Western Researchers Aim to Improve Wireless Networks

IBM and Western

Western on cloud nine with IBM, government partnership

With the proliferation of mobile devices such as cell phones, GPS and tablets, modern society has become increasingly reliant on wireless networks. In order for wireless providers to deliver consistent, high-quality services, it is essential that they are able to monitor and understand the radio environment and network traffic.

Network developers currently rely on software that incorporates signal estimation algorithms, such as ray-tracing, to evaluate signal propagation and to design communication networks for optimal performance. Current software solutions can take two hours to compute the results, making it difficult to adapt them in real-time to respond to changes in the radio propagation environment, such as network traffic, barriers to transmitters, etc. Moreover, the use of optimization algorithms further increases computational burden by several orders of magnitude rendering them too cumbersome for real time application and requiring alternative solutions.

Leveraging agile computing, Western researchers are now working to develop a hardware accelerated ray-tracing algorithm, which will allow developers to adjust network configuration and parameters in real-time based on changes in network traffic. This will serve to increase network capacity and to improve the quality of service.

The team, led by Western Engineering researchers Abdallah Shami and Serguei Primak in the Innovation Centre for Information Engineering (iCIE), is particularly well-suited to this project as they bring vast expertise in wireless communication, radio propagation, and field-programmable gate array-based design and implementation.

By investing in the research and development of this cutting-edge technology in Ontario, Western, IBM and their Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP) partners hope to benefit Canadian high-tech firms, allow them to realize efficiencies, hire more graduate students with expertise developed in this research program and build a highly-skilled workforce.


IBM will invest up to $175 million through December 2014 in the project, forming the “IBM Canada Research and Development Centre” to serve as a foundation for the research initiative.

The Government of Ontario is investing $15 million towards the creation of this Centre while the Government of Canada will contribute $20 million to allow a consortium of seven southern Ontario post-secondary institutions and its lead industry partner, IBM, to install two high-performance IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputers and develop a cloud computing and agile computing platform to underpin the initiative’s research collaboration.

To that end, Shami and Primak’s team will be partnering with engineers from Ontario-based System-On-Chip Technologies Inc., who will be contributing in-kind expertise and facilitating an internship program with Western’s research team.

SOSCIP has funded six projects at Western and provides researchers with access to much-needed infrastructure including the high-performance IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputers and cloud computing and agile computing platforms that are unlike any others in Canada.

Building Students’ Skills in Cloud Computing Key to Solving Tomorrow’s Problems

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 contributes record $65 million to Western

April 18, 2012

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.

Amit Chakma and IBM Canada VP Pat Horgan

Amit Chakma and IBM Canada VP Pat Horgan

Just last week, Western, IBM, the Governments of Canada and Ontario and the University of Toronto announced the IBM Canada Research and Development Centre, an Ontario-based high performance and cloud computing network 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.

IBM’s gift to Western provides researchers and scientists with the leading-edge research tools, in the form of analytics software, necessary to fully utilize and accelerate the processing capabilities of the revolutionary hardware to drive the research cloud platform the university will also receive as one of the primary nodes for the newly formed Southern Ontario Smart Computing and Innovation Platform (SOSCIP).

IBM business analytics software will help Western researchers and scientists extract relevant data, analyze it and create pertinent reports through a web-based, service-oriented architecture while the IBM DB2 database software will offer the university a virtual computer lab for multiple workloads on distributed systems, producing unparalleled efficiencies for users and storage.

“This remarkable investment will provide Western researchers with the tools to explore the infinite possibilities of agile and cloud computing,” says Western President Amit Chakma. “IBM is recognized as a world leader in technological innovation and infusing their intelligence into our systems will no doubt produce exciting results.”

“Together, we are supporting fundamental research and developing new techniques to increase the speed of high performance computing systems to better capture Internet-scale data and apply analytics to tackle critical challenges with our cities, water, energy, and healthcare systems,” says John Lutz, President, IBM Canada.

* IBM estimates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is created every day. This is big data.

Western on cloud nine with IBM, government partnership

April 10th, 2012

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.

Sharc PartnershipOne 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.”

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