Will Snowden’s leaks help Canadian cloud industry?: Opinion

(This contributed article is by Robert Half, CEO of the Canadian Cloud Council, an industry association and co-founder of several Canadian IT companies)\

Was anyone really surprised when Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency collects massive amounts of customer data from cloud service providers and (gasp) disseminates it as they see fit through the US Federal Government? I mean, isn’t this what they do for a living? For those of you not familiar with their business model, I suggest watching Matt Damon explain why he “shouldn’t work for the NSA” in his very first film Good Will Hunting.

At any rate, perception is reality, and it must becoming harder and harder for U.S.-based public cloud companies to sell Canadian customers on the fact that “it doesn’t matter where their data is hosted.” Businesses, rightfully so, view their data as intellectual property, and how many Canadian CIO’s are going to sign off on the potential fire sale of their company’s core asset? Hey, we were already a risk- adverse bunch before Snowden bought a one way ticket to Russia and every Canadian CEO started asking questions about cloud computing and where their company’s data is hosted. Ironically, the cloud conversation finally started at the top level of every Canadian company.   And, this, thank you Edward, is a very good thing. 

Cloud computing has been called lots of things, but “the second industrial revolution,” probably summarizes its transformational capabilities the best. It dramatically improves and accelerates the way companies develop, monetize and commercialize innovation, engage with their customers, and differentiate against their competition. These are big, strategic, game-changing things but the NSA/PRISM scandal has forced Canadian companies to take a closer look at the potential risk of hosting their data with big US based cloud companies. You know, the ones with massively distributed, highly scalable and very inexpensive cloud offerings. I’ve heard many Canadian CIO’s say “if only there was a Canadian solution similar to Amazon or Rackspace, we could remove the privacy barrier and risk and assertively begin our journey to the cloud”.

Up until very recently, I would suggest that the marketplace for Canadian hosted cloud infrastructure was extremely limited, perhaps even non-existent. By cloud, I mean something open, elastic, on demand, and marketplace driven – Ie. not simply hosted virtualization. The landscape is changing rapidly and some viable and unique Canadian hosted cloud services are starting to become widely available. 

Edward Snowden may have shed light on a program that has been accused of possibly “killing the US Internet Industry” (it won’t – the CIA contract Amazon just won was a big one), but I suggest we leverage Edward’s clean conscience as an opportunity to finally start building a viable Canadian cloud IaaS ecosystem. One that can compete with the Amazons of the world, not just because it is built across Canadian data centers, but one that can compete globally on its own uniqueness and merit. 

Wait a minute, are those drones circling above my head?

(Half is co-founder and chair of The Cloud Factory, a technology conference to be held April 7/8 2014 in Banff ;  Globalworx, a Calgary-based cloud work space for developing software; and is the Canadian managing director for Nebula, which makes an integrated compute, networking and storage appliance.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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