Major Alberta information infrastructure projects launched

Calgary, AB – Two new major resources to aid Alberta’s race for world-class information infrastructure are being launched today at the University of Calgary, in a ceremony attended by Canada’s and Alberta’s information technology leaders.

“This joint inauguration of NeteraNet, one of the world’s most advanced high-speed networks, along with a powerful high performance computing facility connected to it, marks a significant achievement for Alberta,” according to Fred Stewart, Chair of Netera Alliance, Alberta’s ad-vanced Internet organization involved in today’s launch and demonstration.

NeteraNet is Alberta’s next-generation Internet, connecting Alberta institutions at gigabit speeds to global research networks. The related computing facility being launched is the Compaq Alpha Cluster, a resource connected to the network that supports new kinds of research involving intense computational power – climate prediction, medical visualization and drug modelling, to name a few. This cluster complements a similar high performance computer resource, called Aurora Borealis, launched this spring at the University of Alberta. Both are part of a province-wide collaborative project called MACI (Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure) to establish resources at Alberta’s universities for computation, multimedia and visualization.

A demonstration as part of the event will present leading research at the University of Calgary involving high performance computing from the areas of kinesiology, computer graphics, medicine, biology and environmental design. It will also highlight the capabilities of Alberta’s next-generation Internet, which far exceeds the speeds known to everyday users of the Internet.

“Alberta’s initiatives are important advances for the future of Canada’s economy in the information age,” said MP Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and Member of Parliament for Edmonton West. Federal government support for Alberta’s infrastructure includes an $8 million investment by the Canada Foundation for Innovation in the MACI project, as well as $1.3 million for Alberta’s next-generation Internet through CANARIE, Canada’s national advanced Internet development organization. The Province of Alberta has contributed $4.7 million to these information infrastructure projects.

Alberta Minister of Innovation and Science, Dr Lorne Taylor, is officially launching the new initiatives. “This is the kind of progress that highlights Alberta’s leading role in the information age. We know that Alberta attracts innovators, and these new advances secure a place for us all in what is rapidly becoming the innovation age,” Dr Taylor said.

-“ We are pleased to support projects such as MACI, which demonstrate the kind of vision and energy required for success in today’s global environment. These new facilities will also provide a cutting edge research environment to train young Canadians for the knowledge-based economy,” said Dr David Strangway, President and CEO of the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The CFI is an independent, not-for-profit organization established by the federal government in 1997 to strengthen the capacity for innovation in Canadian universities and research institutions.

In addition to Minister Taylor, the launch ceremony at 11 am will include remarks from Carmen Charette, Senior Vice-President of the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Programs and Opera-tions; Dr Andrew Bjerring, President of CANARIE; Dr Robert Church, Chair of the Alberta Science and Research Authority; David Booth, President of Compaq Canada; Bernard Dumonceau, VP of Data Communications Services at TELUS Advanced Communication; Bob Wolfe, President of Group Telecom; as well as University of Calgary President Dr Terry White and Interim Vice-President (Research) Dr Keith Archer.


(7 December 1999, Calgary, Alberta)

The University of Alberta has just expanded its high performance computer to be the largest academic computer in Canada.

"The facilities we are developing will help Alberta secure a place as a very attractive place to do research," according to Dr Jonathan Schaeffer, the University of Alberta computing science professor responsible for spearheading the purchase.

The upgrade to the SGI Origin 2000 brings the total number of processors in the computer to 112, making it powerful enough to compute calculations and render complex images in seconds. The worldwide push to develop faster computers is part of a global impetus to create infrastructure for a knowledge-based society. Advances in computing power are also instrumental in attracting and keeping top researchers on Canadian soil.

"Not only will this new computing power assist Alberta researchers working in sciences such as math, physics, chemistry and geology, it will also enable research with direct social benefits, including biotechnology, geographical information systems, climate prediction and research to reduce risk in medicine and industry," Dr Schaeffer explains.

Access to the Origin 2000 at the U of A is also available to researchers outside Alberta through a national sharing agreement that recognizes the value of cooperation within Canada in order to compete on a global scale.

The upgrade is part of a project called MACI (Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure), led by Dr Schaeffer and Dr Brian Unger at the University of Calgary. Through MACI, over $20 million in advanced computing resources are being developed in Alberta. MACI was the recipient of the largest computing grant awarded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation last June.

Dr Jonathan Schaeffer, Professor, Computing Science, University of Alberta (780) 492-3851
Mary Anne Moser, Communications Manager, Netera Alliance (403) 949-3306

(24 June 1999)

The MACI-2 project, a joint effort of the universities of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge and Manitoba, has received full funding for its $18 million computational infrastructure plans, the Canada Foundation for Innovation announced yesterday.

Led by Dr Jonathan Schaeffer at the University of Alberta and Dr Brian Unger at the University of Calgary, MACI-2 is the largest high performance computing proposal to receive funding in this CFI competition, which will infuse a total of $226 million into research infrastructure for the knowledge-based economy.

The CFI confirmation of $5.8 million for MACI-2 seals the $4.4 million from the Intellectual Infrastructure Partnership Program (IIPP) committed in matching dollars late last year by the provincial government. Investment by participating universities and private industry brings the total project value to $18 million over three years (1999-2002).

"We wanted to ensure that the highest quality research could be done in Alberta," said Dr Unger, "and MACI-2 puts us in that class - not only by providing powerful computing facilities but also multimedia resources for visualizing results."

MACI-2 will build on the computational and multimedia infrastructure established by MACI-1, which was launched with an $800,000 grant from IIPP. MACI-1 infrastructure includes the Origin 2000 at the U of A and the Alpha Cluster, Digital Media Lab and Cyberport at the U of C.

