Ontario universities establish super research network

In an effort to advance Ontario’s reputation as a research environment, the Optical Regional Advanced Network of Ontario (ORANO) has announced an agreement with the Shared Hierarchical

Academic Research Computing Network (SHARCNET)

The agreement will to provide a dedicated one-gigabit per second segment on the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), one of the largest optical research networks in the world. It is a 3,700-kilometer infrastructure that links 43 post-secondary institutions in Ontario and 50 publicly-funded research institutions and organizations through 21 connection points throughout the province. The agreement with SHARCNET enables the linkage of its three main computational sites: the University of Western Ontario in London, the University of Guelph and McMaster University in Hamilton.

For SHARCNET, the connection means that researchers will have greater access to distributed computational resources and will increase opportunities for collaboration. Lindsay Zajac, communications officer for SHARCNET at the University of Western Ontario, said that the ORION initiative will further promote multidisciplinary and inter-university research.

“”The sky’s the limit,”” she said. “”The computational power between the three sites means more computationally-intensive research is possible.””

Once the dedicated segment is completed between all of the locations, Zajac said that a Teraflop of computing power will be available to the three universities’ researchers. She predicts that by late fall, SHARCNET’s capacity will be ranked one of the top 50 or 60 worldwide and likely one of the top two in Canada.

“”Not only does SHARCNET try to facilitate research, but it serves as a platform for the testing of high-performance tools and techniques, and the network is one of these tools,”” she said. “”Right now, technical staff are working at benchmarking our systems and testing the tool to see the benefits of distributed clusters versus super computing.””

Phil Baker, president and CEO of ORANO, the not-for-profit organization that owns and operates the ORION network, said that the SHARCNET agreement is one of the many high-end research projects the organization is supporting.

“”It is a major priority for us to support, encourage and facilitate high-end research and education activities across Ontario in post-secondary and publicly-funded research institutions. We are the enablers of innovation and sophisticated research and education projects,”” Baker said.

According to Zajac, this network is only the tip of the iceberg for SHARCNET. The organization recently submitted proposals to add four Ontario-based institutions to the existing seven that are SHARCNET members. Besides the three universities linked through ORION, the University of Windsor, Wilfred Laurier University, Fanshawe College and Sheridan College are all SHARCNET partners, but the group hopes to include the University of Waterloo, York University, Brock University and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

“”The great thing about distributed computing is the access that researchers have to resources and expertise at different institutions. To see what could get done in terms of innovation with different kinds of researchers collaborating across a network is exciting,”” Zajac said.

Currently, the fibre between the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph is operational. The linking of McMaster University to the other two will be completed in time for benchmarking in the fall, Zajac said.

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