By thinkon

This article is covers topics explored in the “Managing Canada’s Data On A Canadian Cloud For A Secure & Sovereign Digital Government” live event by ThinkOn and VMware that occurred on April 28, 2021. Watch the full webinar here.


Where do we go from here?  A question many IT departments are asking themselves after undergoing various degrees of digital transformation to make remote work possible this past year. Perhaps one of the most affected by the sudden shift of IT operations in Canada are government and public sector organizations.

The unprecedented pressure to support remote access to public services, government applications, and citizen data accelerated the adoption of secure cloud-based services in the Government of Canada. Despite the great leaps taken to keep the wheels of Canada’s economy turning during a globally turbulent time, the future of digital government in Canada remains to be written – ideally in a Canadian cloud.

ThinkOn Founder and CEO, Craig McLellan, met with Peter Near, National Director of Canada for VMware, to discuss how the Government of Canada and public sector can leverage Canadian IT infrastructure and business solutions on a secure and sovereign cloud to solve data challenges and pave the way to a cloud-first, digital government.

Digital government in Canada: Where are we now and what lies ahead?

While COVID-19 dramatically accelerated cloud adoption and digital delivery of public services, the cloud-first mandate in Canada has long been the objective for the Government of Canada. The quick rollout of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in the wake of the pandemic, and recently the vaccination program, reflect the imperative for technology to respond to changes in policy in near-real time.

Peter Near – “CERB showed us we can stand up something net new within a few days and now we’re showing ourselves we can make changes to those things within hours as well.”

The shift in mindset toward innovation and agility placed the delivery of practical solutions in near real-time at the forefront in Canada’s battle against the pandemic. As working from home remains the new normal for many organizations, including those in the public sector, continuing to provide accessible, nation-wide digital delivery of services from every corner of Canada will remain as important as ever.

Data sovereignty is a national concern

The opportunity offered by cloud technology also presents risks associated with data collection, processing, and storage. Data sovereignty is a national concern, as cloud security and compliance are at the top of the Government of Canada’s agenda. The correct path to cloud adoption is one that addresses data integrity, confidentiality, availability, and control.

“Trust is at the heart,” says Peter Near, “we know there are things we can do as technologists to enhance trust with the public.”

Canadians are inherently distrustful of how government bodies treat data. The underwhelming adoption of the COVID Alert application among Canadian residents is evidence of just that, with just over 6.5 million app downloads and only 33,000 one-time keys used to report a COVID-19 positive test result as of June 1, 2021 according to data from Health Canada. Despite its legitimacy and considerable data privacy measures, changing public perception on data privacy and ethical handling in both public and commercial industries has been largely unsuccessful.

Peter Near – “We need to have policies that are transparent about how data is going to be used. We need to have technical capabilities to prove to leaders that we are following those policies. And we need to have technology choices that allow us to understand what type of data it is, how that type of data is being used.”

Craig McLellan – “The second part of the conversation is about supply chain. Now more than ever, it’s important to know that the people operating infrastructure are residing in the country they are delivering infrastructure for, especially when talking about sovereignty, traceability, and supply chain management.”

Data sovereignty vs. data residency: What’s the difference?

Data residency and data sovereignty are not synonymous. Your data can reside in the same country as your business, but if your infrastructure provider is a foreign company, your data is subject to foreign data laws, like the Cloud Act, and can cross borders.

The data privacy issues here are obvious when considering Canadian citizen data, like health records, social insurance numbers, and other personal and confidential data.

This is entirely avoidable on ThinkOn’s compliant and certified infrastructure powered by VMware. As the only Canadian cloud provider approved for government workloads, Canada’s data benefits from not only full data residency in any one of our three dedicated data centres, but also full data sovereignty that we can guarantee as a Canadian owned and operated company.

View ThinkOn’s dedicated solutions for Canadian government and public sector organizations.

Building the foundation to successful a migration

There are thousands of applications at all levels of government infrastructure that could benefit from modernization but rushing into cloud migration can easily become expensive and jeopardize your data integrity without proper planning. To ensure a successful migration to the cloud, Craig McLellan suggests you take it down to the foundational level, beginning with your data management strategy.

Craig McLellan – “Before I could consider adopting clouds, I would want to have a firm handle on what data I actually have so I don’t end up with data proliferation or data leakage. It’s an issue when you start putting data in multiple places because what you’re really doing is expanding your perimeter of what you need to protect. If you spend time to know what your data is, where to find it, and how to manage it throughout its entire lifecycle – that to me is a great example of getting it right before exercising a cloud strategy.”

A Success Story: VMware helps a Canadian province modernize its social services

VMware is no stranger to working with Canadian governments to modernize their services in order to enhance delivery, efficiency, and agility.

Peter Near – “We are leveraging the modern application platform of VMware to completely digitize social services delivered in one of the provinces here in Canada. It goes back to what I said earlier – If your requirements change today, you need to be able to change the system tomorrow – and that is true in a lot of the social services we are delivering in this province. We are focused on not only the platform for modern applications but also training the teams in that government on how to think like modern application developers and helping them to assess the not-so-modern applications that you want to work on refactoring first.”

Business continuity before, during, and after COVID-19

Business continuity remains top of mind for Canadian businesses, but now the conversation surrounding remote work has shifted from ‘how do we do this quickly?’ to ‘how do we do this right?’. This is a step in the right direction, in the opinion of Peter Near, who suggests that organizations need to revisit their remote work strategy if it was implemented during a time of organization duress.

Peter Near – “While it’s working, I would suggest that it’s held together by duct tape…work from anywhere needs is different going forward. It needs to be secure. There needs to be no duct tape. It needs to allow people to work from a Government Canada office, an OCC transport train, from home, anywhere, and have access to everything they need.”

In the areas of remote work policies where duct tape was missed, malicious agents are finding their way through the cracks and infiltrating organizations at an alarming rate since the beginning of the pandemic. ThinkOn has experienced a massive spike in frequency of requests for help to recover or manage attacks. Fortunately, technology that can mitigate ransomware and bad actors does not need to be complex. For public sector organizations, where compromised data can affect all of us, ransomware protection must be included in business continuity plans.

Leveraging a Canadian online marketplace for a secure and accelerated journey to cloud

Digital marketplaces can be powerful procurement vehicles that can place cloud technology within reach for Canadian government and public sector organizations. Marrying convenience and ease with security and privacy can change the way the Government of Canada manages data and delivers services. This is where by ThinkOn comes in. by ThinkOn is a digital marketplace delivering enterprise-ready cloud infrastructure and data management solutions to the Government of Canada and Canadian public sector organizations. As the only Canadian cloud service provider certified by the Government of Canada, ThinkOn boasts the only marketplace of cloud-based solutions that can guarantee complete sovereignty and privacy for Canadian data.

This dedicated marketplace offers ThinkOn’s critical cloud infrastructure, data protection, business continuity, and data archiving solutions alongside a growing library of software-as-a-service business applications created by leading Canadian SaaS providers and select international independent software vendors. To host in the Marketplace, SaaS providers must undergo routine penetration and authentication testing to maintain their ThinkOn Verified Provider designation year over year. This designation allows the SaaS provider to host on ThinkOn’s government-approved infrastructure and deliver enterprise-ready solutions that meet the compliance requirements outlined by the Canadian Centre for Cybersecurity (CCCS) and Shared Services Canada (SSC).


Do you work in a Canadian government office or public sector organization looking to adopt cloud technologies to digitally transform IT operations? Watch the full webinar to learn how Canada’s governments, agencies, and public sector organizations can embrace a transformational cloud journey.