Ontario universities look to ORION for disaster recovery

TORONTO — Ontario universities Tuesday said they will be taking more advantage of the ORION network for applications like videoconferencing, but also to share the workload of back-up and disaster recovery.

The Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) is one of the world’s

largest optical research networks and links 43 post-secondary institutions in the province.

While its raison d’etre is collaboration and distributed computing, ORION could be harnessed as a tool to meet the disaster recovery needs of learning institutions.

York University in Toronto, for example, is currently investigating this possibility. The university’s CIO, Bob Gagne, said that problems like the blackout that struck much of Ontario last year were a wake-up call. “”We’ve all begun to learn about the criticality of some of our applications.””

Gagne was one of several university-based IT professionals that spoke Tuesday at the Ontario R&E Summit organized by ORION.

“”If you want to build in resistance, I think there’s an opportunity to use ORION for that,”” he said.

With the network, universities could use each other’s facilities for remote back-up through virtual tape, disk-to-disk mirroring or server co-location. There is a potential for collaboration “”at the kinds of cost structures that we’re actually able to bear,”” said Gagne.

He said the university will engage consultants to investigate the feasibility of these methods.

Barry Brock, director of IT services at Algonquin College in Ottawa, said consultants have assessed his situation as “”risky.”” The college houses its nerve centre in one computer room. Should anything happen to that room, “”I’m dead in the water,”” said Brock.

He said the room has been fine for almost 30 years, but there’s always the remote possibility that a flood — or a fire-suppressing sprinkler system — could put the room and its vital equipment in peril.

A co-location agreement with another regional institution could put some of those fears to rest, he said. Algonquin uses the Ottawa Regional Advanced Network (ORAN), which connects the city’s universities, schools, hospitals and municipal sites. It’s also Algonquin’s access point to ORION.

“”I don’t think most of us (post-secondary institutions) can afford to have 100 per cent redundancy,”” said Brock, but he’d like to approach it.

Bob Angell, director of the Communications Technology Resource Centre at Lakehead University, said he’s already there. Lakehead, in Thunder Bay, Ont., is flush with cash due to grants from the SuperBuild project and stipends specific to development in Northern Ontario, he said.

The university has two buildings for back-up, he said, adding that Lakehead has capital to provide for such facilities but not necessarily enough operating budget to support them all. A project to install an IP network took a year to get off the ground and had numerous growing pains, he said. “”There’s always a penalty in bleeding edge technology, but there’s also a bonus.””

Lakehead now runs on completely IP-based telephony, and through the ORION network, also runs the back-up needs and IP telephony of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont.

The university is investigating more collaborative uses of ORION like videoconferencing and more online learning. It is also developing a virtual reality centre, which could conceivably be shared with remote locations over ORION.

Algonquin is also aiming to offer more online learning, said Brock. The college currently has 10 per cent of its learning hours online, and plans to double that by 2006.

An increased reliance on online learning also means that the university’s network requires 24×7 uptime, said Brock, since students could be accessing the lessons at any hour of the night or day.

Gagne noted that as more applications like these are available online, disaster recovery takes on a more critical role. “”The acceptable downtime and recovery requirements are shrinking rapidly.””

He said that York University should know more about using ORION as a disaster recovery tool once its initial findings are completed this fall.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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