AWS is making moves in Canada, but so are its critics as protests disrupt summit

Amazon Web Services made it clear last week at its AWS Summit in Toronto that it’s serious about its ongoing push across Canada, and based on the number of people in attendance, thousands of Canadian customers and partners are happy to go along for the ride.

More than 4,500 people attended the Toronto summit event Oct. 4 – that’s double last year’s total – one of several summits hosted by AWS, where company executives, partners and customers come together to learn and collaborate, and AWS’ growing presence in Canada was touted.

AWS Canada country manager Eric Gales cited the more than 10,000 Amazon employees across the country, in addition to the “tens of thousands” of customers dotting the provinces. The company’s growing presence in Canada has warranted the introduction of a third AWS Availability Zone (AZ) in the country’s central region near Montreal, bringing the total number of computing power hubs to 22.


    • One of Canada’s largest post-secondary institutions, Humber College, recently selected AWS as its strategic cloud provider through premier AWS partner Onica. Humber is also becoming an AWS Academy Institution and AWS Certification Testing Centre.

But what’s really impressed Joshua Burgin, technical advisor to the senior vice-president at AWS, is how organizations, specifically governments, traditionally known for sticking with the status quo when it comes to their IT infrastructure, are rapidly building new applications through microservices and taking greater advantage of cloud computing.

“That’s what’s been amazing to me,” Burgin told IT World Canada during a break in the action at last week’s summit. “Serverless, containers, it’s not hype. These are the waves of the future and they fulfil the promise of the cloud. You don’t have to think about your servers or your infrastructure. You don’t have to do the undifferentiated heavy lifting, we do that for you. But you’re also not forced down a certain path,” he explained.

During his opening keynote, Gales pointed to AWS’ latest contract with the Canadian federal government to host its Protected B workloads, such as medical information, information protected by solicitor-client or litigation privilege, or received in confidence from other government departments and agencies.

Amazon products ranked based on how much they’re discussed on Twitter. Photo by Alex Coop.

Even Canada’s oil and gas sector is betting big on AWS. Calgary’s TC Energy has migrated about 90 per cent to the AWS cloud, and Cenovus became the first upstream oil company in Canada – upstream meaning a company that’s extracting oil from the ground – to announce their move to AWS.

And the value of cloud and AWS software hasn’t alluded the rest of the world. According to Gales, as of May 2019, more than 200,000 people hold active AWS certifications, a number that rose by 80 per cent year-over-year.

“We believe that our biggest contribution is to invest as much as we possibly can into skills and enablement for you,” he said.

Organized protests target AWS’ relationship with ICE

While Amazon executives and customers took to the stage, one by one, more than a dozen protesters demanded that Amazon cut any ties it may have with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Protestors were scattered across the auditorium and disrupted the morning’s main presentation multiple times, often chanting “No tech for ICE!” and demanded Burgin to provide a response. Security and police escorted protesters out of the auditorium. This is not the first AWS Summit to be met with protests. In July, hundreds of protesters made the same demands during the tech giant’s summit in New York City.

When asked to provide comment about the protests, Burgin said it wasn’t something he could comment on.

In June 2018, AWS employees circulated an internal letter demanding that Amazon stop working with big data company Palantir and to take a stand against ICE, according to reporting from Business Insider. Palantir runs its software on Amazon’s cloud. The letter also asked the company’s leaders to stop providing the company’s Rekognition facial recognition software to police.

Matthew Bourke of ICE’s Office of Public Affairs told amNewYork that ICE doesn’t have a specific contract with Amazon for facial recognition technology. ICE does, however, have a contract with Four Points Technology – a data centre and Infrastructure-as-a-Service firm and AWS partner – to use Amazon Web Services for unspecified cloud storage solutions. The four contracts are for “other computer-related services”, according to Bourke.


Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that AWS has more than 10,000 full time employees in Canada.  There are actually 10,000 Amazon employees in Canada. Full time employees for AWS are not broken out. IT World Canada apologizes for the error.

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Alex Coop
Alex Coop
Former Editorial Director for IT World Canada and its sister publications.

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