Canada Cloud Network aims at government

Neil McEvoy wants businesses to get on to his cloud.

The founder of Toronto-based Level 5 Consulting has launched a project called the Canada Cloud Network  , which he hopes will help stimulate the growth of cloud computing in Canada. Part of the project is a website, OpenRFP.net where McEvoy is posting information about Canadian government contracts.

The idea is to put the procurement process online and make it openly accessible, McEvoy says. He hopes to encourage cloud-related companies – both Canadian and foreign – to work together to create proposals to address government needs.

McEvoy says he aims to put smaller cloud-related companies in touch with major contractors bidding on big government contracts, such as an effort to move Elections Canada’s website to hosting in the cloud. The wide variations in traffic on that site – quite low except for major peaks during elections – makes it a perfect candidate to be hosted in the cloud rather than on dedicated in-house servers, McEvoy notes.

That part of McEvoy’s project goes hand in hand with another, which is advocating for more use of government procurement as a way of stimulating new technology research in Canada.

“A lot of what I’m looking to do is identify best practices in innovation in general,” says McEvoy, who was a business development manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers for about a year before starting Level 5. He previously worked for British Telecom and founded and ran a European application service provider.

He thinks one of those best practices is something called forward commitment procurement. The idea, he says, is for government to “state a buying requirement for the type of innovation we want to see in the marketplace.” In short, the government calls for proposals to supply technology that doesn’t exist yet, in order to encourage the research and development necessary to develop it.

It’s an idea the British government has used to promote development of its clean technology sector, McEvoy says. He isn’t aware of other examples of its use, though he agrees that the effect might be similar to the way the U.S. space program once helped stimulate development of new technologies that later found broader use.

Cloud computing is immature in Canada today, says Darryl Humphrey, a senior manager at Deloitte and a member of the consulting firm’s global leadership team for cloud. “In general I would say our market is characterized by cautious buyers and somewhat distracted vendors.”

Research firm International Data Corp. (Canada) Ltd. recently profiled 10 Canadian cloud startups, saying in a statement that “it’s a good time to be an emerging cloud company in Canada.”

The Canadian cloud market is small and has unique needs due to factors such as privacy laws, Humphrey says, so it’s tough to achieve much scale.

Government can help with that, he says, and one way to do it is through procurement. “When you look at the Canadian market, there are not that many players that can provide scale and the federal government is one of those.”

The Canada Cloud Network’s efforts to influence government procurement are in their very early stages. McEvoy has written a white paper on the subject entitled Canada Cloud 3.0: Building Canada’s Digital Economy Advantage Through Cloud Computing. As for approaching government officials about his ideas, he says, “that’s really my next phase.”

So what has he done so far? About a half-dozen companies, some Canadian and some U.S. players looking to build their presence in the Canadian market, have signed up for access to OpenRFP.net, which is free. In time, McEvoy says, he’ll be looking to sign up corporate sponsors for the project, and vendors will pay to participate in joint proposals.

One of the companies involved today is Kaulkin Information Solutions, the Rockville, Md., maker of kloudtrack, a software as a service tool for governance, risk management and compliance. Kloudtrack forms part of the basis for Canada Cloud’s OpenRFP platform, says Mike Binko, the company’s president and chief executive.

By using cloud-based software to run OpenRFP, McEvoy is practising what he preaches, Binko comments. “Neil as far as I can tell understands that the cloud is a useful platform or utility if you will to kind of exchange and share data,” he says.

Binko says there are some projects in the U.S. trying to bring companies together around open access to RFP data, but OpenRFP is the only one he knows of in Canada so far. “it’s an emerging approach,” he says.

One beneficiary is Esotera Secure Storage Solutions in St. John’s, NL. The company offers secure cloud-based storage systems, and is developing software called VM Aware to help cloud-based applications scale smoothly, says Tom Chalker, Esotera’s president and chief technology officer.

Through OpenRFP, Chalker is working with Joyent Inc., whose cloud software stack VM Aware will rely on, and with hosting providers. Chalker hopes to get a piece of the Elections Canada project thanks to OpenRFP. Without it, he says, contracts like this are usually out of such a small company’s reach. “We would have to put a lot of resources together in order to be able to put together a response to an RFP.”

Chalker says smaller technology companies usually only get a piece of such big contracts when larger prime contractors seek them out to meet specific needs.

According to McEvoy, stimulating Canada’s nascent cloud computing sector will do more than just help home-grown companies in that business. His white paper refers to much-discussed concerns about the level of innovation in this country, and suggests that part of the cause of this “innovation gap” is that information technology organizations lack money to spend on innovation because most of their budgets are tied up in keeping their current systems going.

Moving more computing into the cloud, he argues, would alleviate that problem.

Humphrey says cloud services can make the businesses that use them significantly more efficient. He says some organizations can see cost reductions of 50 to 80 per cent from using large infrastructure-as-a-service providers.

“That’s a major piece of capital that you can now redeploy into your actual business,” he says.