The Canadian cyberinfrastructure challenge

Canada needs to get its act together on cyberinfrastructure.

That was the blunt truth Walter Stewart laid out for an audience of about 50 people at his BCNET / CANARIE 2010 Conference session titled "A Strategy for Cyberinfrastructure in Canada '€“ An Update." To clarify, he wasn't saying that important Canadian cyberinfrastructure development isn't taking already taking place '€” in fact, he commended the work that's been done to date by key groups across the country (the Grid Research Centre, a Cybera partner and University of Calgary research group, being among those getting a nod for its proactive work). Stewart's point was that greater emphasis needs to be placed on identifying and filling the gaps that currently exist within the nation's cyberinfrastructure framework. We have "an absolute paranoia for duplication and an infinite tolerance for gaps," he said. Sounds very Canadian '€“ afraid to step on someone's toes'€¦willing to accept a lower standard. But lagging behind the rest of the world in research and innovation is NOT something we want categorized as "typically Canadian". Hence Stewart's call to action.

CUCCIOCompute Canada and CANARIE have already initiated a response to this call. Following the CANARIE Users' Forum in Banff, AB last October (co-located with Summit 09, a joint event presented by Cybera, CANARIE, Open Grid Forum, and IEEE) the three nationally-focused organizations have come together to support a joint vision for establishing a formalized Canadian cyberinfrastructure strategy. The groups have since established working committees, agreed upon working definitions of key terms (ie. HPC, cloud computing, grid computing, etc.), and begun work on creating a Canadian cyberinfrastructure vision for 2015. In his session today, Stewart shared some of the key decisions and action items that have emerged from this work to date. One of the biggest "To Dos" on this action item list is to work towards creating a "one-stop-shop" for researcher funding, support resources, and singular application processes. Stewart called this "Research Canada". Likely a placeholder name, but still…it has a nice ring to it. At the same time, Stewart noted, new opportunities are emerging to raise the profile of cyberinfrastructure within Canada's research and innovation landscape. The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) will have a new CEO '€” Gilles Patry '€” as of July 1, and, as Stewart notes, Patry will have a busy initial few weeks as groups compete for securing CFI mindshare. Also, as Industry Canada implements its Science & Technology Strategy and Digital Economy Strategy, Stewart says it is essential that cyberinfrastructure be positioned as a key component within these plans.

Ultimately, creating this kind of change must fall onto the shoulders of individuals '€” as it usually does. On a national level, Stewart encouraged researchers to contact their granting councils with their needs. At a campus level, he encouraged researchers to make sure the university research offices and CIO offices also know of those needs. And at the most local level '€” within their labs and departments '€” Stewart said researchers should ensure their students are oriented to all the possibilities cyberinfrastructure integration and/or development can bring to their disciplines. Looking ahead, Stewart said that CUCCIO, Compute Canada and CANARIE remain committed to working together closely on this issue. The trio hopes to report additional progress on the issue at CANARIE Users' Forum 2010 in the fall (dates and location to be announced).

His parting words to the BCNET/CANARIE conference audience: "At the end of the day '€” like it or not '€” this is going to have to be a much more bottom up exercise than it has been to date."