Ontario gets straight As

The Province of Ontario has announced plans to build out one of the largest optical networks for its research and education institutions and has called upon a Canadian giant to get the ball rolling.

Last month, the Optical Regional Advanced Network for Ontario (ORANO) signed a $25 million deal with Bell Canada and its partners, including HydroOne Telecom, Cisco Systems Ltd. and Nortel Networks to deliver optical fibre and equipment for the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION), which will provide a high-speed link between the province’s major education and research facilities.

The ORION network is set to span 3,700 kilometres and connect 21 communities through 8,200 kilometres of optical fibre, bringing with it the capabilities of Canada’s Advanced Internet Development Organization’s (CANARIE) CA*net4, the national research network. ORION will also offer wavelength capacities of 10Gbps up to 320Gbps using Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM) transmission capabilities and Layer 3 routing to support real-time high-bandwidth applications such as grid computing.

“The idea of a high-speed provincial education network has been around for years,” said Phil Baker, president and CEO of ORANO in Toronto, who cited recent suggestions from the Ontario Jobs and Investment Review Board as the impetus for the buildout. “What we are doing is extending to all our colleges and universities and publicly funded research organizations access to CANARIE as well as other research networks, as well as amongst themselves.”

With its vision clear, ORANO issued two separate RFPs last year for the project: one for fibre and the other for optical and routing equipment. In both cases Bell Canada was awarded the contract with the help of HydroOne for the fibre build, Nortel long-haul optical gear and Cisco routing, resulting in a “very good combination” according to ORANO’s Baker.

“Bell has a very strong alignment with the goals of ORANO and the province in terms of wanting to drive sophisticated research and education infrastructure in Ontario, said Paul Howarth, general manager of sales and engineering for Bell in Toronto. “We got involved because really we have a lot of experience building optical networks and our key role will be to leverage our corporate intelligence and our massive buying power as a very large telecommunications carrier to deal with all the different suppliers that needed to be brought to the table.”

ORANO said it has high hopes for what ORION will bring to Ontario’s research and education facilities including more high-end research projects such as the Shark Net project at the University of Western Ontario, which also involves several other institutions.

“What they are doing is creating a distributed computing cluster,” Baker explained. “For this they need very high bandwidth capacity. We fit the bill.”

But it is not only the high-end projects that ORION will benefit. Baker explained that ORION’s capacity will also enable colleges and universities to connect at gigabit Ethernet connections, allowing for real-time videoconferencing and quick access to multimedia resources.

A challenge that lies ahead is getting the content resources on board, he explained. For example, he referred to a high-speed local network in the Windsor, called WedNet, which links the University of Windsor with St. Claire College and some of the libraries within the region.

“What this allows is students to access the multimedia libraries within each facility,” he said, “When you step this up to a higher level, when you do have those resources available, if you are a student elsewhere, you should have access to resources held by other institutions. Those are examples of where we want to go.”

The build out of the ORION network is underway, and is expected to near completion in April of this year. Visit www.orano.ca for more information.