CANARIE User Forum focuses on the future of Canadian Digital Research

By Christopher Kyle, Research Associate, GeoSensor Web Lab, University of Calgary

My fellow colleague at the University of Calgary, James Badger, and I were given the opportunity to attend the annual CANARIE Users' Forum this past October in Ottawa, ON, on behalf of the GeoCENS team (our project benefits from access to the CANARIE network through Cybera).

Although neither of us had attended a CANARIE User Forum before, it was made clear that this year was a little different. Heavy focus was placed on what we, as users of the network, wished to see in the future as CANARIE's five-year mandate is scheduled to end in 2012, and CANARIE is looking to renew its mission.

Dr. Gilles Patry delivered a "state of the union" styled keynote highlighting CANARIE's achievements over the past year, and laying out changes to come. One of the key points was that there would be a push to move from supporting projects directly, to supporting communities, which in turn should aid larger research areas as a whole. On the physical network side of things, which is CANARIE's main reason for existing, Patry indicated that traffic growth is expected to exceed current capacity in roughly three years. Continued upgrades to the network are needed if Canada is to attract top research talent from around the world.

During the networking receptions, James and I met fellow westerners from Saskatchewan who where working on astrophysics research. I had hoped to also meet some of the people working for the NEPTUNE Canada project, but was unable to track anyone down. (It would have been great to ask someone in person if we could gain access to data stream feeds from the many instruments they have located out on the sea floor. Getting more data and users for the GeoCENS project is an ongoing effort here in our lab. If you are involved in NEPTUNE, please feel free to get in touch to discuss this further!)

The breakout sessions James and I attended looked at "Technology Innovation" and "Commercialization of ICT". The "Technology Innovation" session focused a lot on developing middleware that would allow for better leveraging of the CANARIE network and infrastructure. Some of the main issues were: Who would be responsible for developing this middleware and at what level it should be geared? With so many different types of research activities using the CANARIE network, it is difficult to come up with a middleware layer that is not too domain-specific and is tailored to solve specific problems inherent to one given domain of research. Developing more of a Platform as a Service (PaaS) seems to be a good idea to allow individual projects to tackle domain-specific questions themselves.

At my table, in the "Commercialization of ICT" session, I was fortunate enough to sit next to Mark Wolff, Senior Director of Technology Innovation for CANARIE. He is directly overseeing the DAIR (Digital Accelerator for Innovation and Research) project run by CANARIE. With DAIR focused on aiding SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), the table was filled with both researchers and industry reps. Projects ranged from our Sensor Web Enablement (SWE) GeoCENS Portal, to an effort by the city of Magog, Quebec, to connect fibre to every home in town – thus solving the "last mile" problem. We discussed DAIR's future plans and what we would like them to include, but with DAIR's pilot project ending in March 2012, we will have to wait and see how it evolves.

Overall it was nice to have direct interaction with so many people from the CANARIE team and other projects that share the CANARIE network. I'm sure our feedback will be a great asset for CANARIE as it moves forward to its next mandate.

As researchers who have benefited from CANARIE's high-speed network and support services, the GeoCENS' team feels strongly about the importance of this organization continuing its mission. We therefore encourage others to show their support of CANARIE through written letters addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ministers Flaherty, Clement and Paradis. Feel free to contact your local MP as well.

This blog was co-written by James Badger €” Research Associate, GeoSensor Web Lab, University of Calgary