Ontario seeks public cloud provider for Web workloads

HAMILTON, Ont. – The Ontario government next month will issue a request-for-proposal to make its most significant move yet into public cloud computing, according to its CIO of infrastructure technology services.

Speaking at MISA’s gathering of municipal chief information officers from across the country earlier this week, Marty Gallas said the Ontario Public Service (OPS) will be assessing the workloads on Web sites, with portals being the first candidates for cloud-based hosting. Late last year Ontario’s top CIO, David Nicholl, told attendees at an ITAC event that the province, which is already a Salesforce.com customer, was considering greater use of the cloud for e-mail and other commodity services. This year’s Drummond Report also suggested the OPS should further outsource some of its IT services to third-party providers.

Gallas said Web workloads are a logical first choice because they are already public facing and don’t contain personal information on citizens. The OPS also has extensive experience in working with third-party providers, he said. Compucom manages some servers today and Telus deals with some network services.

“We need the capabilities and intel to make wise choices,” he said. “And we’ll need to develop innovative contracts that will give us the flexibility to make changes as needs change.”

Like most of Canadian public sector, the OPS is conscious of the fact that citizens worry about information being hosted by third parties, particularly firms with headquarters in the U.S. that may be subject to the U.S. Patriot Act. There is already one Ontario provincial online application – for registering fishing licences – that runs out of the U.S., Gallas admitted, though hundreds of thousands of the names in the provider’s database are American citizens who come to Canada to hunt or fish. There is some dispute among Canadian legal experts that the Patriot Act is a real concern, but Gallas said the OPS also has to be sensitive to the fact that giving workloads to a U.S. provider could raise questions about why the work isn’t offered to local firms that create jobs in Ontario.

“Google and Amazon are very competitive, but they don’t do a lot in Canada,” he said.

Internally, Ontario has steadily been working on strategies that will reduce costs while providing efficiencies, Gallas said. This includes more than 500 boardrooms equipped with videoconferencing implemented by Telus. After many years, the OPS has also moved to one e-mail system from a high of 17, has virtualized some 1,500 servers and closed dozens of small data centres. Its most recently opened data centre, in Guelph, is poised to become a long-term home for its application portfolio and the OPS has migrated most of its software programs there from facilities in Toronto. For the last three years, the OPS has even created an internal consulting organization called IT Source, which provides internal expertise as an alternative to fee-based consultants.

Given that the OPS’ I&IT department is divided into eight clusters that serve various ministries and one corporate cluster, Gallas told his municipal peers that moving to standard platforms and tools takes some convincing.

“They’ll always tell you their stuff works better than the stuff you’re going to be giving them,” he said. “There’s a trust model that has to work.”

With an increased emphasis on innovation, productivity and sustainability across the province, Gallas said the I&IT department is keeping an open mind to all kinds of ideas.

“Financially we’re not going to have the money we had in the past,” he said. “We might flip the entire cluster model around 180 degrees, if that makes sense.”

MISA’s second annual CIO Council Summit wrapped up on Friday.

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