Compute Canada & CANARIE Response to TC3+ Consultation Paper: Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship

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1 Compute Canada & CANARIE Response to TC3+ Consultation Paper: Capitalizing on Big Data: Toward a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada December 2013

2 Introduction CANARIE and Compute Canada are pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the consultation document Towards a Policy Framework for Advancing Digital Scholarship in Canada and thank the granting councils and Canada Foundation for Innovation for advancing the discussion on this topic. As vital components of Canada s digital infrastructure supporting research, education and innovation in Canada, Compute Canada and CANARIE have a unique perspective on the state of digital infrastructure in Canada and how it may be strengthened to deliver greater and more sustainable returns on public investments. CANARIE and the provincial and territorial network partners collectively operate and evolve Canada s research and education network. In addition to providing ultra high-speed network connectivity, CANARIE also provides access and identity management services, through the Canadian Access Federation, enabling remote access to research data and to other critical services. CANARIE is also leading the development of a range of research software platforms, including a suite of reusable research software services, to address the current gap in research software and enable users to easily access and analyze national and international data resources. Compute Canada makes up the national organization responsible for delivering advanced computing services to researchers and innovators across the country. These services include the most significant data storage facilities for researchers in Canada, computational facilities ranging from high performance computing clusters to cloud computing resources. More importantly, they provide the personnel and expertise required to effectively support researchers in using this infrastructure by providing consulting, software development, analysis, and other services. Compute Canada and CANARIE are members of the Leadership Council for Digital Infrastructure, which is also preparing a response to this consultation. While the Leadership Council response will represent the views of a wide range of digital infrastructure stakeholders, this response reflects the perspective of Compute Canada and CANARIE as longstanding leaders and providers of digital infrastructure. Response to Specific Recommendations 1. Establishing a Culture of Stewardship While some research areas already have well thought-out models of data stewardship, the rapid growth of data creation, across a range of disciplines, means that massive amounts of data are being generated and stored in the absence of any directive or strategy for preservation. As such, we agree that establishing a culture of data stewardship within the research community needs to be a priority for funders and service providers alike. CANARIE and Compute Canada support the recommendations in the document and offer the following additional recommendations for consideration: 2

3 a) Development of mechanisms to ensure conformance to the accepted data management and curation standards. One approach could be to require a Data Compliance Certificate to validate that the data has been adequately tagged and stored in a manner that makes it accessible and re-usable by others. This ensures that the data management requirements of the funders are respected before the data is housed. This approach delivers both top-down and bottom-up mechanisms to ensure compliance, and may work to ease the transition from the traditional protectionism approach to data, to an environment characterized by open and easy access to data. b) Providing, and supporting the use of, common research software tools to researchers and users to streamline the data archival and retrieval processes using community acceptedstandards. c) While Compute Canada and CANARIE support the development of policies and standards governing data that support effective stewardship, we would like to reiterate that in the absence of sustained funding for the physical infrastructure to house and access these data, and the staff, tools, and services necessary for researchers to make use of the data, the effort is for naught. It is not obvious how the current 5-year (maximum) funding timeline can support decades-long archival requirements. One potential solution may be to have the government commit to funding the infrastructure renewal before the mandate expires to signal a commitment to sustained long-term archiving, reduce the level of uncertainty in the community, and incent data creators to use the national data storage resource. d) Going forward, it is critical that the existing expertise be leveraged to its full potential. Although Compute Canada has resources and expertise in storing data, the primary expertise for data stewardship lies in other organizations (including CARL, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, which is shepherding the development of a Canadian Research Data Management Network, in collaboration with the Canadian Knowledge Research Network, academic libraries and Research Data Canada). 2. Coordination of Stakeholder Engagement We agree that, while grassroots-led initiatives have served the community well, it is time for greater coordination among stakeholders. Compute Canada and CANARIE are willing partners in this endeavour. There is no single organization in Canada with the expertise to span the digital infrastructure ecosystem. Only by pulling together can we optimize the return on investment for Canadians. In addition to supporting the proposed recommendations, we would like to point out that existing mechanisms could be strengthened to further harmonize activities and requirements between funders, users, and providers of digital infrastructure. a) Digital infrastructure providers could be invited to existing meetings where funding agency representatives review major science initiatives, or to other regular meetings where long-term project plans are developed. This simple step would go a long way towards ensuring alignment of digital infrastructure with the future needs of research and innovation communities, without adding any administrative burden. b) Recognizing the current decentralized model of digital infrastructure, there is an opportunity to foster an orderly evolution of the infrastructure, support Open Data initiatives, and ensure interoperability of the components. This could be achieved by 3

