Canarie plans expansion of pan-Canadian research network

Canarie has reached a deal with Rogers Telecom Inc. that could see dozens of Canadian research sites connected to the CA(*)net 4 network over the next few years.

Canarie, a not-for-profit funded by Industry Canada operates CA(*)net 4, a broadband network used by government departments, universities, health care providers and other institutions to share research and data. Canarie’s aim is to expand that network to be as inclusive as possible.

Canarie issued an RFP for the network expansion in April, calling for new wavelengths for the CA backbone and some local loop requirements for its provincial partners commonly known as ORANs (optical regional advanced networks).

The government departments that could benefit from the proposed expansion include Natural Resources Canada, the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and Environment Canada.

Canarie is developing connection plans with the labs in the affected departments, said Andrew Bjerring, president and CEO of Canarie. “Each (plan) is going to have to be tailored to the needs of the federal labs,” he said. The NRC, for example, is aiming to use CA(*)net 4 as a connector that would link its facilities across the country in shared network.

The RFP for the work, which includes installing light and dark fibre and the provision of other network services, was issued before Rogers Telecom Inc. was established. That company is the result of Rogers Communications Inc.’s acquisition of Sprint Canada which officially closed in July. Sprint Canada went through its own acquisition deal a year earlier when it bought Group Telecom. Canarie has worked with all three companies and much of its national network was originally on a Group Telecom infrastructure.

Since the infrastructure has changed hands several times through acquisition, ensuring continuity of service is a prime concern, said Philippe Sicotte, vice-president of sales for Eastern Canada for Rogers Telecom.

“Through all acquisitions, you grow with experience,” said Sicotte. “I think the one thing that’s important is to ensure that communication is open and that we are in front of the client explaining what has been going on and making sure that what has been agreed prior is still in effect today. . . . That’s key in every merger or acquisition.”

The deal with Rogers is helping to build bridges between Canadian telecom providers and the nation’s research institutions, said Bill St. Arnaud, senior director of network projects for Canarie.

“This is really the first time we’ve seen a really good response from the carriers in general to providing dark fibre,” he said. “It’s always been very difficult for them in the past. Now a lot of carriers like Rogers are recognizing the importance that customers are placing on this and they’re now willing to offer these types of facilities in the marketplace.”

However, the scope of the Rogers deal with Canarie has not been finalized. “It’s yet to be seen how big this particular contract will be,” said Bjerring. Canarie has earmarked $10 million towards the network expansion. Some of that amount will go to Rogers while other portions could be used by the ORANs for future contracts that will be determined at their discretion.

There’s a list of research sites across the country vying to be connected to CA*net 4, but the NRC’s Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics – which has facilities in Victoria and Penticton, B.C. – could be first, said Bjerring. “The network, of course, will enable them to collect (astrophysics) data in the first place but then enable them to make it available to the astronomical community around the world.”

Canarie aims to get started on the network expansion in the next few months. Howard Stanley, government solutions manager for Rogers Telecom, said, “We’re hoping to have the first five or six (sites) done before Christmas. Then there would be potentially tens of others in 2006.

“It’s highly likely that you could see another 30 to 40 institutions over the next 18 months.”

Bjerring added that Canarie aims to finish the arrangements by March 31, 2007, since that’s the window for the $10 million in funding.

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