Super computers could help cities deal with fierce weather

February 24, 2014

Ontario high performance computing partnership marks two years of impact

The disruption in cities across North American caused by severe weather has only created more urgency to find big solutions to big problems. 

And an innovative Guelph company has taken up the challenge. Dr. Xin Qiu and his colleagues at Novus Environmental Inc. are collaborating with researchers at Western University to test new models for extreme weather events at Western’s WindEEE dome, the world’s first hexagonal wind tunnel that can simulate large-scale, real wind systems. 

The research relates to extreme events like tornadoes, downburst and other extreme wind conditions that are plaguing the U.S. Midwest and are expected to become more prevalent in Ontario in the future. 

This is just one example of an initiative launched two years ago with the launch of the IBM-led Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP), a unique collaborative research project that has spawned more than 40 industry-academic research projects among the seven university partners. 

In a report released last week, SOSCIP celebrates breakthroughs achieved over the past two years. 

“We are now working with some of Ontario’s most exciting, innovative companies,” says Dr. Tom Corr, President and CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), a SOSCIP partner. “Since SOSCIP was launched, we have been amazed to see the ingenuity and commercial potential that has been unlocked through the kinds of industry-academic partnerships that are now underway in areas like water, energy, smart cities and health.” 

OCE’s support of Novus Environmental will help the company use extreme weather simulations to inform how buildings and transportation networks can be designed to better withstand extreme storms. OCE is also working with Kela Medical, which has created a portable wallet-sized card with their complete medical history that can be connected to any computer. Using the SOSCIP Analytics Cloud technologies, the company will be able to develop a cloud-based solution to aggregate, analyze and standardize patient health records.

OCE’s  specific mandate under SOSCIP is to ensure the province’s small and medium-size companies gain access to the most in demand and state-of-the-art computing platforms.  Access to High Performance Computing (HPC) technology has typically been outside the reach of many small businesses. Now, companies chosen to participate in SOSCIP have access to IBM’s Blue Gene/Q system, the fastest supercomputer in Canada and on the TOP 500 list of the world’s top supercomputers. Businesses that qualify are also given access to Cloud and Agile computing infrastructures and technical support personnel such as data architects and analytics specialists. 

Another OCE-supported company under SOSCIP, Chematria is working to make drug discovery racially faster and cheaper by replacing test tubes with computer prediction. The University of Toronto start-up is leveraging a combination of massive data sets, intelligent machine learning algorithms and supercomputing through SOSCIP, which enables it to predict outcomes that are currently being uncovered through traditional experimentation in laboratories. 

Investments made in SOSCIP are having long-term impacts, including the creation of new, highly skilled jobs and incentives for private-sector companies to expand operations in Ontario.

An estimated 280 jobs have been created to date, doubling the initial estimate. 
“In fewer than two years, the vision for creating a new kind of collaborative research partnership – one that uses the latest HPC technology to address important questions facing society – has moved from concept to reality,” says Dr. Paul Young, Vice President, Research and Innovation, University of Toronto and Chair of SOSCIP’s Board of Directors. 

Along with universities, SOSCIP’s collaborative partnerships include the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada’s Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, IBM Canada Ltd. and OCE.
An online copy of Smart Computing for Innovation: 2014 Impact Report is available at