Supporting leading researchers

Our advanced research computing and big data strategy will strengthen the foundation for innovation across the province.

High-speed digital infrastructure is transforming how we conduct research, make products and deliver services. It involves gathering, processing and disseminating massive amounts of data – impossible to do in the past – and translating it into usable information.

Advanced computing accelerates the process of discovery. Our $75-million strategy will help Ontario’s leading researchers solve real world problems using sophisticated computers with massive data storage capabilities and computing power.

Researchers are using advanced computing in a wide range of fields including genomics, neuroscience, astrophysics, clean water technologies, energy, climate change and the humanities. Interpreting big data can:

How we’ll support researchers

Through our  advanced computing and big data strategy, we’re making four major contributions:

  1. Installing two new hardware platforms at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo with a $20.5 million investment through the Ontario Research Fund. This will be the first major upgrade to Ontario’s advanced research computing infrastructure since 2007.
  2. Supporting the operating costs of advanced research computing across the province with a $34 million investment. This will provide Ontario’s advanced research computing centres with the steady funding they need for efficient multi-year planning.
  3. Investing in projects that bring together groups of researchers to develop tailored, shared and integrated data resources capable of data analytics and large scale computational modelling with a $12 million investment through the Ontario Research Fund-Research Data Infrastructure initiative.
  4. Supporting Compute Ontario in co-ordinating advanced research computing with an  $8.5 million-investment.

Ontario’s investment will leverage an estimated $97 million in additional funding for researchers in the province through co-funding by the federal government and participating institutions.

The province’s support will also generate strategic benefits in several areas:

  • It will help researchers address key social challenges related to health, the environment, aging society, poverty and other pressing concerns.
  • It will educate, train and nurture the next generation of talented people who will make discoveries and develop innovative products.
  • It will give Ontario companies the opportunity for advanced technology collaborations to increase their share in global markets. Ontario’s smart, highly skilled workforce is well-positioned to support companies in these endeavours.

The five-year investment will support a wide array of publicly funded research across the province as well as the fertile ecosystem of start-ups and entrepreneurs growing their businesses in Ontario.

Terms to know

Big data – Data that is too complex to be processed by standard computers.

Advanced research computing - Uses very large computer systems, including storage, data management, networking and visualization to help solve complex problems, such as finding cures for cancer, addressing climate change challenges or increasing cybersecurity.

Behind the strategy

The world is collecting more and more data every day. While collecting data is important, understanding its significance and how to use it is where discoveries lie.

That’s where advanced computing comes in. It helps researchers analyze data more comprehensively. This makes it possible to address challenges like finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease; better assessing climate change, clean water and food safety; and strengthening cybersecurity and smart infrastructure systems.

“[Explore] the merits of developing a High Performance Computing and Big Data Strategy for the province. Your goal is to ensure that Ontario is at the cutting-edge of one of the most important technological platforms of the 21st century.”

Premier Kathleen Wynne,

Mandate letter to the Minister of Research and Innovation, 2014

Advanced research computing accelerates discovery and innovation

It took 13 years to sequence the first human genome. Today, it takes a couple of days. What made the sequencing of the genome possible were advances in large scale computation.

The ability to quickly sequence a genome has enormous potential for scientific research. It gives researchers insight into disease prevention, diagnoses and potential treatments. We are moving from reactive medicine into the age of precision medicine. This will be beneficial for the people of Ontario and across the globe.

Ontario researchers are using advanced computing to model wind turbulence, simulate regional climate change and the impact of global warming on watersheds, and study neutrinos and the physics of dark matter. But there is much more work to be done.

That is why Ontario is moving forward with a new strategy. It will support Ontario’s world leading researchers and help transform their discoveries into innovations that our entrepreneurs and companies can bring to global markets.

Dr. Arthur B. McDonald co-awarded 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics

Dr. Arthur McDonald is Professor Emeritus at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He was co-awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Physics, with Dr. Takaaki Kajita (University of Tokyo), for the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass. Parts of the data analysis were conducted using Ontario’s advanced research computing systems.

Advanced computing fuels a smarter Ontario

Advanced research computing is vital to Ontario’s broad, interconnected and interrelated high technology ecosystem. Both academic researchers and entrepreneurs thrive in that collaborative environment, making breakthrough discoveries in medical research, mobile communications, transportation and environmental technologies. As in any ecosystem, the health of one component affects the others.

About 960 faculty research groups and 3,000 graduate students and researchers use publicly funded advanced research computing sites at Ontario universities, teaching hospitals and research centres. These facilities develop the talent and fuel the innovations that underpin the success of companies in a variety of sectors across Ontario.

Many employees and CEOs of innovative Ontario companies either learned or greatly enhanced their computer skills while studying at universities in the province. In fact, many of Ontario’s top companies are built on research conducted using the computer systems at our universities.

