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Ulster University to transform global Internet industry with $3 million US-Ireland research project

Professor Gerard Parr Professor Gerard Parr

Ulster University scientists have secured $3 million in research funding to transform Internet connectivity and computer storage capacity for the global telecommunications industry.

The major three-year project is the first of its kind funded by US-Ireland R&D Programme and will begin in January 2016. Ulster University's research will develop innovative technologies that will meet the growing global demand for digital technologies including social media, the Internet and cloud computing, by intelligently managing the fastest, next generation networks and systems.

Ulster University's involvement is part of a tri-jurisdictional approach, driving significant research between internationally leading partners in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States of America. Ulster University's partnership includes working with the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the USA, Science Foundation in Ireland (SFI) in the Republic of Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning Northern Ireland (DELNI) and Invest NI.

The research, led by Professor Gerard Parr, will take place at the University's Coleraine campus which has unique access to the Kelvin Trans-Atlantic Fibre Interconnector which can be used as a test-bed to facilitate research between Europe and the United States.

In this project, in conjunction with the US-Ireland partners, the Ulster team will explore new, transformative technologies that promise to provide a scalable solution spanning intra and inter data centre networking through agile optics built on photonic integrated devices to realize hybrid optical and electronic switching.

Ulster University Vice-Chancellor Professor Paddy Nixon said: "Building upon Ulster University's internationally excellent research capability in computer science, our unique connection to the Kelvin Interconnector allows physical and networking technologies to be developed, benchmarked and stress-tested in a practical, real-world environment.

"This, combined with our expertise in big data, security and management protocols as well as software defined and virtual networks at our Cloud Technologies Research Centre, means Ulster University is now at the forefront of this exciting global research project.

"The prestigious US-Ireland funding and local support from the Department for Employment and Learning will allow us to develop further linkages with international partners that will, in turn, stimulate further research proposals and student exchanges.

"The recommendations from the Ulster University project team will be crucial in mapping out the complex networks required over the next ten to fifteen years. They will alleviate the pressures faced by data centres that are currently reaching practical limits and urgently warrant new technical approaches."

This increasing demand for digital technologies and access to  a plethora  of applications and services from consumers, companies, government and industry is fuelling the growth in the number and range of devices and sensors connected to the Internet. 

That growth is coupled with the huge increase in the amount of data being generated from and between these devices (e.g. smart phones, energy meters, cameras, cars, household objects, and biosensors). All this data needs to be captured and stored in high capacity Data centres for processing and data value extraction. 

Driven by the increasing use of Cloud Computing and Data Analytics by large corporates such as banks, pharma, airlines, ICT companies and governments, this US-Ireland team of top scientists and engineers have come together with an innovative and exciting plan of research to develop solutions for the fastest network connections within and between high capacity data centres that will cope with vast amounts of data. 

Employment and Learning Minister Dr Stephen Farry said: "I commend Ulster University on successfully securing one of the prestigious Centre-to-Centre research awards under the US-Ireland R&D Partnership. My Department will be funding the Northern Ireland element of this award which will help further international cooperation between Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the United States.

"This award will facilitate the Centre-to-Centre collaboration between Professor Parr and his team at Ulster University with researchers from two of the Science Foundation Ireland funded Centres, CONNECT and IPIC, and with researchers from the US National Science Foundation funded Centre for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN).

"The project, which is focused on optical digital network communications and cloud computing, will undoubtedly deliver extensive economic benefits for all." 

Working alongside Ulster University's Professor Gerard Parr will be Professor Bryan Scotney, Professor Sally McClean and Professor Philip Morrow.The project will form linkages between the following academic institutions in Ireland and America:  Dublin City University (DCU), Tyndall Lab/University College Cork (UCC) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) as well as the US-Centre for Integrated Access Technologies (CIAN) Universities including University of Arizona (UA), Columbia University (CU), University of California San Diego (UCSD), University of California Berkley (UCB) as well as other partner institutions and industry organisations.