ThinkOn is the only Canadian certified cloud service provider qualified to support Government of Canada's storage, compute and networking needs. In this TechTalk, John Dathan, Insight Canada’s Senior Vice-President & General Manager, is joined by Craig McLellan, ThinkOn’s Chief Executive Officer, to discuss the growing partnership between Insight & ThinkOn to support the Canadian federal government along its journey toward a cloud-first strategy.
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Published March 23, 2021
Hello and welcome to Insight's TechTalk. This is a platform that we use to help communicate to our clients information about the solutions that we bring to market. My name is John Dathan, and I have the absolute privilege to lead Insight Canada. Today we're going to be talking with ThinkOn about the partnership with Insight to help the Canadian federal government on their journey for a cloud-first strategy. And I'm very happy to introduce to you Craig McLellan who is the CEO and founder of ThinkOn.
It's great to be here, John. Thanks for the opportunity.
It's wonderful. How about maybe just a quick minute to tell the folks a little bit about ThinkOn.
Sure, I'd love to.
ThinkOn was founded in 2013 in Canada as a, initially, a service provider focused on the Canadian market. We provide a variety of cloud services, but the most important takeaway is we are a very data-focused service provider, right down to the tagline, “Where Data Thrives”. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to solve problems that involve large volumes of data, whether it's as simple as backup and archiving to analytics, but ultimately our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to protect and maintain their data.
Terrific. And you know, you and I have talked a lot, and there's a lot of published information about the government strategy being a cloud-first strategy. What do you think they're ultimately trying to achieve with this strategy?
Well, I think it varies per department, but I've spent the last four plus years speaking with a variety of people inside the government, and I think there are two or three common themes.
One, is there's thousands of legacy applications deployed inside the government that consume vast amounts of legacy compute and storage and other resources that just aren't economically sensible anymore. And it's really about accelerating the ability to adopt new platforms, and the cloud, in theory, can drive that adoption acceleration curve forward pretty significantly. I think it's also about de-risking some of the investments the government may have had to make in the past with technology to allow them to maybe fail fast, would be the right way to put it, for some of the applications that historically might take months or years to get off the ground internally.
Well, when we looked at our strategy at Insight, and we really wanted to work and selected to work with ThinkOn as our partner, there were a number of reasons that we felt this was a really compelling partnership, and we don't have time to go through them all in depth, but you know kind of at a high level, ThinkOn is the only Canadian company that is providing cloud services to the federal government. That was very important. The fact that you entirely built your platform on VMware, which is the predominant platform, inside of the federal government, that made sense from a migration, as you talked about, the thousands of existing applications.
Thirdly, you're developing a marketplace where both Canadian ISVs and other tool sets are going to be available to the government, I think that's a very creative strategy. Fourthly, your pricing model is actually excellent for the government, because you don't charge for ingress and egress. So, moving data in and out, allows governments to work with the kind of fixed budgets that they have. So, all of those are great areas, and maybe on another one of these platforms we can get into depth.
What I wanted to talk about today was, you've made a very key strategic decision to buy a data center in Ottawa, and you have a number of data centers across the country where you've dedicated portions of it to public sector. Why is that so important?
Well, I think there's really a few different themes that we need to unpack a little bit. The first one would be the data center in Ottawa was a strategic move for us, because the reality is there are a significant number of personnel deployed in Ottawa that work for the government, and there are times when they need to see things, they need to touch and feel things. And we're big believers in collaborating with our customers, as opposed to being remote and standoffish. So, that data center is going to be very key for us to provide local services. And more importantly, there are significant opportunities for hybrid cloud in the future, whether it might be a combination of physical technology and cloud technology, and it's not all about how fast I can move workload to some cloud I can't predict or understand, certainly can't understand the costs long-term.
The importance of being across the country is really, I think, synonymous with how well we know the country. I mean, we are the home team. And when you think about Canada, it's a, thousands of miles long, relatively narrow country. And when you don't have the capacity to support workload natively in Western Canada, what you really get is alienation. You get technical alienation by virtue of latency challenges, and then you get literal isolation because how do they adopt cloud services that are 20 to 30 milliseconds away while still maintaining sovereignty over network conductivity and sovereignty over workload. So, both of those issues I think are really important for us.
