Open Source Culture

Many members in the IT community are long-standing supporters of the idea of open source, including Cybera. But it really became evident that this movement had gone mainstream when it is was recently featured at a TEDx talk. For Edmonton’s inaugural TEDx Salon Series, held February 8, the main topic for discussion was the benefit of open source and open source culture, and how it has already become an important function in our everyday online activities.

As Steve Fisher, one of the four presenters at the TEDx event, pointed out: “a lot of people don’t even know that they’re using [open source software].”  For example, if you’ve ever used WordPress to build a blog, or used Drupal to create and manage your business website, guess what: those are open-sourced content management systems (CMS).

The benefits of open source for a community can be as macro or as micro as you like. Fisher summed it up quite nicely when he said that open source, “at its heart, is about making things better.” It’s altruistically motivated, meaning that it is a good thing simply for the sake of being a good thing.

A good example of this is one of the open source projects that Cybera currently manages: the Water and Environmental Hub (WEHUB). This online platform connects water and environmental data gathered from open source websites or participating geo-based organizations, and makes it available in a format that users can access, share, mash-up and model. The goal of WEHUB is to not only be a one-stop shop for any water-related information, but to also make it easy for applications to be built on this data using a unified output service (API). This will enable a wide variety of useful, educational and fun applications to be created and shared with the public.

Currently, the WEHUB has both an example Apple and Android app available for free download.

Open government is a similar idea that has the same goals in mind, and benefits to the public, as an open source project. Here in Alberta, Edmonton has proved to be a shining example of this initiative. Developers and interested citizens in the city are given access to information such as neighbourhoods boundaries, garbage collection schedules, and recreation facility locations and amenities, all live-streamed via the Internet. The city also offers the added bonus of a Google Document to keep track of what data sets may become available in the near future, and when the existing data was last updated. Not many other cities have the same open source culture in government.

This information can be also used to develop applications that would be of further use to citizens. The popular “there’s an app for that” tag-line from Apple ads carries some serious weight in Edmonton; it’s likely that there is an app for most public information needs, to which Edmontonians can thank their open government.

Open source software is moving our world forward, and having the open source culture allows both source code and minds to remain open. To summarize using Fisher’s words: “I do [this] because I believe in it, I don’t do it necessarily because I get paid (although I do appreciate that). I do it because I think it’s an altruistic thing to do. I love that the world around me is improving because of some of the things that I’m doing.”

Innovating our policies along with our practices

Richard Hawkins speaking on innovation policy at the Tech Futures Summit.

An interesting conversation was happening today at the Alberta Innovates Technology Futures Summit. Richard Hawkins, University of Calgary Professor and Canada Research Chair in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, presented on how to determine whether or not innovation policies are working.

He talked about how one of the challenges faced by government-sponsored innovation programs is to demonstrate impact from public investment, especially in the short to medium term. Unfortunately, that is not always enough time to collect conclusive data or tangible results.

According to Hawkins, the solution to this un-complementary fit is to re-calibrate performance expectations and broaden our measurements. These days, we should be looking at program impacts on multiple and different parts of the innovation system, including the social and economic sectors.

Also, developing more technology should be a means, not an end, he said. “There is no shortage of technology, but there is a shortage of innovation,” Hawkins said. Policies that focus on simply producing technology rather than deploying it are missing the point.

So, shifting our perspective from technology as the innovation to technology as the conduit (or “platform”, to give a pointed nod to CANARIE’s Network-Enabled Platforms Program as an example), we see that innovation and the resulting impacts are then driven by who uses the technology, what they use it for, and how that changes what they were doing before.

As innovation is built around change and disruption, it makes sense that our policies and policy-building approaches should evolve in response. Measuring short-term impacts will always be a challenge, but if we change what we’re looking at and where we’re looking for it, that can help uncover new measures of success.

What are your thoughts? Do current metrics accurately measure innovation impacts? If not, how should policies change? Please leave your comments below.

Canada needs to seize the green energy opportunity

The world’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector is in need of a green energy provider, and, according to Mohamed Cheriet, spokesperson for the GreenStar Network (GSN) project, that’s where Canada has the potential to make its mark.

Cheriet, a Professor in the Department of Synchromedia at the École de technologie supérieure in Montreal, gave an overview of the GSN project at the CANARIE Annual General Meeting (AGM) held on Tuesday, June 21. The virtual AGM was videoconferenced across four sites using CANARIE’s advanced network and the GSN. Cybera’s Calgary facility was one of the broadcast locations, joining Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver.

Cheriet showed a map plotting 2,000 datacentres in the world. Of those, he said that half are based in the United States (US), 57 in Canada, and the rest are spread around the world. These centres are one of the ICT sector’s largest energy consumers. As more and more research organizations, institutions and businesses of all sizes turn to cloud, virtualization and remote storage as data solutions, the reliance on ICT — and the amount of greenhouse gases this sector produces — is expected to grow. Currently, Cheriet noted, the ICT industry in the US accounts for 8% of its national power consumption. The carbon dioxide produced from that energy consumption is growing by at least 6% per year.

