By Dr. Hanan Lutfiyya
From healthcare systems to energy delivery, city planning to water quality, solutions to society's most significant challenges will increasingly be found through the capture and analysis of large amounts data.
Mobility, analytics and cloud computing are certainly growing areas of study with major implications for the real world. However, there exists a major gap between the skills required to study and tackle these 21st Century challenges and those of the current workforce – not only in Canada, but around the world.
That is why Western University has partnered with IBM Canada to provide researchers and students with the leading-edge tools that will support fundamental research and ensure that today's graduates have the knowledge and skills required to propel society into the future.
Partnering with IBM gives Western a significant start in addressing some considerable problems in dealing with large-scale data. As mentioned in the 2012 Tech Trends Report, mining data and gleaning useful information will become the core problem as we move into the next decade. The systems and software we receive from IBM will help our researchers and computer scientists work with data on a large scale.
Western has bolstered its commitment to these areas of study and the Department of Computer Science has devised several ways to incorporate concepts and practical experience with regard to mobility and data in several courses.
For example, a second year software engineering course requires students to develop a large software project, which in the past has focused on developing a smartphone application. Likewise, a fourth year networking course focuses on the underlying protocols needed to support mobility, providing students insight into the development of sophisticated smartphone applications, as they work to develop a smartphone app and the underlying services. Our software engineering capstone course currently has students developing new features for the iWestern app.
We've touted the fact that our IBM-fueled computing system is sure to help small and medium enterprises enter the world of cloud computing and the $65 million in computers and software contributed by IBM will certainly be a boon to our researchers and scientists.
However, the allocation of cloud resources for teaching purposes remains a significant challenge and we have worked diligently to maximize our current resources to great effect. Western strongly believes that cloud computing is an important aspect of student education and efforts are underway to ensure that cloud technologies continue to be a growing part of our curriculum.
To that end, we introduced a special topics course in web development last year that teaches many of the foundational skills and technologies that are frequently used in building cloud services. We are now searching for funds to support a cloud infrastructure for teaching purposes so we can further incorporate cloud technologies into the curriculum.
That brings us to analytics, where we continue to delve deeper into developing innovative programs. We currently have new courses in both medical health informatics and digital humanities and we are looking into new programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Looking at social media, we have incorporated discussion within two courses, one discussing social integration from a web design perspective and the other built around a software development project that has students developing Facebook applications.
Western is proud of the significant progress made in recent years as we strive to build students' skills in analytics, cloud computing, mobile technologies and social business. But, we have more work to do. There is a critical need to foster these skills in the emerging workforce and to support research that will help us take on tomorrow's challenges. This responsibility lies with both business and educational institutions. Working with partners like IBM Canada, Western looks forward to taking a leadership role in driving this agenda.
Dr. Hanan Lutfiyya is Chair of the Department of Computer Science at Western University.
IBM Canada is delivering more of its trademark blue buzz today as the technology giant is contributing a landmark $65 million of computers and software to Western University, which will exponentially enhance the collaborative efforts already underway between the two partners, as part of a recently announced $210 million research and development innovation network.
Western University announced the formation of a new Ontario-based multi-million dollar research and development computing network today with its partners, the Governments of Canada and Ontario, IBM (NYSE: IBM) and the University of Toronto.
One of the primary nodes for the newly formed Southern Ontario Smart Computing and Innovation Platform (SOSCIP) is Western’s Shared Hierarchical Academic Research Computing NETwork (SHARCNET). A part of Compute Canada, SHARCNET is a high performance computing consortium delivering game-changing research and innovation to the world.
The computing infrastructure of Western, IBM and its university partners -- with a combined expertise in high performance and cloud computing -- will form a research platform unlike any other in Canada.
High performance computing refers to the use of supercomputers and computer clusters to solve advanced computational problems while cloud computing is the delivery of computing services via shared resources, software, and information over a network.
"One of the things this contribution from IBM gives Western is a tremendous start in addressing some very substantial problems in regards to dealing with large-scale data," says Western computer sciences professor Michael Bauer, who also serves as SHARCNET’s Associate Director. "In many, many circumstances, data will become the core problem of the next decade, not in terms of generating data but in terms of what do you do with it and how do you actually glean useful information from it."
Bauer adds Western will not only have a system with which researchers and computer scientists can begin to examine this core problem but will also receive significant software contributions from IBM, which are necessary to extract this kind of information on a large-scale.
"Western played a leading role in establishing SHARCNET, Canada's largest high-performance computing consortium, and we are excited to take the next step by using cloud computing to manage the staggering volume of digital data society creates on a daily basis," says Western President Amit Chakma. "From neuroscience to our environment and industrial applications, supercomputing holds tremendous promise for helping us make complex research decisions more quickly, while mining data for better answers."
Western's new IBM-fueled computing system will provide excellent opportunities for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to explore the applicability of cloud computing and to address many of their computational problems.
"For the financial industry, cloud technology is ideal for solving complex latency sensitive problems on large streaming data sets in real time," says Ben Bittrolff, Chief Financial Officer at London-based Cyborg Trading Systems. "Western joining forces with IBM on this major initiative is excellent news for all businesses, no matter the size, in Ontario, across Canada and undoubtedly around the world."
Western professor Mike Bauer has a long history delivering results utilizing IBM high performance computers.