Cold front: Can Canada play a leading role in the cloud?

Dr. Michael GeistWhen it comes to building large-scale public cloud computing environments, Canada has a few unique advantages.

Our country offers privacy and security legislations that meet international muster and we already have mature, high-speed networks. But there’s one other asset that works in Canada’s favour that may be less immediately obvious, but is a simple reality for every Canadian, particularly at this time of year.

Put simply: We have cold. Lots and lots and lots of cold.

And that could be a competitive differentiator for Canada when it comes to building the über-data centre of tomorrow, suggested Dr. Michael Geist, law professor at the University of Ottawa, at a recent CA Technologies-sponsored roundtable discussion on cloud computing.

In this video interview: Geist, who focuses on privacy legislation, offer his views of Canada’s potential drawing points as a cloud leader; the potential impact of the upcoming Bill C-29 legislation on that role; and whether this national cloud strategy should be a public or private (sector, not cloud) initiative.


Data centres make cold a plus

Geist forwards the argument initially made by former CANARIE chief research officer and renowned Green IT expert Bill St. Arnaud that Canada’s abundance of land in cold territory could allow it to build massive cloud-focused data centres that are not only carbon-neutral, but ultimately carbon-positive by repurposing the spare heat produced by these massive data centres to heat northern communities.

“We’ve got a real competitive advantage with our existing networks and with all that cold available,” Geist said. “It’s a pretty compelling reason to think about Canada as a place to host cloud farms internationally.”

By using all that cool – available in the north throughout the year, and even more readily so for six months or more of the year – to chill data centres, Canada not only has the opportunity to offer a very green data centre value proposition, but one that offers a very compelling value proposition, given all the money that won’t need to be spent on cooling and the potential for additional revenues from repurposed heat, a somewhat precious commodity in the north.

Location matters

Underlying the network and the cold is the fact that many nations may look to Canada due to its regulatory environment. Geist praised both federal and provincial privacy chiefs for taking a leadership role in defining and protecting privacy rights in Canada.

This is another field where Canada’s location works in its favour. We’re close to the U.S., but we’re not the U.S., and specifically, we don’t have the ever-controversial U.S. Patriot Act that and the international privacy concerns that accompany that legislation.

Our legislation perspective is changing, though, with Bill C-29 at second reading in Parliament. The legislation brings with it mandatory breach notifications, a move that Geist said is crucial for comfort levels with the cloud.

“It’s not enough to have rules that say the data processor is accountable, you should be notified in a fully transparent fashion if you need to be,” he suggested.