Universities ramp up online collaboration

A group of Canadian post-secondary institutions have formed a consortium to see how they could adopt high-speed network technology to collaborate over long distances and exchange content.

Since Monday, a camera has been trained on a scene shot from the sixth floor of the Ontario College of Art and Design‘s (OCAD) Sharp Centre, looking west over Grange Park and the skyline of the west end of Toronto. This shot is being transmitted over Internet Protocol (IP) in dual sets of data at 25 Mbps, for a combined 50 Mbps to Concordia University and Simon Fraser University. Together, the schools hope to evaluate the results over a 72-hour period and see how they might make better use of high-definition video and networks such as ORION, which is carrying the transmission. BCnet in British Columbia and RISQ in Québec, are also interconnecting over CAnet 4, Canada’s R&E network backbone, as part of the project.

Officials from OCAD got the idea for the experiment about a year ago while attending a conference hosted by the New World Symphony Orchestra in Miami. There, the orchestra was using open source Digital Video Transport System software and standard digital video cameras to teach “master classes” between musicians and high-level instructors in remote locations.

“Their requirements were that they wanted something that had very good video quality with extremely low latency,” said Andrew McAllister, OCAD’s manager of digital studios. “They wanted absolute pristine audio quality, no echo cancellation or infinitely controllable cancellation.”

This was just around the time HD cameras were starting to hit the market, McAllister said, and U.S. schools were showing great enthusiasm for the technology. OCAD, SFU and Concordia want to generate the same enthusiasm here.

“It’s not necessarily about sticking with a particular piece of technology. It’s more of a community-building exercise and using the technology to understand what best suits our needs,” he said.

OCAD director of IT services Alastair MacLeod said the consortium will be looking at conducting a similar experiment next fall, hopefully involving more institutions. Although the experiment has identified a number of software and network-related glitches, he said the school envisions guest lectures and other special events transmitted in HD.

“I’m hoping this puts a stake in the ground,” he said. “What we’re involved with here is generating a lot of content, whether that’s audio, visual or a lot of other formats.”

The interest from such users is driving networks like ORION to upgrade. Last week, for example, ORION finished off a project to increase its span from about 4,300 km to about 5,800 km, using 320 km of fibre from North Bay to Peterborough and from St. Catharines to London. It will allow new rural communities, including Orillia and Huntsville, to join the network and will support transport capacities ranging from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps. ORION chose JDSU’s WaveReady DWDM (Dense Wave Division Multiplexing) optical gear for the upgrade.

“There is a much larger use of video-related applications now,” said Sam Mokbel, ORION’s director of engineering and network operations. “Research use is also much more than we anticipated. The researchers find the network available, convenient, and it offers services they cannot get from the commercial sectors.”

Other members of the consortium include the Banff New Media Institute, the University of Regina, University of Calgary and the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design in British Columbia.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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