A U.S. SaaS provider comes north

“The migration of US and Foreign cloud infrastructure to Canadian owned and operated data centers is becoming more common place and represents a unique opportunity for data center operators to expand their core business into the
world of cloud,”  said Robert Hart, CEO of the Canadian Cloud Council, which represents a number of cloud vendors working to encourage the use of the technology.

American-based software-as-a-service companies are often disappointed at the refusal of organizations here to subscribe to cloud services because personal data is held outside the country.

To combat that some U.S. providers are adopting a new strategy: Move north.

Soonr Inc., a file-sharing and collaboration service did that earlier this month, announcing it is leasing data centre space in Canada so it can service enterprises and governments here.

“We have data centres in the U.S. and one in the EU (European Union), and now we have one up in Canada,” said J.T. Sison, Soonr’s vice-president of marketing.

“Now we’re able to provide that same level of security and respect the privacy laws that you have up in Canada – particularly for governments – information does not leave the country.”

According to experts, worries about whether personal data of Canadians sent south meets the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), or can be accessed by U.S. law enforcement authorities are two reasons organizations here haven’t rushed to subscribe to cloud services.

It isn’t a deal-breaker for some SaaS offerings – for example Gmail or Salesforce – where organizations feel little personal information is at risk, or the provider’s security is good enough.

In fact, Sison said Soonr has Canadian customers who thought its 256-bit encryption and other security measures met their needs.

“But more and more as we started to talk to businesses up in Canada they were saying ‘In order to work with us you really need to have your own data centre up here.’”

This is a trend, says David Senf, vice-president of IDC Canada’s infrastructure solutions group. IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft Corp. and other U.S. and international cloud players are moving into the Canadian market to meet data residency concerns of organizations here for services they offer, he said in an email.
 

Most U.S.-based cloud providers tend to rent space from existing service providers or host facilities, he added, rather than build their own data centres.

That’s what Soonr did, leasing space in two data centres so data here is replicated.

Soonr, headquartered in Campbell, Calif., began in 2006 as a service to allow people to view documents on smart phones. But it evolved into a file-sharing and collaboration tool.

Most people share content such as reports by email, Sison said the company learned. But email is an inefficient way for doing that, particularly if the company’s documents regularly change, or if the documents include photos and video.

Soonr evolved into a service that organizations can use to drop documents into a folder, which then can be synchronized to any device used by any person who has access to the folder. If a document is changed or annotated by an authorized person, the change is noted the next time a user accesses the folder.

The service needs an agent for laptops and desktop PCs. There are also agents for devices that use Apple iOS, Android, Windows and BlackBerry 7.

Soonr’s customers include consulting companies, real estate and construction firms and international IT companies, including networking equipment maker Ciena Corp., which has an Ottawa division.

Al Lounsbury, Ciena’s Ottawa-based director of digital tools, said the company selected Soonr early this year for its international sales staff after evaluating a number of similar applications, many of which were free file-sharing cloud services.

Having data stored in Canada wasn’t important for the sales staff because they are from a number of countries. In addition, Lounsbury said, a security audit determined Soonr’s data protection met Ciena’s needs.

It is now used by about 470 Ciena staff, with several hundred more slated to get it.

Staff like it because it’s “incredibly simple” to use, Lounsbury said.

It isn’t perfect: He’d prefer security administrative controls that are more granular and run faster. Soonr has told him it’s looking into making changes.

Soonr pricing starts at $9.95 a month for a basic individual service, a five-user services costs $29.95 a month, while enterprises pay US$400 a month and up, which gets more administrative controls. 

“It’s a significant investment for us to do this” in Canada, Sison said, “but we think it’s going to be great.”