May 7, 2014 1:55 pm

Ontario closing 20 data centres as it moves to cloud computing

The Ontario government's Guelph data centre is one of only two of the province's 22 that will stay open.

PCL Construction

Ontario is closing all but two of its 22 data centres, shifting information to the cloud in a move it hopes will save millions of dollars.

But the union representing the province’s tech workers worries this will mean the outsourcing of hundreds of jobs – even as party leaders tour the province touting “job creation” plans – and threaten the security of sensitive information.

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One data centre is closed and three more are closing; the remaining 18 are scheduled to shutter over the next two years, leaving everything else on two servers – one in Guelph and one in Kingston.

The province hopes this will save $20 million by 2015-16.

Government website Ontario.ca has been moved over to Amazon’s cloud servers.

Government Services Ministry spokesperson Ann Doose says the province is also working with private cloud contractors iVedha, Opentext and Sungard, shifting data onto their servers.

But the department refused to release details of those contracts, citing its “responsibility to protect proprietary and commercially sensitive information provided to us by the vendor community” spokesperson Michael Patton said in an email Wednesday.

Transactions of personal information through Ontario.ca include applications for driver’s licenses and hunting licenses.

Doose says personal information submitted in these forms remains secure.

“We are confident all of the transactions done through Ontario.ca are redirected to servers in a highly secure government run facility and that none of the information goes through servers hosted by Amazon,” she said.

Doose says the only information the government has moved to cloud servers is publicly available information, but “decisions with respect to what kinds of information will be used in cloud-based computing in the future have not yet been made.”

But a 2012 KPMG report wasn’t so sure the province would save much money by switching to the cloud.

“We’ve heard the claims that there are some cost savings to be had. Certainly, we are interested in those if they can be realized, but it remains to be seen whether they really are or aren’t there,” Ron McKerlie, deputy minister of Government Services, says in the report on a February, 2012 pilot cloud server project.

Meantime, the province’s IT workers are worried about the jobs the province will lose to outsourcing.

The Ontario Public Services Employees Union, which represents about 2,400 IT professionals, says as many as 400 jobs could be lost as a result of the consolidation.

A webinar held by the union also expresses concerns that Ontarians’ private information will be less secure if it is hosted on cloud servers.

Doose said two Ontario Public Services employees have lost their jobs due to data centre consolidation, and “it is anticipated that the consolidation of data centres will have future staffing impacts.”

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