4 developing a set of standards to which each component must adhere, and could be an eligibility requirement for public funding. For example, data repositories could become open to a broader community of use once they agreed to certain data management and curation standards (likely developed by CARL and its partner organizations), and would be housed in a national research data facility (that complies with data storage standards). This would enable convergence to an architecture, which could meet the needs of the private and public sector, as well as enable the private sector to adapt their products and services to offer compliant in-kind offerings to support public initiatives. 3. Developing Capacity and Future Funding Parameters CANARIE and Compute Canada agree with the recommendations and would like to respond to the call to identify gaps, and offer recommendations to address them. a) Canada lacks a cohesive strategy for research data. While Compute Canada has multiple sites that collectively have the capacity to form a national data storage facility, funding issues constrain our ability to develop a robust and sustainable national research data centre. The current funding structure makes long-term strategic planning for such a facility difficult. b) Canada has an ad hoc strategy for research software. A more cohesive strategy could identify priority areas for software development, create a library of reusable software tools, and better coordinate the efforts of existing providers of research software (including CANARIE, Compute Canada, Genome Canada, and others). c) CANARIE and Compute Canada agree with the recommendation made by Research Data Canada in its response to this consultation, with respect to engaging with the international data community, and in particular with Research Data Alliance, to build research data interoperability. d) A relatively simple tactic to increase awareness of the digital infrastructures available would be to have a section in all research grant applications where researchers would be provided with a list of digital infrastructure tools available (network, compute, software, storage, etc.), and would be required to identify what other tools they needed in addition to these infrastructures. By highlighting the digital infrastructure available when researchers are preparing grant applications, researchers would better understand the range and availability of existing infrastructure and tools. The process ensures that research dollars are applied to research, not research infrastructure. It would also serve to identify gaps in digital infrastructure, as the grant review process would illuminate any consistent patterns with respect to additional infrastructure requirements of users. The Funding Challenge While Compute Canada and CANARIE have identified a range of tactics that would improve the efficiency and effectiveness of Canada s digital infrastructure, the current funding structures, and the behaviours they incent, could be aligned to affect strategic change and concomitant benefits. Current funding structures present challenges with respect to the development of a long-term strategy and planning horizon for key elements of digital infrastructure. Compute Canada and 4

5 CANARIE are funded by different departments within Industry Canada, tasked with different objectives, and funded for different time periods. As such, ensuring these foundational infrastructures are investing to deliver maximum benefit at any given time can be challenging. An opportunity exists to better harmonize funding and mandate structures to enable these organizations to engage in long-term planning, to balance investments in network, compute, software and storage as community needs evolve, and to provide a simpler interface for users of these infrastructures. Funding options to deliver better alignment of these infrastructures include: harmonizing the funding time horizons of CANARIE and Compute Canada and directing these organizations to align strategic and operational planning; reconsidering the funding model for national infrastructure, including expert staff. For example, it is not clear that the current 60% co-fund requirement is the best model for long-term stable operations of Compute Canada; or a combination of the above. CANARIE and Compute Canada agree that there is no need for an umbrella organization to oversee their activities. Today, consistent, collaborative and strategic conversations occur between the two organizations, and the expectation is that this collaboration will continue to strengthen over time. This relationship supports the delivery of the major components of required digital infrastructure: CANARIE provides advanced networking, network services, and research software (recognizing that CANARIE is not the only player in the research software sphere); while Compute Canada delivers advanced research computing and data storage, access, and analysis services (recognizing that there is no current strategy for research data storage). Both organizations support the work of partner organizations involved in the development of a strategy for the curation, preservation and reuse of research data; and are focused on meeting the evolving needs of the broad user community in universities, colleges, research hospitals, libraries, and government research labs. Final Thoughts Developing capacity to serve existing needs and adapt to a rapidly changing environment is critical to strengthening Canada s ability to engage and excel in digitally-enabled research. This required capacity includes both hardware and the technical expertise of a skilled workforce. Compute Canada and CANARIE would like to reiterate our position that, in order to thrive, stable partners and a predictable funding environment are essential. We also feel that best practices and technology are vital, but we must not let current international best practices and best-of-breed technologies limit our ambitions. To give Canadian researchers and their partners the services, resources, and advantages they serve we must have the skills and resources to push at the frontiers and advance beyond current international norms, and drive and develop the tools and technologies that best serve Canadian priorities With rapid changes in technology quickly depreciating particular pieces of physical infrastructure, the most important and long-lasting form of digital infrastructure is people - informed, engaged researchers; highly skilled pools of staff expertise who can be brought to bear 5

6 on projects of national significance; partnering to provide comprehensive digital services atop physical and data management infrastructure. CANARIE and Compute Canada appreciate the opportunity to comment on the proposed recommendations and would be pleased to discuss the additional actions that we have proposed in further detail. Jim Ghadbane President and CEO CANARIE Jill Kowalchuk President Compute Canada 6

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