Canadian company redefining visualization

A small Canadian company has become a world leader in the emerging technology of Web- and cloud-based visualization software.

Calgary Scientific Inc.’s flagship PureWeb software, which the company says is the first to allow multiple users to interact with the same instance of an application in real-time on mobile devices, has recently been adopted by the likes of Dell Inc. and AT&T Inc., and is used in applications as diverse as medical imaging and radio astronomy.

The software provides advanced image rendering capabilities to any Web-based device and is powered by a remote server. Dan Pigat, director of product management at PureWeb, says the technology goes above and beyond screen scraping.
“We have that tool available to us, everybody does, where you can just take the screen and cram it onto an iPad or whatever you want to do. But our approach deals a little bit more intelligently with the application itself. We don’t change what the application does. We’re just interested in a couple of thing, mainly the rendering…the images out of it and interactivity with it.
“We create a user interface using a lot of standard tools out there like, say, [Microsoft] Silverlight, where you can very quickly, like in days, build a GUI that looks exactly like the one they had on a standalone workstation. We hook into that through PureWeb and then connect over any network back to a server that’s actually running the software, that actually has the data. This way we keep all that business logic and the data [from being processed by] the device itself.”
Calgary Scientific’s PureWeb-powered ResolutionMD application has been particularly well-received in the medical field. It allows doctors to examine complex images rendered on a remote server on desktops or mobile devices.
But PureWeb may soon set the standard for the way radio astronomers process images of the universe and collaborate as well.
The University of Calgary’s Centre for Radio Astronomy adopted the technology last summer and uses it for the astronomical equivalent of distributed computing: the Cyber SKA (Square Kilometre Array) project, which will provide the IT infrastructure for what will become the world’s largest telescope. PureWeb offered a solution to the problem of connecting an array of telescopes that spans 1,000 square kilometres across the globe.
“The idea is that this a global telescope, so the science is going to be done by a global community of researchers and we need the infrastructure to be able to allow these global collaborations to work on the data,” says Russ Taylor, director of the centre.
He says the sheer amount of imaging data and the computing power needed to process it was also a big factor in opting for a Web-based solution.
“Of course, the data’s too large to download to your desktop, so the idea is having [a]… cyberinfrastructure solution to the problem, where the data doesn’t reside on the user’s desktop but they access it through cyberinfrastructure. And at PureWeb, of course, they’re providing the ability to have a server reside close to the large data that does the work but then it distributes the outputs to anybody that has access to the Web [or] a mobile device.”
In radio astronomy, creating visualizations from the data gathered by the array telescopes is a complex procedure, he says.
“The data that comes out of the array telescope itself is not an image right away; you have to process that data to create an image out of it. But the end product the scientific users will access to do their science are sort of massive multi-dimensional image data from the sky. They have at least four dimensions: they have the two dimensions of space, which is just a map basically, with sky coordinates on it. But then there’s a dimension of depth as well, which gives you the three-dimensional view of the universe. And then there’s an added dimension, which is the properties of the radiation, for instance, the polarization properties.”
He says an array of radio telescopes distributed over 1,000 kilometres offers the equivalent of a single telescope that size, a technical marvel that could take astronomy to a whole new level.
“It’s going to be able to image large pieces of the universe all at once, which is what we need to do to be able to answer the science questions.”

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