$210 million consortium includes governments, five more Ontario universities

The University of Toronto, IBM, Western University and five other Ontario universities, along with the federal and provincial governments are launching a bold new research and development innovation network unique in Canada.

Their goal: to use state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to solve critical problems related to cities, healthcare, water, energy and computing innovation and bring jobs and prosperity to southern Ontario.

“Computing underpins so much of our modern life,” said Professor Paul Young, U of T’s vice-president (research) and a key leader in the establishment and funding of the project. “The amazingly powerful infrastructure and unique human collaboration made possible by these investments will allow researchers to tackle problems ranging from Alzheimer’s to stress on the hydro grid to aging urban infrastructure.

"And it won’t just be our professors and students who benefit—collaboration with industry will allow jointly-developed solutions to be implemented for the benefit of society.”

At the centre of the initiative is the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform. This consists of a new high performance IBM BlueGene/Q supercomputer to be located at U of T’s SciNet High Performance Computing Datacentre - already one of world’s most powerful supercomputing facilities - and cloud computing and agile computing platforms to be located at Western University.

The project will allow scientists from academia and industry to work together in a collaboration model unique in Canada. The investment marks the first time IBM Research—the team that brought the world breakthroughs like Watson, the Jeopardy! Champion computing system—will have a formal presence in Canada. The unique structure of the collaboration allows IBM research staff to be located directly on campus, where they can work side by side with some of U of T’s top scientists. Together, network scientists will address critical problems related to cities, heath care, water and energy management and building the next generation of supercomputers.

The impact of the collaboration will also be felt beyond the University. Small and medium sized enterprises will be invited into the network, allowing them entree to academic and IBM researchers and to computing facilities that wouldn’t otherwise be accessible to them.

“Canada needs more knowledge-based industries to diversify our national economic portfolio beyond the current overweighting of commodities and natural resources and help eliminate our identified innovation gap,” said Professor David Naylor, president, University of Toronto. “This collaborative initiative takes direct aim at these issues by creating modern research networks that bring advanced computing capacity to bear on important issues such as: water monitoring, management and distribution; energy monitoring and management; urban planning and traffic management for intelligent cities; and the cross-walk of brain science with artificial intelligence.”

To establish the network, IBM is investing $175 million, the Government of Canada $20 million and the province $15 million for a total of $210 million. Lead universities U of T and Western are joined in a consortium of academic partners including McMaster University, University of Ottawa, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Queen’s University and University of Waterloo.

The network will create 145 new jobs and, as part of the project, IBM will build a new datacentre in Barrie, ON. Given its focus on research outputs and commercialization, the network is expected to accelerate economic growth, foster job creation and create a “Made in Canada” innovation culture.

“This kind of collaboration is exceptional in Canada,” said Young, “And although it will accelerate research and commercialization activities and create jobs, it’s ultimately about solving problems that affect us all and creating a better future for everyone.”