Why is Canada reluctant to adopt cloud computing?

Summary:The number of cloud-using university students in Canada are shockingly low in comparison to Europe or the US. Could data protection law and privacy be a reason why?

With many universities and educational institutions opting for an outsourced, external email system usually provided by a major software company, with cheaper costs and less overall maintenance, one could easily assume it to be a wise, money saving move.

But equally, one could ask - as students who actually indirectly benefit from the services - where does our data actually go, and is it safe where it is?

I feel this requires some background; just for sake of adding context to this.

Internal email is where the email server is housed within the university, though usually off-site but very much within the near vicinity and most definitely within the legal boundary of that institution. This can of course work in favour of privacy as it allows that university to be in complete control of any legal issues as its within that host country.

Cloud email (external) can also be useful as it's housed in giant data centers which are invested in highly to maintain up-time, and usually have multiple backups in various other countries. Though this means that the data controls must be in line with that host country - which can often differ from that of the legal system of that university.

So what's the deal, and why is this important? Because it is.

There will be different agreements for different parties involved. The end user, the student, using the cloud email client will have to abide by certain terms and conditions; most of which are not too unreasonable (at least most of the time) and are fairly generic. The provider of the users, the university or college, will have to engage in different and more private agreements and contracts to ensure the stability and reliability of the data exchange, as well as many potentially clandestine propositions.

One can only guess, without seeing such agreements at hand. You can bet your bottom dollar that the providers of such cloud email will not be too willing to give these out.

And now on to the interesting bit

Oh and how interesting it is. Both Google and Microsoft seem to be rather quiet about their cloud efforts in Canada. It's important to note that the following only reflects what the two respective companies want to share, and may not include the final numbers. But what isn't there does shows more than what is.

Microsoft has not published any case studies of its Live@edu users in Canada. This isn't to say that there are no Live@edu users in Canada, but in comparison to the vast number of case studies in the US and the UK, it shows if anything that Microsoft is struggling to find a positive case study from the numbers it has in the country.

Google seems to only have four schools in Canada - all close to the US border - which have enrolled in their cloud email service. From the colour key, it appears that Canada has less than 10,000 students enrolled in the country, which will be a dent in their unreleased and untouchable figures nonetheless.

One could assert that as Manitoba and Quebec has less-strict privacy laws versus British Columbia and Alberta, this could be a reasonable assumption as to the lack of universities adopting to the US-governed cloud.

A former Microsoft "person" who once worked closely with the Live@edu teams told me that they remember:

"...a Canada sales representative telling me that Adoption of hosted e-mail systems has stalled in Canada due to privacy concerns stemming from the US Patriot Act. The problem is that the US Patriot Act gives the US government the right to access virtually any data, at any time, hosted by US companies (Microsoft and Google included) by US companies (again, Microsoft and Google included).

This person also said that:

"This has prompted fear among faculty who believe they may face repercussions for violating the Patriot Act if they were to use a hosted e-mail system. It remains to be proven whether or not faculty are at risk. However, the perception is In light of this, Microsoft is limiting efforts to draw attention to Live@edu until the legal implications can be Live@edu until the legal implications can be resolved.”

Microsoft was unable to give a comment until more specific information was given, and Google has not responded. At least this goes to show at least one of the reasons why the Canadian cloud is so very empty.

Topics: Enterprise Software, Collaboration, Data Centers, IT Employment, Outsourcing

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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