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Defending the data: how much is a Yotta? A whole lotta security potential, according to the federal government.

Regardless of the emergencies Canada might face--health, crime, terrorism, or natural disasters--secure management technologies are a necessity. To provide for this, a leading-edge, made-in-Canada system of data sharing and management for defence, security, aerospace and research is in the works. The $30.1 million initiative involves the federal government, an Edmonton-based technology firm and key project investors. It's a good example of how the government is encouraging research and development through private-public partnerships.

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Smarter integration

The system is called the Global Data Habitat. The creation of Alberta's Yotta Yotta Inc., it's the world's first geographically distributed secure data management system. According to Yotta Yotta chief technology officer and co-founder Wayne Karpoff, it's going to mean a safer hard-wired Canadian environment.

The project is a very dramatic attempt to create the kind of "disruptive technology," says Karpoff, that will safeguard domestic information systems--whether it's in the face of flood or Internet crime.

"The building blocks are focused on creating something very dramatic," he notes. "It's a large project and it needs to be accelerated."

The issue of security has never been more prevalent than right now, he adds. It's essentially a chance to prevent security breaches in critical systems. "We have a very novel ability to make a big dent in that and the Canadian government has come to play a big role in this" he says. "What we're doing is changing the basic paradigm of how data is managed within a data centre and within a geographic region."

The necessity of such a system is clear, as computer data follows an exponential growth curve. According to a study by University of California (Berkeley), people will create more pieces of information in the next 2.5 years than have been created in the entire history of mankind.

With the shift from measuring data in bytes and kilobytes to gigabytes and terabytes, there is a need to safeguard these vast amounts of information. Like the side of an elephant, the bigger the volume, the more target area to hit--all that data needs protection, coordination and management.

Karpoff points to the use of this technology for security threats such as detecting someone buying an unusually large amount of fertilizer, or for use in military deployments of data-intensive global positioning systems. However, there is also a need to integrate and connect data systems in places like hospitals (for storing or sharing 3D images and to connect that information to specialists who may work at another hospital, anywhere in the world) as well as financial markets or enterprises.

All of these activities are: a) generating large amounts of data; b) creating a need to integrate these data and c) pointing to the need for a stronger infrastructure to handle it all, says Karpoff.

Among the challenges from a technology perspective is the need to scale the availability of data, essentially reducing the position of worldwide data centres so that they act "like they're all in a large room," says Karpoff. "You must also be able to replicate information in multiple sites, so that if one centre goes down the others will continue to run."

Partnership savvy

Karpoff says the system should have some deliverables over the next couple of years. That sits well with the federal government, which has been involved with the project for more than a year. Earlier this year, Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) announced a $7.67 million R & D investment for the program.

Martin Gordon, senior investment manager with TPC, says the initiative "underscores the federal government's goal to work with information technology companies that are driving the cause of Canada's knowledge-based 21st century economy forward."

Government officials say the investment supports the Canadian government's commitment to cooperative, made-in-Canada solutions that promote public-private partnerships. The partnership demonstrates the government's commitment to provide an integrated response to public safety and national security emergencies and threats, says Gordon.

Gordon says the business case presented by Yotta Yotta was interesting and underwent TPC's usual "strict scrutiny."

"It was a case of a company approaching the federal government for involvement in a technology that is both interesting and timely," says Gordon. "We get a lot of cases that are interesting but we take a look at not just the technology but the business plan. We were interested because it is a technology that is in demand and there is a strong repayment potential for the federal government. It's great technology and it's clearly in demand."

It allows a radically more cost-efficient solution to the problem of disaster management, recovery and prevention than in the past, says Gordon.

This will enable the consolidation of data management within large centres across immense geographic areas. The Global Data Habitat will ensure that agencies can continue functioning and sharing data in the event of a national emergency.

Since 1996, TPC has focused on helping Canadian companies perform research and development that takes new technologies closer to the marketplace, with projects that have the potential to improve the efficiency of production processes in traditional sectors as well as support innovation in emerging technologies.

As a world-class initiative, the Global Data Habitat is a major profile-raiser for Canada as a whole, says Karpoff. He sees it as a big boost to Canadian technology--and recognition of Canada's ability to pull together large teams of experts north of the border to tackle major technology challenges--something often considered the domain of American high-tech firms. "It's a huge myth that we can't do these 'superteams' like they do in the U.S.," says Karpoff of the potential of the Global Data Habitat.

Indeed, Yotta Yotta is a research-intensive company, with 80 employees, of which 68 are involved in research and development, with the vast majority working out of the company's Edmonton headquarters. Its research and development program has focused on the development of its core technology and resulting products. The company provides storage solutions to both the government and Fortune 500 companies.

And in case you were wondering about the name, "A Yotta is in fact a mathematical prefix that represents 10 to the 24th power," says Karpoff. And that powerful number may come to symbolize the potential success of a Canadian company that is definitely doing the math on safeguarding Canadian information systems.

John Cooper (tymelco@sympatico.ca) is a Whitby, Ont.-based freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:Government Issues
Author:Cooper, John
Publication:CMA Management
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
Words:1053
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