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Published: July 3rd, 2014

At a time when researchers in Canada are increasingly becoming dependent on advanced computing (AC), the country is falling behind in investing on the much needed resource and the lack of access to AC plagues many researchers, according to a recent report.

As many as 80 per cent of respondents to a survey carried out by the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), a high-speed optical research, education and innovation network, reported “a current shortage of or a significant current constraint” in AC resource. The report said the lack of access to AC cause research groups approximately one day per week or the equivalent of about 20 per cent of their productive time.

Representatiives of no less than 50 of the leading research groups from seven Ontario universities and research institutions were queried for the Needs and Opportunities for Advanced Computing in Ontario study conducted by ORION.

ORION, which was established in 2002, is a publicly funded research and education community that helps drive innovation in Ontario and provides high-speed network capability to 21 cities throughout the province. The network is interested in AC because ORION connects universities, research hospitals and research institutions and all of them use or will use AC.


(How reserachers use advanced computing and the outputs associated with its use)

“Nearly all modern research has come to rely on advanced computing,” said Darin Graham, president of ORION. “It’s absolutely vital that we explore solutions to support current and future demand, in order to ensure Ontario remains competitive on ground breaking research well into the future.”

ORION defines advanced computing as any specialist IT software or hardware not widely available to the general public and typically requires expertise of highly qualified personnel (HQP) to use and support it. Traditional AC includes HPC. However, most current research do not is high-performance computing but rely on other methods such as large-scale storage, virtualization, departmental clusters or specialist desktop computing systems, according to ORION.

“A large majority of researchers interviewed use AC on a daily or regular basis and most research relies on AC services,” the report said. “…When asked about their access to AC (including infrastructure, such as hardware and software, as well as expertise and HQP), only 20 per cent of research teams said that it was currently sufficient to meet their research needs.”

In story advanced computing needs

Insufficient access to AC infrastructure and service limits or constrain most research “and in many cases is a significant impediment,” according to the report.

ORION’s recommendations include:

  • Greater investment in advanced computing and personnel resources should be sought through means such as provincial shared services, cloud computing, or a combination of local and cloud computing, and data management
  • A broad-based provincial strategy should be implemented in order to develop highly-qualified personnel and connect researchers to existing expertise
  • Information about advanced computing support and services in the province should be made more accessible, ideally through a dedicated website.

“Despite this obvious need for increased advanced computing architecture, Canada’s investment in this resource has fluctuated widely over the years,” said Graham. He said a large number of other reports and studies conclude that Canada is falling behind in investments in AC infrastructure, particularly HPC.

View the full report here