High performance computing: a critical tool for business

Advanced computing is becoming central to business sectors that are important contributors to Ontario’s gross domestic product.

Reducing local gridlock

Tired of wasting time at red lights? Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Centre used advanced research computing to develop a next-generation traffic light that could reduce wait times at intersections by 40 to 70 per cent. As a result, vehicle emissions would drop by as much as 30 per cent.

The life sciences sector is a major user of high-performance computing power and it generates $38 billion in revenue for the province. The research and development (R&D) performed in this sector is valued at $758 million.

In financial services, advanced research computing is a key tool for work in cybersecurity and fraud detection. High-performance computing also helps our internationally renowned digital media industry make animation, graphics and gaming come alive.

Advanced computing also spurs innovation in traditional industries. Engineers, for example, use advanced research computing in areas such as computational fluid dynamics for aerodynamic design and computational chemistry for materials science.

Big data creates opportunities for public-private sector partnerships

The public and private sectors both look to insights from big data and advanced research computing to stimulate innovation. This shared interest creates opportunities for public-private sector partnerships.

SOSCIP, launched in April 2012, is an outstanding example of such a partnership. Researchers from IBM Canada and 15 Ontario academic institutions are working together on critical issues related to health, water, energy, cities, advanced computing, mining, advanced manufacturing, digital media and cybersecurity.

SOSCIP, in partnership with the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), is also connecting innovative small- and medium-sized companies to advanced research computing technologies for analytics and computational modelling.

Toronto-based start-up accelerator OneEleven is helping to launch the next generation of big data companies. OneEleven is Canada’s first accelerator created specifically to provide innovative entrepreneurs with access to the power of advanced computing. Through partnerships with SOSCIP and OCE, OneEleven start-ups can access SOSCIP’s IBM Blue Gene/Q – Canada’s fastest supercomputer.

New urban energy lab tests smart grid innovations

Canada’s first university-based smart grid laboratory and incubator for alternative energy research opened at Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Energy in 2015. It’s called the Schneider Electric Smart Grid Lab. The lab is a resource for both academia and industry to help researchers, utilities and companies with smart grid products. The lab is a collaboration between Ryerson, the Ontario Ministry of Energy and Schneider Electric, funded in part by the Ontario Smart Grid Fund.

Growing global competition for talent and investment

Worldwide, the demand for more advanced computing capacity and big data expertise is growing rapidly. Competition for talent and investment is strong.

Today, ideas, people and money flow easily across borders. Skilled researchers and innovative companies migrate to the cities and regions that offer the best opportunities.

That’s why jurisdictions around the world are increasing their investments in advanced research computing.

The international race to become leading advanced computing hubs means Ontario must take action to maintain its global position. By embracing this strategy, we reduce the risk of losing our researchers and their knowledge and intellectual property.

Continued investments needed for economic growth

Ontario’s public investments in high performance computing infrastructure and advanced research have paid off in thousands of ways, from medical discoveries to launching world-leading companies.

Prior to the $75-million Advanced Research Computing and Big Data Strategy, Ontario had invested more than $126 million in advanced research computing sites since 2001, primarily through co-funding with the Canada Foundation for Innovation. Today, these sites support $2.45 billion in world-class research annually.

Ontario’s new strategy builds on these investments. It will strengthen the technology platform that supports innovation and scientific discovery in the province. It will help make sure that Ontario has the people, the infrastructure and the systems in place so we can find answers to research questions and support our industries’ ability to succeed in the global economy.

Reducing the impact of climate change on cities

Hurricanes can have a devastating impact on cities. Experts forecast that climate change will trigger even more extreme weather events. Researchers at Western University are using advanced computer systems to simulate the complex interactions between extreme weather and the urban environment to try and minimize its impact. The goal is to provide architects, engineers and urban planners with tools to help make our cities and buildings safer and more efficient.

Inside the strategy

Our $75-million Advanced Research Computing and Big Data Strategy will help drive innovation and strengthen the province’s global competitiveness. It is a major investment that leverages past successes and opens up exciting new opportunities.

The five-year strategy was developed with expertise from both academic and private-sector leaders. It focuses on four critical goals:

  • Upgrade infrastructure at Ontario’s advanced research computing facilities and increase system-wide co-ordination.
  • Develop a pool of new talent in advanced research computing and big data.
  • Build on the province’s strengths in health informatics.
  • Leverage technology and talent to spark new business growth and scale-up opportunities.

Through these actions, Ontario improves its competitiveness in the global race for the best talent, technology and business investment.

Investing in infrastructure and system-wide co-ordination

Advanced computing technology is constantly being updated with faster, more powerful processors and more efficient designs. SciNet is a high performance computing consortium at the University of Toronto and associated research hospitals. When SciNet acquired a general purpose computing cluster in 2009, it moved to 16th place in the world for computing power. It fell to 392rd just six years later.