With MACI-2, several more Digital Media Labs and Cyberports are planned. In addition, significant expansions are planned for the computing cluster at the U of C and for the shared memory machine at the U of A. These facilities will be shared with other researchers through a national umbrella organization, C3.

"We have been strong advocates of sharing, because this will be a criteria for strength in the information age," Dr Schaeffer explains. To receive CFI funding, applicants had to demonstrate how their projects will benefit Canada.

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(8 February 1999)

For a couple of weeks already this year, the advanced computing resource at the University of Calgary, the Alpha Cluster, has been running at a 100 percent capacity.

It reached a load of 130 percent at one point, according to Advanced Networking and Computing Systems Administrator Robert Fridman. This means there are jobs queued up, waiting to be run.

"As soon as people started running parallel code, it began to get really busy," Fridman explained. Both parallel and serial jobs are run on the Cluster at the same time, so it can simultaneously serve users with different needs. The majority of the work currently running on the Cluster is research in chemistry and astrophysics.

The Alpha Cluster is made up of 30 nodes (or processors) that work in parallel to speed up computational time. The increased speed opens up the possibilities of posing more, and more complicated, research questions.

The Cluster was obtained as part of MACI (Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure), a collaborative project of the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary to build world-class computing facilities for Alberta researchers. A proposal is before the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to expand the Alpha Cluster to 128 nodes. Results are expected in June, 1999.


For more information about the Alpha Cluster:
Robert Fridman
Advanced Networking and Computing Systems Administrator, WurcNet
tel (403) 220-6779

(11 January 1999)

A "just-in-time" training program is being launched this month by WurcNet to meet a critical need for people trained in advanced networking, computing and multimedia.

Called the Virtual Training Program, it is designed to keep pace with the regularly and rapidly changing world of advanced technology. By developing and delivering courses in short order, it focuses on the immediate needs of users in research, industry and education.

The next workshop, Introduction to Advanced Multimedia, will be held January 26 and 27 in the Learning Commons at the University of Calgary. Instructors include well known Calgary faculty members and professionals working in multimedia.

Workshops in Edmonton and Calgary on advanced networking, parallel computing and distributed memory programming are also scheduled for the spring.

MACI is one of the sponsors of the Virtual Training Program. MACI members are eligible for discounted rates.

WurcNet is a not-for-profit alliance of education institutions, industry partners and government agencies building the next-generation Internet and advanced computational infrastructure for Alberta.

For workshop information, call 220-6778.


(11 January 1999)

MACI members are encouraged to provide suggestions for Virtual Training Program workshops.

The spring 1999 workshops are introductory courses on advanced multimedia, parallel processing and networking, and are designed to assess the need for subsequent workshops.

Please send suggestions to


(24 November 1998)

The Province of Alberta has agreed to fund MACI with the full amount requested in May's Intellectual Infrastructure Partnership program (IIPP) grant application: $4,360,000 over the next three years. This includes $1.95 million for the first year.

The IIPP grant significantly improves the chance of approval of a $6 million CFI (Canada Foundation for Innovation) grant application currently under consideration. MACI is into the second round of the competition for funding from the CFI. Final results are expected in June 1999.


(23 November 1998)

After several months of being fully operational, the alpha cluster is showing impressive results. Purchased as part of the MACI (Multimedia Advanced Computational Infrastructure) project, more than 30 users from chemistry, computer science, geology, engineering and others, are using the facility. Several researchers have ushered their work to new levels of productivity, due to the increased speed that the alpha cluster offers.

As cluster administrator Robert Fridman says, "In supercomputing, speed is everything." Just what this speed means for research is becoming manifest.

For Dr Raj Rangayyan, the cluster is helping him turn his research on enhancing mammographic images into a practical technique. "Breast cancer detection with mammography is not a simple task," he explains. For some cases, image enhancement techniques can reveal additional information to help the doctor in diagnosis. But the time required to process these images has made the technique impractical in an everyday lab setting, even though it has shown it can improve diagnostic outcome.

With the alpha cluster, "the time to obtain the images are in the order of seconds rather than a couple of hours." As a result, the technique can now be offered as a practical process in breast cancer screening centres. Dr Rangayyan expects that the service will be available within two years, after a user-friendly interface and high-speed links are completed.

For Dr Larry Lines, who uses wave equations to get seismic data, the cluster "means we can start to expect performance in hours instead of days." The impact on his research program is that "we can deal with more realistic questions."

"We can try out things we couldn't try before." This is significant in the area of geology and geophysics where researchers need to stay in line with advanced computing developments in the oil and gas industry. "They're very efficient at data handling - they're in a different league - but we're near the forefront of algorithm development."

In the world of computer animation, where researchers need to see results right away so they can adjust parameters and try different possibilities, a fast computer makes a world of difference. Dr Brian Wyvill and his student Mark Tigges have been producing textured surfaces in computer graphics in just seconds. Working now with the cluster, "it takes longer to transfer images to video than to render images," Dr Wyvill said of their animations.

The heaviest users of the alpha cluster to date have by far been the chemists, and while they expect to make a significant step forward, results for some of them have been mixed. "We're not able to get new programs running on it the way we want," explains Dr Arvi Rauk, citing software difficulties.

Fridman agrees that some of the progress has been slow, "You can't just buy a book on it."

An application for $6 million is before Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) to expand the alpha cluster to rank among the top 500 computing facilities in the world. This expansion, along with a similar expansion to the Origin 2000 computer at the University of Alberta, are part of phase two of MACI. MACI-2, as it is called, is designed to build a world-class regional computational infrastructure with advanced multimedia capabilities and involves the University of Lethbridge and the University of Manitoba.

Final results of the CFI competition are expected in June 1999.