This is where Canada and the GSN come in.

The Calgary-based GreenStar Network node is operated by Cybera and powered by eight solar panels located on the roof of the Alastair Ross Technology Centre.

As we’ve already noted in past blogs, the GSN project draws renewable energy from five nodes across Canada. Cybera is a local partner in the project, operating the Calgary solar-powered node located on the roof of the Alastair Ross Technology Centre (pictured at right). With a global reach in mind, the GSN project has expanded overseas to host nodes in Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, and Spain. A Memorandum of Understanding has also been signed with partners in China, and one with Egypt is in the works.

Cheriet says Canada offers unique advantages which make it an ideal green energy producer. The country’s expanding investment into hydro, wind and solar resources means energy can be provisioned at a low price. Access to high-speed optical network infrastructure (such as that provided by CANARIE) enables high-performance connections with major content providers, allowing for large-scale research projects and leading-edge network-enabled platforms. This has also set the stage for the GSN project to experiment with key areas of ICT operation and management technology, namely virtualization, cloud management, carbon monitoring and energy optimization. The next step, argues Cheriet, is to continue rallying and building government and industry support for adopting green IT and green energy platforms.

CANARIE, a major funder of the project, is on board with GSN’s vision.
“If we can become a leader in green IT, it creates economic advantages for all Canadians,” said Mark Roman, CANARIE President and CEO.

As CANARIE begins its mandate renewal process, the GSN is one of many funded projects that demonstrate CANARIE’s impact on advancing Canada’s digital economy strategy. Both Roman and Mark Whitmore, Chair of CANARIE’s Board of Directors, highlighted the following as priority areas for the organization’s mandate renewal:

  • reach out to more Canadian users and enhance international collaborations
  • incorporate emerging technologies such as cloud and wireless
  • spearhead economic development and job creation

Strong collaborations remain a cornerstone to these plans, Whitmore noted, and CANARIE will continue to develop and support partnerships in Canada’s research, education and industry sectors.

So what does the upcoming year look like for you? Is green energy or some form of green IT on the horizon for your organization? Are you using Cybera’s or CANARIE’s advanced network for a project or pilot? We want to hear about it. Leave your comments below!

Is the door closing on open Internet?

The “open” movement has been building momentum in recent years. “Open data,” “open government”, “open innovation” – these concepts are about making information, gathered publicly or privately, available for anyone to access and use. This could then lead to research breakthroughs or new commercial ventures. Such an unrestricted digital future is seen by many as a natural next step for the Web.

But it may not be as simple as that. Such a progression is based on the assumption that a free and open system to house and distribute this information exists. The truth may not be so simple.

Tim Wu is a Professor at Columbia Law School and a renowned advocate for open Internet. He coined the phrase “net neutrality”, which is a call for all Internet content and websites to be treated equally by the networks controlling them. Wu worries that Internet carriers are finding more reasons to crack down on, or limit, their content.

In an essay he wrote last year for a book called The Next Digital Decade, Wu noted, ‘There are… certain commercial advantages to discriminatory networking that are impossible to deny, temptations that even the Internet’s most open firms find difficult to resist. …It seems obvious to me that open networking principles can be dislodged from their current perch.”

Wu will be discussing this issue at the Cybera Summit 2011: Data for All – Opening up the Cloud, where he will deliver one of the keynote addresses. Running from October 6-7 at The Banff Centre in Banff, AB, the Summit will cover the evolution of the cloud and open data applications (see video for more details).

Speakers will explore how open, shared and cloud technologies are helping to connect people and resources in new and exciting ways. They will also discuss issues that arise from these developments, including the debate over public versus private information.

In his essay, Wu asked, “Will we think of the open age of the Internet the way we think of communism, or the hula-hoop?”

What do you think? Will the movement towards “open” continue to grow, or simply become an out-lived trend? Leave your comments below or join us this October at Cybera’s Summit 2011 to further explore this idea.

Live-blogging at Canada 3.0 – What does it take to “Be the Future”?

As Canada 3.0 starts to wrap up, it’s worth stepping back to reflect on its theme this year: “Be the Future”. These three little words pack a lot of weight. They act as a strong call to action to the Canada 3.0 participants and represent a mindset that inspires us to set our sights higher, our goals further and our activities more inclusive of our fellow innovators (because we’re not just talking about individual futures here, we’re talking about everyone’s future).

One of the morning security panel participants today answered a question with the caveat: “Technology has moved forward but we’re the same humans we were hundreds of years ago.” Hmmm…..really? Studies have shown that human behaviour, communication and interaction have come a long way. In fact, Leonard Brody, best-selling author, technology forecaster and business strategist, says that we are fundamentally different people than we were only a few years ago. Within a 10 year period, he says, from our ever-changing exposure to and engagement with technology and media, we as human beings have changed more than the institutions of govt, business and education that surround us. “The house doesn’t fit the people who live in it anymore,” he says. If what Brody says is true, that is going to add a weighty level of complexity to our new and inspirational mindset to “be the future.”