Hmm. You mentioned the networking piece. Today, all of the government departments are connected to literally the hundreds of data centers that exist within the federal government. Can you talk maybe a little bit more about how your locations are going to help them connect existing departments to new facilities such as yours?
Sure. Actually, there's a variety of ways that departments and crown corporations utilize the government of Canada network. There isn't really one network. There is a network that's operated that supports the vast majority of connections. However, those are literally internal for fee-type services where there are limitations on throughput. And then there are some departments who have decided to bypass that network. Recently, there was the establishment of a cloud access gateway, I call it that, that's meant to facilitate an easier connection. It's today deployed in Toronto with Montreal coming online in the near future.
So, we connect to that, and then we also support direct connections. And, of course, the lowest common denominator would be VPN connections, which leverages the government's own internet services. We tend to prefer to go to the gateway type connections. First of all, you can control the experience better. And frankly, I'm a very, very big believer, as a Canadian taxpayer, I'm a very big believer that the government has to work very hard to always push that notion of trust. And really when you add the internet into any third-party CSP, you're expanding your perimeter, and with an expanded perimeter, becomes exposure to more risk. And we really would like the government to be the leader they are, and we don't really want to introduce any more perimeter into the architecture than is absolutely necessary.
Yeah, it makes complete sense. And I know that these facilities are dedicated to public sector, and I've heard one expression kind of getting to knowing your neighbors. What's the advantage of having that as a dedicated facility, as opposed to a more general facility, for public sector clients?
Well, you know, that's a great question, and I think it's really a great question because there are other cloud service providers out there who would really like their customers to take their conductivity and security capabilities for granted, which I have no doubt that there's great strength there, but when you see things happening outside of their control, whether it be ransomware attacks that penetrate certain cloud service provider's source code, and then you get into chain of custody issues and supply chain issues, where can we really trust the CSPs with their own source code and in a mixed mode environment? My view on this is there's nothing like a good old fashioned physical air gap to make sure that what you're actually telling your customer, in this case, the federal government and people from the cybersecurity center, as well as shared services, that there is no opportunity for software engineering to outwit you or to create a scenario that you just can't anticipate, the air gap can't be beat.
Well, and I think too, the more things you're able to take off the table, the more you minimize risk, which is exactly what you're doing here, by eliminating who gets to participate that does reduce an element of the risk. So, I think it's an excellent decision.
We just have a minute or two left, Craig. I thought maybe an interesting thing is, it's pretty intimidating to many, whether it's business leaders or IT leaders, the whole notion of moving to the cloud, because it can be somewhat daunting in size. Any quick advice for what they should be looking to, to be able to achieve success?
Well, a couple of thoughts there and excellent question.
The first thing to know is that you should not start with the crown jewels. You have to establish a cadence and a comfort level inside your own department or organization. I can tell you that in my past I've moved hundreds of data centers, and my experience, whether it's a physical move or a logical move, is that you never make the first move your most important to move, because that's when you inevitably discover things that the tabletop exercises didn't properly identify. So, start with something that isn't trivial but isn't critical and own that process.
The second key thing is, and this is a great source of confusion, a migration is not the same as a transformation. If you think you're moving workload from a VMware powered cloud to a cloud that is not VMware powered, and it's just as simple as point and click, you have to remember there is a transformation occurring during that process. And while the likelihood of terrible issues occurring is low it can still occur. So, all the more reason to focus on keeping things as simple as possible. The time will come for those complex moves. And really that's one of the reasons why we're so pleased that we have a VMware based cloud environment, because it's a hundred percent compatible with what the government runs today
Yeah. Excellent, great advice. So, thanks Craig for your time today and for your partnership. ThinkOn and Insight we think is a great combination together. So, thank you for joining us folks. We look forward to future sessions with you on Insight's Tech Talk.