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The state of cloud computing in Canada: An introduction

“Last resort.”

That was one of the comments, filled out in the field “other,” which came in response to a question we asked in the following research study about why Canadian IT professionals were adopting cloud computing. It’s hard to tell if it was meant sarcastically, or came out of a genuine weariness from all the pressures enterprise IT departments face. Either way, it struck me as a good summation of many technology executives’ attitudes towards a model that has stirred more controversy in this industry than any other.

Cloud computing may feel like a last resort to many CIOs and IT managers because they are running out of options to deal with the ever-growing deluge of data, the complexity of making enterprise applications work together and what must sometimes feel like the grunt work of managing multiple data centres. They have been doing all this in the aftermath of the Y2K crisis of 1999 and, not long after, the dot-com bust of 2000, followed by recession after recession. Even during the height of the Internet bubble, it was the startups who were getting the go-ahead to open their wallets. Many everyday IT shops, particularly in the more cautious Canadian market, continued to be frugal with their technology investments. For many in the industry there has probably never been a time in their entire career when it felt like they could get even close to the resources they need.

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Once it finally became better understood, cloud computing promised a way out of sorts. Not quite outsourcing, not quite product purchasing, it represents a means for finally getting the compute power of a big company when you need to act like a big company, and for scaling down when business demands aren’t at their peak. It means, in some cases, spending less time hammering out kinks in IT infrastructure and potentially more time to learn and respond to the things senior management really cares about – customers, shareholders and their fellow employees.

And yet . . . and yet. Cloud computing is a model fundamentally based not on pricing or convenience or flexibility but the trust relationship between an IT leader and their chosen supplier. Occasionally lost in all the discussion around security concerns is the notion that CIOs aren’t necessarily worried about hackers getting into the cloud, but for cloud providers to somehow drop the ball: that they will lose data, corrupt data, that their employees might do to their networks what everyday enterprise employees sometimes do to their networks. It’s not necessarily about security in terms of viruses but security in terms of negligence.

This issue has been compounded by a chorus of shrill voices warning that the days of IT departments running technology are essentially over, and that if they aren’t prepared to divest themselves of the systems they manage soon they will be lost in the cloud’s unstoppable momentum. This has been a curious marketing strategy by the industry at large. It’s like trying to sell someone a car while telling them they are no longer fit to drive it. No wonder some see cloud computing as a last resort.

The State of Cloud Computing In Canada is an attempt to provide a more accurate picture of where adoption stands today, as well as the common approaches and outlook of enterprise CIOs and IT managers towards this model. The research is based on the responses of more than 200 members of our audience, 58 per cent of which were either CIOs or IT managers, who worked across a broad range of industries including financial services, the public sector, retail, health care and professional services. We are offering this content through a short half-hour Webcast with my guests John Weigelt, national technology officer with Microsoft Canada and Bill Dupley, chief solutions officer with HP. All those who register to watch the on-demand Webcast will receive a free copy of the 16-page report mailed to their e-mail inbox.

What we found was a gradual but purposeful shift to the cloud by Canadian IT professionals, who feel they are starting to grasp the opportunities it presents but have clear goals around what they hope to achieve and the timeline associated with it. Any risks they are taking are calculated, and not with mission-critical pieces of their IT infrastructure. They haven’t fully figured out the metrics with the cloud yet, and by no means do they see it as a panacea for everything that challenges them. Their posture towards the cloud, in other words, could not be more Canadian: optimistic but pragmatic, slow but deliberate, purposeful but not aggressive.

A year from now or more, the results of this research could look much different. As they get more experience with the cloud under their belt, it’s possible that enterprise IT departments will be made up of people who are primarily concerned with negotiating the best service-level agreement, or setting up a strategic contract rather than spinning up a new server. They may become better at identifying the cloud service providers that make sense not only from a pricing and feature standpoint but have something akin to a cultural fit with their organization. They could become more adept at putting some resources into the cloud when it makes sense, and taking them out when it doesn’t. The cloud may or may not become a Canadian CIO’s first choice to deal with a problem. But we can hope it will become something better than their last resort.
 
From The State of Cloud Computing in Canada, a special report from CIO Canada, by Shane Schick.
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