Big Blue’s gift to bring order to data

Computer Science professor Mark Daley said with terabytes of research information rolling in on a daily basis “everyone is drowning in data nowadays.” But a $65-million donation of analytics software from IBM Canada, announced Wednesday, might just be the life preserver data junkies need.

Big Blue’s gift-in-kind to Western, which will exponentially enhance the collaborative efforts already underway between the two partners, is part of a recently announced $210 million research and development innovation network between Western, the University of Toronto, IBM and the governments of Canada and Ontario.

“IBM is a leader in analytics, so this software and hardware will give us the opportunity to have strong analytical tools so we can take this terabyte of data and make some kind of sense of it,” said Daley, whose research interest in neuroscience and modeling the brain will benefit greatly from this donation.

“The brain is a good natural computer,” he said. “We have large magnets over at Robarts (Research Institute) that generate terabytes of data – images of blood flowing in the brain – and we’d like to turn that into some sort of model of how the brain is working. Ideally, what we want to do is create simplified models. We want to take this huge data and turn it into simple, effective equations, simple rules of nature. Analyzing that by simply looking at it individually is just not feasible; there is too much.”

IBM’s gift provides Western with the leading-edge research tools to utilize fully and accelerate the processing capabilities. The analytic software will help researchers and scientists extract relevant data and analyze it.

“This remarkable investment will provide Western researchers with the tools to explore the infinite possibilities of agile and cloud computing,” Western President Amit Chakma said Wednesday. “IBM is recognized as a world leader in technological innovation and infusing their intelligence into our systems will no doubt produce exciting results.”

The traditional model of science going back centuries is that you work very hard in the lab or field to gather a little bit of data, which you then have a lot of time to go back and analyze. We now got the exact opposite problem, Daley said.

“The curse of science now is that for years it has been data starved, and all of a sudden we have a delusion of data that we don’t even know what to do with it,” he said. “In almost any discipline of science, we are collecting huge quantities of data that we cannot make sense of using traditional methods and approaches. There are not enough seconds left in my lifetime to look at all of the data I personally gather.”

The solution to this problem is big data analytics.

“The tools that IBM is providing us with are exactly what we need to be able to take these colossal data sets and make sense of them in an automated way,” said Daley, adding researchers from disciplines across campus can benefit from big data analytics. “What this provides us is a framework for mining what we really care about. These tools are the foundational tools we need to bring these data sets down to something we can analyze.”