Ontario wants to partner with feds on data centres

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

David Nicholl, corporate chief information officer at the Government of Ontario, said after building its new Guelph, Ont.-based data centre earlier this year, the province began testing a private cloud solution with a set of hosted 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 of seasonal workers or for other provincial service demand peaks helped drive the project, Nicholl said. But similar initiatives with hosted software have stalled because of the lack of homegrown hosting options.

“I’ve been a huge fan of salesforce.com for years and I’ve been pushing them to come to Canada,” he said. But despite his best efforts, Nicholl sees little chance 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. and another one in Japan,” he said. “The chances of getting one in Canada is so slim.”

Related story: The channel and Shared Services Canada: Evolve or perish

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

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

“There’s an incredible opportunity for us to share,” Nicholl said. “Why not have 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 this year’s Showcase Ontario event calling on provincial IT leaders to do more work across 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 to devise a way to work more closely with local vendors and emerging Canadian startups.

“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 in Toronto,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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