Monday, January 30, 2012

CANADA needs to get its head in the clouds: Editorial on the benefits of cloud computing for universities

The Halifax Chronicle Herald has a good editorial on the benefits of cloud computing for universities, prompted by the decision of Dalhousie University to switch to a cloud provider for e-mail systems:

Dalhousie email switch | The Chronicle Herald:

CANADA needs to get its head in the clouds.

Cloud computing, to be specific.

More a technological service than a product, cloud computing refers to storing data and running software programs remotely, even across borders, on servers that may be owned by someone else.

The advantages, in terms of efficiency and reducing costs, can be significant. That’s why so many businesses and public bodies in the U.S., Britain and Europe have made the switch to cloud computing for at least some of their online needs.

That’s also why Dalhousie University is wisely planning, pending a privacy review, to move its email system to a Microsoft cloud service, a change that the school estimates will save $2 million.

Overall, however, Canada has been a laggard on embracing cloud computing, say legal and technology experts.

The main reasons seem to be worries about security and privacy, and some confusion about what cloud computing means.

There’s no question it’s essential to ensure cloud service providers have sufficient security and privacy safeguards, especially when the servers storing Canadian data may be in other jurisdictions, such as the U.S.

But legal experts say there is widespread misunderstanding about what law enforcement can and cannot do, on both sides of the border. Even Ontario Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian says cloud computing is "eminently doable" in Canada, provided proper vetting is done with service providers beforehand.

The misperception that privacy laws are preventing many sectors from embracing cloud computing and reaping its benefits — notably in the health system — has left Canada behind many other developed countries in utilizing cloud computing technology, legal exerts say.

So it’s good to see Dalhousie join a growing number of Canadian universities, such as the University of Toronto, the University of New Brunswick and the University of Alberta, in moving their email services to the clouds — and so realizing significant savings.

Given the fiscal challenges for universities — and many governments — today, investigating the cloud’s potential, carefully but thoroughly, is essential.