Canvas in China

A statement from Instructure regarding Canvas in China (3/25/2020)

Chinese regulations, and security measures around internet content, can be problematic for Non-Chinese based entities. We have seen many software companies attempt to enter the Chinese market and quickly extract themselves (Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc). Many companies, including some of the aforementioned, have had to augment their business model in order to meet the requirements specific for operations within China, some of which include:

  • establishing a business entity in China
  • secure a Chinese business partner,
  • releasing source code
  • provide backdoors for the Chinese government
  • locate all source material within China

So, despite Canvas' core product being built to meet the requirements of China's Golden Shield, and Instructure establishing an AWS presence closer (Singapore) to China, the ability to operate within "the Great Wall" comes down to a business operations decision and a level of "openness" Instructure has not committed to at this point.

Historically, many Canvas users have had some success (with some performance limitations based on IP throttling, not imposed by Canvas/AWS), and even greater success leveraging VPN services. However, recently, we have seen some of those loopholes being closed, but it is intermittent reporting based on how the Golden Shield operates. It could be a temporary 'outage,' or something more permanent...we don't ever know.

With all of that, there are some common tools that Canvas users frequently leverage that are blocked within Canvas, and would change the user experience depending on how stateside courses are being built and leveraged within Canvas. These include: 

  • Google Docs
  • Google APIs
  • Facebook
  • Dropbox
  • YouTube
  • All LTI tools

Our Engineering and DevOps teams are currently exploring building out Canvas infrastructure in mainland China. 

We currently have a handful of clients using Canvas to serve users in mainland China, with mixed results. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it's slow (unusably slow, at times), and sometimes certain components appear completely blocked or unresponsive. These outcomes are consistent with what we've heard and observed about other educational services hosted outside of mainland China that attempt to serve users within its borders.

For the time being, we are taking smaller steps that may incrementally improve performance for Canvas users within mainland China, including adjusting content delivery network resources and locating Canvas accounts that serve mainland-China users on our infrastructure in the Singapore AWS region.