SFU to build data research hub with funding of $8.35 million

First looks at the new storage system with infrastructure services director Lorenzo Costantino and his colleague

The technology that we rely on as students could not exist without the innovation and data storage capacity required for big data projects. While computers may be faster, smaller, and more intelligent than ever, data storage is integral to expand the groundbreaking research that can come from high-powered, reliable computing technology.  

SFU has received over $8 million in funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), Major Science Initiatives program, and provincial research and development organizations. This funding will help to build a data storage hub.

This sponsorship means that major computer research projects can now be directly conducted right from SFU’s Burnaby campus. By 2017, according to SFU News, the project conducted by Compute Canada is intended to have approximately 62 petabytes (that’s 62 million gigabytes) of consistent data through four storage platforms from SFU, University of Victoria, University of Waterloo, and University of Toronto.

What is data storage and what does this mean for SFU research capabilities?

According to CFI, a program created by the Government of Canada in 1997, comprehensive data storage is an integral part of maintaining fundamental research and investment across sectors. While this funding is fairly recent, the foundation has invested roughly $360 million in Canada over the last 16 years. The capabilities of data research are abundant and allow for SFU, as one of Canada’s top research universities, to directly aid the growing number of researchers in the field. A report from Compute Canada confirmed that the number of advanced computer researchers has more than doubled in the last five years.

What research will SFU be capable of producing?  

Data research popularity has further garnered attention across media in its abilities to decipher particle physics’ greatest questions, such as the discovery of the particle Higgs boson in 2013 by CERN or continued discoveries in human genome testing. In 2015, Forbes released a list of the top 13 computer research topics, including artificial intelligence research, producing educational tools for students, and better understanding how organisms function through computational neurobiology — all of which rely on dependable computing infrastructure.

SFU isn’t smashing atoms together just yet, but this investment certainly supports the Big Data Initiative approved by the SFU Board of Governors in March. The initiative aims to expand and support big data research across the university.

Through the funding received from the CFI, the Ontario Research Fund, and the BC Knowledge Development Fund, reliable infrastructure is now being built to hold approximately 1,000 GPU devices, 25,000 CPU cores, and 15 million gigabytes of storage disks at SFU Burnaby. In plain terms, the new cyberinfrastructure has the storage of about 12,500 regular dual processor computers. That’s some big data.

Compute Canada’s involvement with the data storage investment at SFU will involve work with companies such as IBM, Scalar, and DDN to build the most up to date form of cyberinfrastructure storage. This funding also provides increased data security within Canada: Compute Canada’s chief technology officer, Dr. Greg Newby, said in a press release that data hubs like this one are “a great solution to address the data explosion we are currently experiencing in Canada and globally.”

With this project, SFU is taking another big step into the 21st century.