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.


  1. Whenever these news items quote a savings of $X million by switching to the cloud, I question it. Why do I say this? I work in IT at a small University and I know it doesn't cost this much to run robust email services. These quoted dollar values are based on some bogus money figures generated by ROI calculators. I went through a similar exercise with the savings to be had with thin client desktops, and most of the savings were purely conjecture, in an area we would not be seeing savings in reality.

    The cloud trend will eventually prove not as good as imagined on paper. Thin client conversions were started about 10 years ago, and you can now find reports like this:
    I predict the ROI calculators are also deceiving us now in cloud computing decisions.

    The big question is, why does management prefer to believe the vendors? We know they bait and switch. We know there is no such thing as a free lunch. We also know that every single service we have outsourced has been run by inept people and comes back to be done in house afterward.

    There are probably times when moving to cloud email is a good fit. But I know for certain it does not save money for our scenario.

  2. With all due respect, Francis, your argument is good, but not correct. The cloud is and will lead to tremendous savings and increased capabilities.

    The transition to the cloud is a transition from everyone managing their own resources, to the resources being managed as a utility by specialists and distributed to end users as needed. This will lead to tremendous cost saving as economies of scale and concentration of specialized resources lead to a more efficient allocation of the IT expertise required and more efficient use of compute and storage resources. Currently typically 15% or less of most computers and servers are utilized and work is inefficiently duplicated everywhere.

    The cloud will also lead to new, never before possible services. Smaller Universities, in fact any users, will have access to more High Performance Computing, software applications that they cannot afford if they have to purchase an entire licence, but can afford if they pay per use, seamless mobility where users data is with them wherever they go and on whatever device they have access to. This is all already happening and there are more and more case studies as examples.