Modernizing our advanced computing systems offer clear long-term benefits. Across Ontario’s advanced research computing sites, equipment is nearing the end of its lifecycle. Maintenance and power for old machines is costly. Investment is needed to upgrade this infrastructure.

A new approach to funding advanced research computing

Ontario has taken a new approach to funding advanced research computing infrastructure in co-ordination with the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). This year, the province and its federal partners will provide stable multi-year co-funding for the Ontario-based portion of the national advanced research computing platform.

For scientists, this new national advanced research computing platform is an exciting development, and one that the Ontario government fully supports.

Our investment will leverage an estimated $97 million in additional funding for researchers through co-funding by the federal government and the participating institutions.

Through the strategy, we will:

  • Install two new hardware platforms at the University of Toronto and the University of Waterloo with an investment of $20.5 million through the Ontario Research Fund. This will be the first major upgrade to Ontario’s advanced research computing infrastructure since 2007.
  • Support the operating costs of advanced research computing across the province with an investment of $34 million. This will provide Ontario’s advanced research computing centres with the steady funding streams they need for efficient, multi-year planning.
  • Invest in projects that bring together groups of researchers to develop tailored, shared and integrated data resources capable of data analytics and large scale computational modelling with $12 million in investment through the Ontario Research Fund-Research Data Infrastructure initiative.
  • Support Compute Ontario to co-ordinate advanced research computing in Ontario, with an investment of $8.5 million.

Compute Ontario takes a central role

Compute Ontario is a not-for-profit organization representing Ontario’s advanced research computing sector. It will become the co-ordinating hub for advanced research computing in Ontario.

With $8.5 million in provincial support, Compute Ontario will work with universities, colleges and hospitals to enable the provision of services to researchers and to ensure Ontario gets the best value for its investment. This will foster more productive and collaborative relationships between academia, industry and government. Compute Ontario will also oversee the consolidation of Ontario’s advanced-computing centres into new, world-class sites.

Improved co-ordination and collaboration will draw more research dollars to the province. Compute Ontario will work with its partners to attract additional funds from federal sources, institutions, private-sector partners and charitable foundations.

Develop a critical mass of new talent

Ontario’s future success in advanced research computing and big data requires having high levels of expertise available to support researchers in both academia and industry.

Talent availability is a critical factor when knowledge-based companies decide where to invest and expand their operations. One of the most critical areas for investment today is in human expertise — the data scientists, analysts and technicians who are needed to make effective use of advanced computing power and manage the computer facilities.

IBM’S $175 million investment in SOSCIP was based in part on the company’s confidence that it could recruit talented workers. The investment created 280 jobs.

Ontario’s strategic investments in advanced computing networks, talent and skills will help ensure that more data-driven companies choose to invest in the province. These investments align with Ontario’s commitment to attract the best and brightest minds, retain home-grown talent and seize opportunities for global leadership. It also ensures Ontario graduates will have access to high skilled jobs.

Advanced research computing at universities feeds Ontario’s talent pool

Today’s advanced research computing environment at Ontario’s universities provides a training ground for the next generation of data scientists, computer engineers, software developers and systems administrators for both the public and private sectors.

As advanced computing systems change, and as researchers make use of more complex systems and run models with more intense workloads, the skills needed to support these systems will also change.

Data scientists are needed to develop applications and to manipulate the data. They are needed to provide support to researchers at universities, research institutes and within industries. With the increased use of cloud-based systems, data scientists are also needed to support researchers storing and analysing data in the cloud.

To help fill these gaps, we need new education and training programs plus new partnerships with industry to develop a bigger talent pool of people with high-demand skillsets.

Technology in advanced computing changes rapidly. Not too many years ago, cloud computing was on the cutting edge of innovation. Today, it is a standard tool for researchers.

Compute Ontario will collaborate with industry, postsecondary institutions and research hospitals to identify the advanced computing skillsets Ontario needs to compete globally. The results will lay the groundwork for future training programs tailored for advanced research computing.

Building on Ontario’s strengths in health informatics

Research institutes across the province collect and store an incredible amount of raw biomedical data. These institutes are also home to Canada’s largest concentration of specialists in health informatics.

The Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), for example, is a world-leading research institute based in Toronto with five additional sites at Ontario universities. Through ICES, 400 research, data and clinical experts across Ontario are able to study 25 years of health service records for about 13 million people. Their work has led to the discovery of better, more effective and more efficient ways to deliver health services.

Ontario neuroscience researchers are using advanced research computing to help investigate causes and treatments for cerebral palsy, depression, epilepsy, and autism. According to the Ontario Brain Institute, there are more than 800 neuroscience researchers, 130 brain-related companies and 100 institutions involved in neuroscience in Ontario.

