12°C, and the tiny village of Saanen, in the canton of Bern, sits beneath a steel-grey sky that lends an ominous air to what might otherwise resemble an Alpenland panorama on a souvenir chocolate bar.
The green valley that cradles Saanen and the near by town of Gstaad in the Bernese highlands plays host, according to local newspaper Der Bund, to the highest concentration of billionaires in the world, their chalets creeping up the piney slopes. But it’s also home to something else — a place that you won’t find on any of the tourist maps. For the past 18 years, Oschwald, 53, a retired Swiss paratrooper turned contractor, and his business partner, an engineer named Hanspeter Baumann, 55, have committed thousands of hours and millions of francs to realising their vision — the place we’re headed to today.
We pass a Tissot boutique abutting a tractor dealership before the road dives into dense forest and follows a stream. Finally we arrive at our destination. At first, it appears to be nothing more than a timber operation, with lorries moving wooden payloads around a gravelly clearing. But then we see them: three guards clad in black uniforms, berets askew, pacing at the base of an enormous mountain. The Alpine foliage above the sentry ends abruptly at a bare rock face painted in fading camo. And carved into the side of the mountain is our destination: a small, weather-beaten metal door. Once the entrance to a vast nuclear bunker built by the Swiss military at the height of the Cold War in the mid-60s, it is now a portal into what its creators claim to be the most secure and secretive storehouse for digital information in the world: the place Oschwald has christened Swiss Fort Knox.
“Sixteen years ago, nobody took us seriously,” Oschwald says. “They said to us, ‘Storing data under a mountain? Why?’” In the cheerier geopolitical climate of the 90s, it was decidedly easier to scoff at the eccentric Swiss entrepreneur, with his slicked-back hair and blinding white smile, as he extolled the data-security benefits of his decommissioned bunker. But today — with terrorism, environmental disasters and financial meltdown on the global agenda — some of the biggest players in technology and finance are buying into the facility’s promise. Oschwald can tick off blue-chip companies such as Cisco Systems, Novartis, UBS and Deutsche Bank among his clients.
Read moreSwiss Nuclear Bunker Houses World’s Toughest Server Farm