Where exactly does 'the cloud' float? Like its namesake, the world of nebulously-hosted Internet applications has a way of drifting across borders. For many users, this isn't an issue. But for some in the government and institutional worlds, location still matters: worries persist that data hosted in foreign centres could be tapped by their respective governments, as under the American government's Patriot Act.
Organizations concerned about where their bits are buried might want to visit the Politburo, an ironically-named, made-in-Canada cloud company that's doesn't just offer online hosting north of the 49th parallel, but hosts the popular web applications that run on them, which might otherwise have run on American or global servers.
For instance, on its network of four data centres in Western Canada, the Politburo hosts applications like Microsoft Office and QuickBooks, which are typically run from their owners' American servers. The applications work as if you'd signed up with their makers, but the data stays in Canada.
"We're the only company in Canada that offers some of these services," says Robert Hart, the 11-person firm's founder and CEO, and the founder of the Canadian Cloud Council, an industry group of cloud service providers.
But users won't see these services by visiting the website directly: Rather, the Politburo works through resellers, like digital retailers who'll offer 'app marketplaces' (think App Stores for web applications) of all of its hosted products under their own brands for a single subscription fee. The Politburo is also working with institutional clients like security-conscious provincial governments, who are looking for ways to manage civil servants' access to web applications that are hosted in Canada.
Mr. Hart says his Calgary-based firm distinguishes itself from other Canadian data centres by offering three different services at once. To borrow the lingo of the cloud world, they are 'Software as a service' (SaaS) – the hosted Office and QuickBooks apps; 'Infrastructure as a service' – the storage and networking capabilities of their data centres; and finally 'Platform as a service.' This last pitch goes to application developers: It offers the software tools needed to develop certain kinds of web applications.
The threat caused by Canadian data residing on foreign hard drives can be a matter of perception, Mr. Hart acknowledges. "This is a very interesting and fairly controversial topic," he says. "Does the Patriot Act have more data access authority than CSIS or the EU? Everyone you talk to has a different opinion."
But Mr. Hart says his pitch to keep Canadian data in Canada has as much to do with economic nationalism as Kremlinesque security. "If a Canadian software company were to develop the next Dropbox or the next Facebook, and if it was hosted in U.S. data centres, Canadians would not be reaping the economic benefits."