Leadership in cancer research

Nearly 200,000 cases of cancer are detected in Canada each year. Worldwide, cancer cases are predicted to increase by 70 per cent over the next two decades, from 14 million in 2012 to 22 million cases, according to the World Health Organisation. The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research hosts the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) – a global collaboration of leading research organizations dedicated to developing better cancer prevention and treatment programs. A big user of advanced computing, the ICGC has at present 88 project teams in 17 jurisdictions investigating 25,000 tumor genomes in the search for answers.

Developing made-in-Ontario solutions for global research challenges

One major challenge for researchers across Ontario and around the world is the incompatibility of databanks. Researchers are often unable to compare related data because of how it was collected or stored. This reduces the chance of finding the cause-and-effect discoveries that lead to better treatments.

But there has been progress. Researchers at the Ontario Brain Institute have developed a new approach to data sharing and analytics. It’s called Brain-CODE (Centre for Ontario Data Exploration). It captures data from multiple brain disorders and across disciplines in a standardized way, which will help researchers discover and explore new and complex relationships that will lead to new frontiers of research and better treatments.

Over the next five years, Compute Ontario will identify other potential high-impact projects that can extend the frontiers of health informatics in Ontario.

The virtual brain

Understanding the brain just got a bit easier. Researchers at Baycrest Health Sciences, along with collaborators from three continents, are developing the world’s first Virtual Brain: an integrated computer model of a fully functioning human brain.

The Virtual Brain simulates how the brain works under normal conditions, how it changes with age and how it responds to damage from trauma or disease. This model will provide a platform for further discoveries, such as stronger treatment for diseases like epilepsy and stroke.

Sparking new business growth and scale-up opportunities

Advanced research computing and big data are not only transforming research in the public sector: they are revolutionizing business.

Corporations increasingly collect massive amounts of data and analyze it to improve productivity, develop market-leading technologies and deliver higher levels of customer service.

A study by Boston-based Nucleus Research found that every dollar invested in business analytics delivered an average benefit of $10.66.

These data-driven, bottom-line benefits can reduce the cost of innovation, increase shareholder value and make companies more competitive. Companies expand, and they create more jobs.

Helping businesses take new technologies to global market

Ontario is partnering with IBM Canada and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) embrace next-generation technologies through the IBM Innovation Incubator (I3) Project. The project will help SMEs fast-track the launch of new technologies and products to international clients with the help of advanced computing infrastructure and programing. It is expected to leverage over $410 million in private-sector investment and create up to 2,600 jobs.

Big data expertise can help Ontario companies gain a competitive edge

Partnerships between researchers and industry are a cornerstone of modern economies. Ontario’s growing strengths in advanced research computing and big data offer companies operating here a broad range of strategic opportunities, from new product development to global logistics management.

Some companies, particularly small- and medium-sized ones, are not aware of the opportunities offered by advanced research computing, nor do they know how to access these resources.

Compute Ontario will work with SOSCIP and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) to connect companies with advanced research computing resources. It will provide a “one door” big data brokerage to help match companies with the computing and content assistance they need.

Leveraging Ontario’s advanced research computing strengths through industry collaborations is a win-win strategy for everyone. This will result in more mutually beneficial partnerships that underpin globally competitive companies and generate long-term economic benefits.

Looking ahead

How far will technology advance in 20, 30, even 50 years from now? Predicting the future is difficult, particularly when it comes to technology. In 1943, IBM president Thomas Watson famously said, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”

Today, the advanced research computing and big data platforms have become increasingly powerful engines for discovery and innovation.

We need an advanced research computing platform to reap the full benefits of our expertise in areas such as health informatics, neuroscience, genomics, energy, clean water and astrophysics. Mobilizing the knowledge gained from advanced research computing and big data will fuel Ontario companies and entrepreneurs in world markets.

Investing now will generate strategic benefits in several critical areas:

  • It will help researchers address key social challenges related to health, the environment, an aging society, poverty and other pressing concerns.
  • It will educate, train and nurture the next generation of talented people who will make research discoveries and develop innovative products.
  • It will give Ontario companies the opportunity for advanced technology partnerships and collaborations to increase their share in global markets. The province’s smart, highly skilled workforce is well-positioned to support Ontario companies in these endeavours.

This is a five-year strategic investment in Ontario’s fertile digital ecosystem of researchers, start-ups and entrepreneurs.

For a knowledge-based society like Ontario, this research could have a tremendous impact on our communities and provide us with the keys to a healthier, more sustainable future. This strategy will drive innovation and help our province become a national leader in one of the most important technology sectors of the 21st century.

Updated: May 19, 2021
Published: January 27, 2017