CANARIE is taking its biggest step in recent years to re-engage with the business community and help to revive the flagging information and communications technology (ICT) sector with the launch of its Digital Accelerator for Innovation and Research (DAIR). DAIR is an innovation test bed aimed at giving small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to cloud computing resources for building their businesses.
CANARIE has awarded a $1-million contract to a consortium of high-performance and networking organizations to provide research computing and data storage services for DAIR, which is slated to launch this spring. The CANARIE board of directors has authorized up to $3 million for the DAIR pilot.
The consortium is led by Compute Canada and Alberta-based Cybera in conjunction with the Univ of Sherbrooke, Univ of Alberta and Hydro-Quebec. Called C5 (CyberaCompute/Calcul Canada Cloud), the consortium is a key component in CANARIE's commitment to the forthcoming Digital Economy Strategy (DES).
Cybera is the operator of Alberta's CyberaNet and project manager for the Univ of Alberta's WestGrid High Performance Computing (HPC) facility. New hardware will be installed at the U of A and Univ of Sherbrooke while DAIR's software will be developed by Cybera's team in Edmonton.
"I believe the demand is there. We are running it as a pilot to answer that question with certainty," says CANARIE president and CEO Jim Roche. "We asked the ICT sector how we can leverage the CANARIE network for the benefit of ICT and many companies said they don't have the ability to test products in a live network environment. It's mainly cloud computing and applications but it's also communications equipment."
DAIR allows CANARIE to hive off a portion of its research network for commercial use without interfering with the networking activities of academic researchers. While other nations have developed test beds for private sector experimentation in the past, DAIR uses newer networking equipment and technologies and is the only one mainly devoted to cloud computing.
The widespread availability of high-speed, highly scalable connectivity has made cloud computing highly attractive to many large firms including Amazon, Google and Netflix, which have modeled their entire businesses on cloud computing. SMEs often don't have the resources to experiment with cloud computing and DAIR is intended to provide them with the networking tools and environment they need to develop new products.
"Cloud computing can give SMEs amazing leverage. They can add and scale capacity as they need it to respond to the demand curve," says Cybera president and CEO Robin Winsor. "Government science policy is becoming more relevant to the economic life of Canada."
"Cloud computing is here in a big way and we want to make sure Canadian companies have a competitive advantage with DAIR," says Roche.
The C5 consortium includes Hydro-Québec, which will be attached to DAIR's Univ of Sherbrooke node. Its research arm — Hydro-Québec Research Institute (IREQ) —owns and operates an HPC data centre and has been engaged in HPC R&D since 2007. IREQ will contribute staff time and hardware to the project as well as an extra node for experimentation — a cloud sandbox on which new configurations can be tested before entering production.