Joint NSERC Alliance Project ‘puts Kingston at the forefront’ in distributed computing

Kingston-October 27th 2020 The Queen’s School of Computing (QSC) and local technology startup Kings Distributed Systems (KDS) are collaborating on a cutting-edge research project that they say is unique in the country, and the world. Leveraging a grant awarded to KDS from the Natural Sciences and Engineering esearch Council of Canada (NSERC), they’re working to commercialize an advanced scheduling framework for edge computing.

"The computing resource is the oil of the future, and this taps into a gusher,” said Douglas Stewart, Director of Special Projects and Co-founder at KDS.

Traditional methods of obtaining computing resources — data centres and cloud computing — are expensive and falling behind demand, explained KDS.

However, the team is proving that the aggregation of personal and enterprise-owned devices at the “edge” of the network can create computing alternatives to meet growing need. This provides abundant, secure and low-cost tools for research, innovation and discovery, they said.

Founded in 2017, KDS is responsible for deploying the Distributed Compute Protocol (DCP). This cross-platform system aggregates computing resources from arbitrary devices and digital infrastructure — from smartphones to enterprise servers — and makes it available to researchers and innovators, on-demand. This allows individuals, companies and institutions to recapture and allocate under-utilized resources for science and innovation.

Now, KDS is contributing $740,000 into this joint research project with Queen’s. They hosted a kick-off event and cheque handover on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.

“We are excited to take on this cutting-edge project and proud to be able to offer our students and researchers newfound knowledge and training in this important field,” said Hossam Hassanein, Director of Queen’s School of Computing and Principal Investigator on the project. “It’s also gratifying as a researcher to see direct commercial application of our pure-science discoveries.”

Hassanein said the project will also “democratize edge computing for the general public.”

“Traditionally these resources are offered through the big companies like Amazon Web Services, or the service providers such as Bell or Cogeco,” he explained. “This will increase access and capability.”

As part of this initiative QSC will engage 21 students and researchers over four years. They said the hope is that their research will continue to expand the boundaries of human knowledge in the subject, and both parties look forward to a “fruitful” long-term collaboration.

‘This is not being done anywhere else in the world’

KDS CEO Dan Desjardins led a demonstration for the members of the media present at event. First, he displayed a laptop showing a complex mathematical equation, several pages long. He then asked three people to navigate to a specific url on their mobile phone browsers and agree to join a network. The laptop then leveraged the combined computing power of devices on the network to instantly process the math sequences into graphs.

There are privacy features built in to the system, he explained, with no sensitive data access required during the demonstration. When set up at the institutional level, he said, privacy restrictions limit who or which devices can join the network.

Desjardins said that the system is already being made available for free to universities and high schools. It is currently set up at Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi, Kenya, he said, with plans to extend the network to 22 other universities in the area.

“This is cutting-edge research that’s not being done anywhere else in the world right now,” said Stewart. “We’re unique in the world and certainly the first in Canada.”

The team said the exponential growth of data-driven initiatives such as smart cities, and other “compute-hungry” research, highlight the need for their system. In light of advancing computer technologies, ubiquitous resources for fast and affordable computing are critical, they said.

Story by Samantha Hassan-Butler of The Kingstonist for The Local Journalism Initiative

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