Luckily, one thing that hasn’t changed about the human race is its tenacity. This drive of ours to invent and advance our tools and processes is what has taken us this far. So it’s not technology alone that is changing the way we do business and perform research, it is the individual and community (both physical and virtual) behaviours that are enabling these changes.

The backchat happening in the #CDA30 Twitter feed is a prime example. Snippets from presenters’ sessions are being shared, deconstructed and commented on. This type of virtual conversation and collaboration is an example of how our expectations and applications of technologies have evolved and will continue to change as new tools are introduced. How many times have you heard someone say: “(X tool) would be so much better if it could just let me do (this)”. And somewhere, someone is likely responding: “Challenge accepted!”

In a sense, rather than saying humans have yet to catch up with today’s technologies, we may want look at it from the perspective of  technologies having finally caught up with the needs of today’s humans.

The projects and people we highlight in this blog are excellent examples of the trail blazers and supporters of what it takes to “be the future.” Ultimately, more technology education, community collaboration, and increased support for innovation will be what carries us even further. CANARIE and each of the provincial network organizations strive to build a supportive and foundational community for Canada’s innovators. What are your thoughts? What do you think is needed to “be the future”?

IPv6 – Welcome to the first day of the rest of the Internet’s life

The Internet – once thought bottomless and boundless – has finally reached a breaking point…..of sorts. Much like the transition to 10-digit local calling, Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) addresses have finally reached an exhaustion point and the official rollout of Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) has begun.

Keeping in mind, IPv6 is hardly new technology. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) saw the writing on the wall nearly 12 years ago and developed IPv6 at that time to mitigate the foreseeable IPv4 address exhaustion.

The issue is making news now in 2011 because earlier this month the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) announced it has allocated the last IPv4 address blocks. Several months still remain before Regional Registries consume all their remaining regional IPv4 address pools, but experts are suggesting that Asia, Europe, and North America (in that order) will exhaust their address allocations around July 2011.

What’s interesting is how people are handling this news and the now-very-real need to transition to IPv6. For example, a press release issued by IPv6 Canada, a chapter of the North American IPv6 Task Force and IPv6Forum, contained this quote:

  • “Attempting to predict this date has been an interesting challenge over the years, given the chaotic nature of global Internet growth. The challenge ahead for the larger community will be to move past denial, mourning, and grief, and get on with the task of IPv6 deployment,” states Tony Hain, IPv6 Forum Fellow, Technical Director, North American IPv6 Task Force.

Denial? Mourning? Grief?
We all know that nobody likes change, but isn’t this supposed to be exciting news?

A day that no one (outside of the IETF that is) thought would arrive – the day when the Internet essentially isn’t big enough anymore – is now upon us. And instead of being stopped in our tracks, we’ve developed a way to keep it growing. We shouldn’t be mourning this – we should be celebrating it.

Some people are. Consider GogoNet, a social network that’s been built around supporting professionals making the jump to v6. They’ve got people talking, tweeting, connecting and sharing their experiences with IPv6. And then there’s the upcoming IPv6 Day planned for June 8, 2011, where Google, Facebook, Yahoo!, Akamai and Limelight Networks will join other major organizations to offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour “test flight”. This one-day event is hoped to motivate organizations to prepare their services for IPv6 transition.

Here in Canada, CANARIE is leading the charge and successfully running IPv6 across the country – which you can monitor in real-time via its online iPv6 Traffic Map. Cybera’s provincial backbone network in Alberta – CyberaNet – has been fully IPv6 compatible since 2005, however no members have made the switch from IPv4 yet. Last week Cybera’s president, Robin Winsor, was set up with access to IPv6 so that he can gain first-hand experience with it.  As a personal challenge (and test of the uptake rate), he’s attempting to conduct as much Internet interactions as he can on IPv6, tracking any hurdles and rewards along the way. His first hiccup: he couldn’t announce his personal challenge on Facebook because even though the newsfeed page is available on ipv6, apparently his profile page isn’t. Stay tuned to Cybera’s blog for the results of Winsor’s IPv6 challenge.

Ultimately, IPv6 adoption across North America is expected to take some time. Cybera’s Technical Operations Manager, Jean-Francois Amiot, noted some reasons for this in an earlier Cybera blog post. Common barriers include dealing with legacy equipment (i.e. basic switches and routers), incompatible firewalls, and coordinating IPv6 education for internal IT teams. Issues such as these are expected to delay IPv6 deployment. Some observers are predicting North American mass adoption will take at least 10 years.

Looking ahead, the important thing will be to remember to do just that: keep looking ahead. Internet usage continues to grow – at last count, 1.9 billion people or nearly four times the population of North America were connected to the Internet. Connectedness has become key in work, play and education. The recent growth and prevalence of social media, social networking and online communities speaks to how much we’ve come to depend on and live our lives through the Internet.

It may take us 10 years to adopt IPv6, but how long do we have until we will need IPv7 or 8? Are you looking ahead? Please leave comments below if you’ve had any experience yet with IPv6.