Ontario CIO wants to team with feds on joint data centres

For Ontario’s IT chief, the lack of Canadian-built data centres is theonly thing standing in the way of increased provincial adoption of cloudservices.

David Nicholl, corporate chief information officer at the Government ofOntario, said after building its new Guelph, Ont.-based data centre earlierthis year the province began testing a private cloud solution with a set ofhosted Microsoft services. This includes hosted versions of Microsoft Exchange,SharePoint, Forefront Identity Manager, Windows 7 and Office 2010.

The ability to provision new e-mail accounts and desktops for the influx ofseasonal workers or for other provincial service demand peaks helped drive theproject, Nicholl said. But similar initiatives with hosted software have stalledbecause of the lack of homegrown hosting options.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Salesforce.com for years and I’ve been pushing them tocome to Canada,” he said, referring to his desire to adopt the service for provincial employees. But despite his best efforts, Nicholl sees littlechance of the CRM vendor offering Canadian-based hosting options anytime soon.

“With their Chatter service, they’ve got one data centre in the U.S. andanother one in Japan,” he said. “The chances of getting one in Canada is soslim.”

In wake of the Canadian government’s recent Shared Services plan, which callsfor a huge consolidation in data centre and networking resources across departments,Nicholl hopes to fill this void by working even more closely with the federalgovernment on service delivery.

The success of Bizpal, a service that works across all levels of governmentaimed at small business owners, has laid out the blueprint to this type ofpartnership, he added.

“There’s an incredible opportunity for us to share,” Nicholl said. “Why nothave a shared federal/provincial data centre in Ontario?”

“We’re all developing similar solutions for the same citizens.”

Gail Beggs, deputy minister of the environment, was also in attendance at thisyear’s Showcase Ontario event calling on provincial IT leaders to do more workacross departments and levels of governments.

“Let’s take advantage of the data that we’ve already collected,” she said,referring also to open government initiatives.

In addition to working with the federal government, Nicholl is also trying todevise a way to work more closely with local vendors and emerging Canadianstartups.

“I’m really looking forward to spending a lot more time looking at smaller,innovative software companies and see how we can use them, especially here inToronto,” he said.

Nicholl recently talked with HR management software startup Rypple and wasimpressed with how the firm integrated real-time performance management andsocial collaboration into its hosted service.

“The HR space has probably been the least innovative area for IT, but theseguys have done a great job,” he said.

Nicholl hopes the province can eventually overcome its risk aversion and findways to work with small, homegrown talent.

That kind of free spirited thinking, he said, has been successful in helpingthe province build out its internal OPSpedia social collaboration portal, whichnow has over 7,000 users.

“We were excited about having an environment that we’re not entirely in controlof,” he said. “When a community starts to form, incredible things will happen.We learned to stop worrying about requirements and test documents, put it outthere and just see what happens.”

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