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Building Canada's Infrastructure

Big Data Means Bigger, and Better, Infrastructure

Binary in lights superimposed on a cityscape
Binary in lights superimposed on a cityscape

Dr. Ferindun Hamdullahpur been the Chair of the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure (LCDRI) since 2015.

Mediaplanet: How are organizations such as LCDRI embracing innovation and planning for the future?

Feridun Hamdullahpur: Digital research infrastructure (DRI) is already reshaping how we perform research, allowing us to tap into the potential for unprecedented breakthroughs across all academic disciplines.

Organizations like the LCDRI are embracing innovation by tapping into a coalition of national organizations with an interest in DRI. Only through a broad outreach of analysis and experiences can we see what the current state of DRI is in Canada and where improvements can be made.

Planning for the future at the LCDRI has been a collaboration on a national plan for DRI with a goal to ensure that Canadian researchers can exploit and realize the opportunities that new technologies—such as advanced cybersecurity technologies and the Internet of Things— and data offer by providing DRI infrastructure and services that are coordinated across a diffuse delivery environment with institutions, regional/provincial/national/ international organizations, and discipline-specific communities all having a role.

The strength and impact of our research opportunities are certainly dependent on our researchers having the tools they need to succeed on a global stage and a strong DRI is at the top of the list of needs.

How are organizations like LCDRI aiding in developing a strong foundation for analyzing big data?

Analyzing and leveraging the power of big data is emerging as a fundamental need for countless disciplines and industries, and its use will impact everything from health care to education. The ability of researchers to analyze much of the big data that new technologies can now generate requires access to a strong, agile, and sustainable DRI ecosystem that delivers both infrastructure and services through its five core components: network, advanced research computing (ARC), data management, advanced research software, and storage.

The LCDRI is working with the federal government to ensure that this ecosystem at the national level is adequately funded and supported, and also helping guide decision makers on where the greatest needs and opportunities are in developing a strong foundation.

How does a deep understanding of Digital Infrastructure, allow us to improve data solutions, efficiency and decision making?

Just as digital technologies are fundamentally reshaping our world and changing the way that we do business, communicate with one another, and solve problems in our day to day lives, it is having a transformative impact on research.

First, new technologies such as ARC (computing that goes far beyond the capacity of the desktop computer), quantum, connected systems and advanced research software are allowing researchers to work faster, smarter, and more collaboratively. Calculations that used to take three months, can now take less than three hours and experimental approaches such as crash tests and emergency flight maneuvers that were too costly, dangerous, or impossible to undertake can now be simulated.

Second, digital technologies are creating vast amounts of data at an explosive rate. This data can be harnessed for solving some of the most complex questions and challenges facing humankind. However, if this data is not managed properly and researchers are not supported in their use of it, we can find ourselves data rich, but information poor, losing all of the promise and potential that data can offer.

We are only at the cusp of understanding what these new technologies will mean to our research community, but the growth lines are clearly demonstrating that having access to these powerful research technologies and supports will be critical to Canada’s future — just as access to the web and a desktop computer are now.

The research projects of many of Canada’s top researchers are already dependent on DRI.  In addition to allowing us to tap the potential for unprecedented breakthrough across all academic disciplines, it is essential to Canada’s ability to remain globally competitive and part of critical international research collaborations. It is also a foundational element for ensuring that Canada continues to have the young talent and technology that it needs to participate fully in today’s knowledge economy.

The ability of researchers to analyze much of the big data that new technologies can now generate requires access to a strong, agile, and sustainable DRI ecosystem that delivers both infrastructure and services.

How does Digital Infrastructure provide a foundation for companies to succeed?

Universities like the University of Waterloo are leveraging DRI as an essential tool in their research effort, but companies and organizations across Canada also have begun to tap this resource to improve their bottom lines and build more offerings to customers and those they serve. Not only does it allow them to analyze business data to improve performance, it provides them with a powerful tool for undertaking research and development more efficiently.

Canadian businesses are competing on a global stage that requires us to stay ahead of the curve and as more industries around the world continue to be disrupted by the knowledge economy, a sound and evolving DRI will become an essential business tool for generations to come.

With the concentration of expertise and infrastructure located within universities, businesses of all sizes and industries are finding it advantageous to partner with research intensive institutions to increase the potential for successful and impactful outcomes for both parties.

As data and infrastructure slowly become integrated into one, there will be a great need for network, software and hardware solutions to organize and analyse the massive amounts of data being gathered by infrastructure networks. How are we preparing for such changes? How is the University preparing their students to embrace innovation and be ready for the work place of the future?

We are preparing for the combination of data and infrastructure by building partnerships and laying the groundwork, not for solving today’s problem, but the one 5, 10, 15 years down the road.

The University of Waterloo instills in its students an adaptability to change. More than 21,000 of our 31,000 students experience this shift throughout their academic careers during their co-operative education jobs. They come back to campums after a co-op job with new knowledge and new experiences, and combine it with the advances in research being pioneered by their professors. After two years of real work experience and their degrees, creates a virtuous cycle that builds talented and resilient graduates who become life-long learners. They are confident, entrepreneurial and ready for the changes and opportunities waiting in an increasingly disruptive global landscape.

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