'Big data' partnership paying early dividends

By Adela Talbot
April 17, 2014

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BIG_dataAdela Talbot, Western News
Mark Daley, second from left, principal Investigator at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute, explains how his work in neuroscience is enhanced by support from the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP), to Gary Goodyear, minister of the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, top right, and Brad Duguid, bottom right, Ontario’s Minister for Training, Colleges and Universities. Western President Amit Chakma, left, and Western postdoctoral fellow Jingyun Chen, second from left, watch on.

The Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP), a groundbreaking research consortium focused on big data research with Western at its core, is thriving at an unexpected rate, boosting the region’s research output as well as its economy, consortium partners said Tuesday.

In two short years, SOSCIP has accomplished a great deal, and this is something all parties should be proud of, said Pat Horgan, vice-president of manufacturing, development and operations for IBM Canada.

Horgan spoke at SOSCIP’s Impact 2014 Conference, held Tuesday as a two-year update, in the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been just two years; you are really changing the playing field in Canada. Two years ago, IBM made the commitment to invest $175 million (in SOSCIP) and to create 145 jobs in Ontario,” he said. “We are well on our way to overachieving our investment objective and we’ve nearly doubled our job creation goal, with 280 jobs created.”

SOSCIP was established two years ago to bring together academic and industry researchers with high-performance computing to analyze big data and fuel innovation within agile computing, health, water, energy and cities. The consortium includes the provincial and federal governments, IBM Canada, as well as seven Ontario universities, led by Western and the University of Toronto. SOSCIP also includes McMaster, Queen’s, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Ottawa and Waterloo. Dozens of small- and medium-sized enterprises across the province are partners as well.

The Ontario-based high performance and cloud computing network is charged with storing and exploring the limitless amount of ‘big data’ that is generated 24 hours a day from everything from functional MRI scans and watershed monitors to seismic readings and wind patterns.

Among roughly 40 research projects currently under SOSCIP’s purview, Horgan continued, dozens of other training opportunities are lining up.

And there’s more good news: A $20 million investment from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario has leveraged an additional $190 million in investments into the southern Ontario economy, said its minister, Gary Goodyear.

The provincial government has also invested $15 million into SOSCIP’s collaborative research efforts.

“The government of Canada certainly recognizes partnerships like this are extremely important for us moving forward as a nation and growing forward in our economy, not just in helping, but in improving the quality of life of people around the world,” Goodyear noted.

From water management, to intelligent urban design, to critical data analysis in healthcare, SOSCIP is a perfect example of leadership in postsecondary research and collaboration capability, he said, bringing together a variety of experts to address modern issues plaguing society.

“Collaboration on SOSCIP gives a glimpse into the future, with unprecedented processing capabilities, with real-time data analysis of neurological scans,” Goodyear continued.

SOSCIP’s success is resounding and it is ready to launch its next phase, with a vision to make Ontario – and Canada – a global leader in developing advanced computing applications by expanding its capacity for collaboration, optimizing results and commercializing research.

The next phase will include four new areas of research of particular importance to the provincial and federal economy, including mining, advanced manufacturing, digital media and cyber security. Four additional universities are joining, including Carleton, Ryerson, York and Wilfred Laurier.

Going forward, the key mandate for SOSCIP is expanding its partnerships with the public and private sector to have an even greater economic impact, said Paul Young, vice-president of research and innovation at the University of Toronto.

“(SOSCIP) is putting Ontario and Canada on the cutting edge of research and opportunity, on projects of climate change and weather predictions, better urban transit planning, solar technology and healthcare breakthroughs,” added Brad Duguid, Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

Western president Amit Chakma echoed Duguid’s sentiments, adding SOSCIP represents a powerful combination of talent.

BIGDATA_graphicIllustration by Frank Neufeld


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