CANARIE is advocating the creation of an innovation testbed as a key step in rebuilding the organization after an extended period of turmoil. The testbed is included in its submission to the Digital Economy Strategy (DES) consultations and is aimed at restoring CANARIE's once stellar reputation as a performer of cutting-edge research at the forefront of network evolution, helping to turn around Canada's information and communications technologies (ICT) research community and opening its network to industry .
The addition of the testbed would also help restore CANARIE's industry engagement which has waned in recent years as more emphasis was placed on serving as a backbone for the academic research community. Touted as a "missing link" and a "critical enabler of accelerated ICT product and service commercialization", the testbed would be open to companies and academics requiring a real-world environment for developing and testing concepts, prototypes, products and services. It's estimated that using the CANARIE network testbed would cost one tenth of using a commercial network and with much higher bandwidth.
"We need to have a clear idea of Canadian needs, push for more industry engagement and develop programs to attract more research mandates and R&D spending to Canada from foreign MNEs (multinational enterprises)," says Jim Roche, CANARIE's interim president and CEO. "The testbed fills a gap by providing an incentive to attract those mandates and assist SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises) to develop applications."
As part of its renewed focus on industry, Roche replaced CTO Éric Bernier with Jim Ghadbane for a six-month period (R$, July 19/10). He also drew on his extensive technology industry background to emphasize a high level of customer service, a renewed strategic mandate and new metrics to measure the organization's performance.
Under the DES proposal — prepared by Drs David Plant (McGill Univ), Alberto Leon-Garcia (Univ of Toronto) and Rob Simmonds (Univ of Calgary) — CANARIE would modify its existing network so that part could be used to run experiments while the remainder would continue its existing role as what Roche describes as a "production network". Discussions are underway with several large ICT companies that could be testbed customers to refine the concept for testing new energy, wireless, medical and other technologies. Increased skills development would also flow from the testbed, which would be needed if there's an anticipated resurgence in ICT research.
"We have already partitioned the network using virtualization techniques so we can develop a test environment for a reasonable investment," says Roche. "It would bring us back to our roots and gets us back in the game with industry in a significant way."
The testbed proposal aligns with the vast majority of the objectives and challenges outlined in the DES consultation paper: capacity to innovate using digital technologies, building world-class digital infrastructure, growing the ICT industry, creating a Canadian digital advantage and building digital skills. The CANARIE submission notes that many competing nations including Japan, South Korea, the European Union and the US already have test platforms for innovation backed by ambitious ICT and digital economy programs aimed at sustaining and growing market share for the future Internet economy.
"There's a need to align with other organizations supporting S&T mandates and DES will help with this," says Roche. "Right now there are no coordination mechanisms and no strategy for digital infrastructure for research and education ... We don‘t need more organizations. The pendulum is swinging towards consolidation."