Ontario researchers falling behind in access to computing, says study

Ontario researchers don’t have the advanced computing resources they need, says a report commissioned by team looking into the future compute requirements in the province.

Eighty per cent per cent of the researchers questioned said current resources aren’t sufficient to meet their research needs, the report said. It estimates that researchers are losing approximately one day of productivity per week due to compute and personnel constraints.

Big data, cloud computing and the interdependence of the healthcare and bioinformatics R&D are having their effects, the report says.

“Researchers’ dependence on advanced computing is rapidly increasing,” sais the report, to the point where nearly all modern research requires it. While high performance computing is used by only s small fraction of researchers, there’s a greater need for what it calls adaptable and on-demand computing.

In addition, there’s a shortage of IT personnel to support researchers’ effective use of advanced computing systems.

“In Ontario, there is a complex and often confusing checkerboard of entities and organizations providing AC support and services, including networking, storage, computing and applications support,” says the report. “Few manage to navigate this confusing landscape successfully.”

The report puts a broad definition of advanced computing, which it says covers any specialized IT technology not widely available to the public, which not only includes high performance computing but also large-scale storage and departmental compute clusters as well as highly-trained personnel (everyone from systems adminstrators to data analysts) to help researchers.

Help could come from sharing compute resources with the province — which is in tight financial position itself — cloud computing, or a combination of local and cloud computing, and data management, the report says.

It also calls on the province to create a broad-based strategy to develop highly-qualified personnel and connect researchers to existing expertise, and to tout the advanced computing support and services in the province, ideally through a dedicated website.

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

Ontario has three important computing centres: the High Performance Computing Virtual Laboratory (HPCVL) a consortium of four Eastern Ontario universities;  SHARCNET, a group 18 academic institutions; and SciNetbased at the University of Toronto. The three centres have approximately 60 staff across a dozen universities.

There are affiliated HPC groups from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and HPC4Health (a collaboration between Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children and the city’s University Health Network.

ORION’s fibre optic network connects universities, research hospitals and research institutions. It estimates more than half a million researchers use the network to complete their work and access advanced computing resources provided by other organizations and institutions.

The report is part of the Advanced Computing Transforming Innovation in Ontario (ACTION) project, which brings together leaders in the research and advanced computing sectors from across the province to assess the needs and strategic opportunities for the future of advanced computing in Ontario.

 

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