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.”

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.