New Brunswick institutions launch research grid

Academics and researchers in New Brunswick now have access to more bandwidth thanks to a new fibre-optic network built by Group Telecom Services Corp.

The new gigabit Ethernet grid will connect universities and research bodies around the province to a nation-wide grid dubbed CA*net — a high-speed network devoted entirely to the academic community.

The seven-year, $11.4 million deal with Group Telecom was partially funded by Canarie Inc., a non-profit, national organization dedicated to accelerating the adoption of high-speed Internet connections. Other financial contributors include the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, N.B./P.E.I Educational Computer Network Members, the Province of New Brunswick, the New Brunswick Optical Regional Advanced Network and the Prince Edward Island Optical Regional Advanced Network.

Since CA*net was built 14 years ago, it has gone through numerous upgrades and is now on its fourth incarnation, CA*net 4, which was constructed by Group Telecom

New Brunswick’s new grid will be connected to CA*net 4 and to organizations in Prince Edward Island. Since CA*net 4 has only one point of presence in each province, it is up to the provinces to extend Canarie’s grid throughout their own territory, said Greg Sprague, project manager, privacy, security and trust, Institute for Information Technology at the National Research Council (NRC) in Fredericton. Sprague is on secondment from the University of New Brunswick. for the next three years to the NRC and is also the New Brunswick representative to Canarie.

Before this new grid was built, research institutions in New Brunswick were connected by a 30Gbps network through which they also accessed the CA*net 4 node at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. As a result, the further an organization was from the node, the slower its connection to CA*net 4. The academic institutions also shared the 30Gbps with the province’s some 20,000 university students, which increased the strain on the network.

This new grid is 30 to 40 per cent faster than the previous network and it will have multiple points of presence in New Brunswick, including locations at each campus of the province’s universities. These nodes include the University of New Brunswick, St. Thomas University, Mount Allison University, and the University of Moncton, as well as the Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission and at research centres such as the NRC, Sprague said.

The grid network is open to any research organization, including hospitals, private companies, museums and municipalities, he added.

“Today, to do research you need access to high-speed networks,” Sprague said. “Research is no longer about one person by themselves sitting in a lab somewhere. Today most research is about e-science, it’s about collaboration.”

For example, an expert on icebergs would work with other experts around the world by sharing large amounts of data transferred across high-bandwidth networks from disparate geographic locations.

This type of collaboration wasn’t possible for New Brunswick researchers with its 30Gbps network, making it difficult for the province to attract top talent to its universities because the new generation of tech-savvy professors want to have access to high-speed networks, Sprague said.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island aren’t the only provinces with high-speed grids. Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia have also built their own provincial grids, Sprague said. These grids are all built in partnership with Canarie.

CA*net 4 also has nodes in Chicago, New York, and Seattle. The node in New York connects CA*net 4 with European grids, while the node in Seattle connects CA*net 4 to Asian research grids. Andrew Bjerring, president and CEO of Canarie in Ottawa, said CA*net 4 has also been asked to provide a means for countries in Asia to connect to grids in Europe.

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