Cloud emerges as must-have tool to deal with COVID-19 impact
Years ago, the cloud was declared the “new normal”, and today as we deal with the new realities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic we are seeing just how technology is enabling businesses, governments, and organizations to operate in a seamless way.
IT departments suddenly enabled hundreds of people to work from home in a matter of days, and researchers spun up international collaboration efforts to share diagnostics and potential cures for the deadly virus. There is also the burgeoning demand put on applications and websites to share information about the pandemic, to bring doctors and nurses online for medical care, and of course—the demand for entertainment as people shelter in place.
Keeping Citizens Connected
The cloud is also helping public and private sector organizations alike add capacity to websites that are being accessed at much higher volumes–like Canada.ca, Ontario.ca, and Quebec.ca. A feature like AWS Auto Scaling leave a piece of mind to IT leaders and let them focus on the core mission of their organization instead of worrying about server capacity.
The cloud is helping the Canadian Digital Service (CDS), which is an in-house digital delivery unit in the Government of Canada that works to improve the delivery of government services to Canadians. CDS operates the Notify system, a service that allows government departments to send emails and text messages to people, at a low cost, and in just a few simple steps. Recognizing the power of this tool in communicating quickly with Canadians during COVID-19, CDS needed to quickly scale its Notify system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because it was built in the public cloud, CDS was able to very quickly scale the system from a level that was optimized to reach hundreds of thousands of Canadians to one that can send 10 million messages per day, with the potential for more.
Removing barriers to access work and school remotely
Across Canada, governments have acted swiftly to continue to deliver services to Canadians–and in some cases, like education, completely pivot delivery models in just a few weeks. Classes, in many places, are online for the rest of the school year.
Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning, Canada’s largest college, jumped into action quickly to get students online—and with access to the applications they need—during COVID-19. With the help of AWS Premier Partner Onica, a Rackspace Company, Humber is making it possible for students to access software that is typically only found on campus in computer labs available on any device from anywhere in the world. Within a few days, Onica and Humber were able to design, build, and test a production solution on AWS. Using Amazon AppStream 2,0, as many as 450 applications will be rolled out so that students may continue their studies remotely, with the most critical titles taking just days to set up.
Athabasca University (AU) completed its migration to the AWS Cloud this summer, becoming the first university in Canada to be fully in the cloud. The work allows AU to bend and flex according to the ever-changing needs of its diverse learners–something that’s never been more important than it is today. For example, as the realities of work from home hit amid COVID-19, the university was able to quickly scale its remote workforce by issuing reconfigured laptops to staff who needed them. Using Amazon WorkSpaces, a managed, secure desktop-as-a-service (DaaS) solution, workers were able to power on the laptop with immediate access to the applications they needed, making for a seamless transition.
D2L, a learning technology leader (based in Kitchener, On) has transformed the way millions of people learn online and in the classroom, and now with COVID-19 it is using its deep knowledge to help more people access learning. Scaling to meet the demand for its Brightspace platform has been seamless, across the five AWS Regions its leverages, to deliver remote instruction and to ensure continuity of learning globally in this critical time.
Empowering Virtual Healthcare
With strict social distancing measures in place, many Canadians are turning to virtual healthcare to receive medical assistance for non-COVID related issues. Ontario Health (OTN), is one of the world’s largest virtual care networks. Ontario Health (OTN) has seen their active users increase 150 percent since 2018. In March, they went from an average of 3,800 events and 8,000 participants to 9,000 events and 17,000+ participants with 1,900+ concurrent virtual visits during peak hours. This was five times the pre-March 2020 volumes.OTN has been able to scale its capacity in the cloud to meet the rising demand. Adding Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) instances to automate network capacity provisioning and reduce the time required to manage day-to-day IT activities has made it possible to maintain 24×7 access to its users.
In British Colombia, Medimap is rolling out a new service that leverages its existing network of walk-in clinics to now connect patients across the province with an available clinic doctor over a secure video call running on AWS. This service is free for B.C. patients with valid Medical Services Plan (MSP) coverage. With secure messaging, audio, and video available through the Medimap platform, doctors can provide a variety of services including COVID-19 advice and prescription refills, without requiring patients to leave their homes for an initial consultation.
Canadian healthcare startups are also rising to the challenge by developing quick and easy-to-use virtual healthcare solutions for hospitals and clinics, which are currently not accepting walk-in patients due to already overburdened resources. For example, Ottawa-based startup Aetonix – makers of aTouchAway, a mobile communications platform designed to help connect families, healthcare providers, and those receiving care–used their cloud-based platform to pivot its services to help in the wake of COVID-19. The company is now offering free virtual screening services for COVID-19 to a number of client hospitals and clinics–all of which were made possible because its cloud-native solution allowed for quick retooling and capacity expansion. Aetonix staff are now completely focused on supporting the care and delivery of resources specific to COVID-19.
Driving Research and Diagnostics
Technology also plays a significant role in the detection and research of COVID-19, creating better diagnostic tests to aid in the treatment and containment of the disease. Recognizing this, AWS launched the AWS Diagnostic Development Initiative to support customers in Canada and globally who are working to bring better, more accurate, diagnostics solutions to market faster and promote better collaboration across organizations that are working on similar problems. The initial investment of USD$20 million is to accelerate diagnostic research, innovation, and development to speed our collective understanding and detection of COVID-19 and other innovative diagnostic solutions to mitigate future infectious disease outbreaks. Funding will be provided through a combination of AWS in-kind credits and technical support to assist our customers’ research teams in harnessing the full potential of the cloud to tackle this challenge.
One project funded by this new initiative is taking place right here in Canada. At the newly opened Cloud Innovation Center (CIC) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) researchers from the CIC and Vancouver General Hospital are using AWS Cloud technology to develop an open-source Artificial Intelligence (AI) model to identify if someone has COVID-19 based on CT scans and chest X-rays. The beta model has been released, open-source, and accessible to AI researchers and healthcare providers worldwide to help identify the unique CT patterns of COVID-19 in patients, and hopefully extract new insights into this disease.
With all these changes – many invented out of necessity – it’s clear that post-pandemic, citizens, and employee expectations are likely to be different. The cloud is going to continue to play a big part in shaping all of our futures.