ORION to Bob Rae: Networks are an education priority

Ontario should recognize high-speed optical networks as a critical new infrastructure in the province’s post-secondary education system, the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network argued this week.

Members of ORION,

a network spanning 4,200 kilometres to 21 Ontario cities, made the submission to the Bob Rae Post-secondary Review Advisory Panel, which was announced this year to review the education system and recommend innovative ways in which institutions can provide the best education to students.

An advanced optical network has the ability to connect researchers, educators and students around the world via large-scale computational databases, said Phil Baker, president and CEO of Toronto-based ORION.

The formal recognition ORION seeks from the panel will help in two major ways, Baker explained. At the “”high end,”” it assists Ontario in keeping up with global leaders of optical networks, he said.

This is vital in ORION’s progress with efforts like SHARCNET, the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing Network, a high-performance computing institute available to 11 academic institutions in South-central Ontario, and the MaRS Centre, a Toronto-based complex aiming to bring together business and scientific communities under one roof.

Although ORION meets with companies across the province, it must develop a mechanism to do this more effectively, he said. “”Clearly, the major players like Nortel and Bell and others get out into the university community in particular . . . but many of the smaller folks don’t know what is going on and don’t have the resources to get out there.””

He said the intellectual property being developed in universities and colleges represent chances for tech companies to commercialize and market new technologies.

Jan Donio, CIO of the Council of Ontario Universities in Toronto, believes Ontario’s recognition of optical networks as critical infrastructure will mean less duplication in the province and better use of government resources.

For example, an institution investing in hardware and infrastructure to host an enterprise software solution may pay more than $100,000, Donio said. But four research centres sharing costs would each pay only $25,000.

Baker, meanwhile, is quick to point out the recognition of optical networks that ORION craves has little to do with money. “”We don’t need more funding at all. We have the network in place,”” he said.

Nor is he concerned about difficulties discussing optical networks with non-IT members of Rae’s panel. He said people understand the world is changing, and the Web has made a significant difference. “”We can support real-time interactive research and educational collaborations. We really need to take advantage of it.””

Ontario is not alone in its development of these networks. Baker said there’s an increasing number of research networks around the world as people realize this is critical infrastructure for innovation and growth.

Réseau d’informations scientifiques du Québec was one of the early leaders in acquiring fibre for its research and education network, but lacks Ontario’s 4,200-kilometre capacity, he said.

In Northern California, Corporation for Education Network Initiatives in California began acquiring fibre some time ago and is rolling it out across the state.

“”Our colleagues in New York are just rolling out a fibre infrastructure across the state of New York, so they’re not where we’re at today.””

In Michigan, fibre is being deployed between major public universities, but he added optical network operators there lag ORION.

Although Ohio is “”claiming to be No. 1 in the world . . . they’re not as extensive as us in reaching the numbers of institutions,”” he explained. “”And they’re only looking at OC48 bandwidth. We’re up at OC192 among our institutions.””

He added Holland-based SURFnet — which connects the networks of universities, colleges, research centres, academic hospitals and scientific libraries in Holland to one another, and to others in Europe and the rest of the world — is one of the global leaders.

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