ORION in the community: Ryerson University v4Lab

What do you get when you put highly inquisitive students and robots into Ryerson’s new Student Learning Centre? You see the very sparks of invention fly. That’s what happened from July 11 – 22, 2016 when ORION’s director of engineering and network operations Ted Longley came as a guest speaker to Ryerson’s Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science’s v4Lab summer program, which seeks to intersect the disciplines of science, engineering, design and in a new era of emerging technology that knows no boundaries or categories, dubbed Industry 4.0 by the program.

“Ontario’s knowledge-based economy is continuing to grow, requiring students to be well versed in not only all types of digital tools and technologies, but acquire design-thinking skills that are needed to solve 21st century problems,” says program founder Nene Brode. “This intensive workshop gives students an opportunity to engage with these technological intersections in a post-secondary environment, and meet researchers involved with famous robots like the Hitchbot.”

ORION’s director of engineering and network operations, Ted Longley, explains cloud infrastructure to students at v4Lab.

Since Ryerson University is an ORION-connected institution, Ted Longley was invited to speak to students from age 12 – 16 on the role of digital infrastructure behind the robotics and big data that they were experimenting with during robotics workshops. As a testament to young people’s ability to learn quickly, it soon became apparent that the students were already familiar with terms like “IoT” and “cloud.” But how do things like IoT and the cloud work, and why do we have complex issues like hackers or stolen healthcare data? Ted fielded a bevy of intelligent questions, which only generated more inquiry from these bright minds:


What happens to data on a device when we no longer use the device?

If you set up your device to use cloud storage, then your data would remain in the cloud for a pre-determined period of time. This is the beauty of the cloud, and this scenario would allow you to easily restore all of your data on a new device should it become lost or stolen.

Can the cloud ever become too full?

Yes, technically! Since the cloud is a physical thing, it comes with maximum capacity limits. But cloud technology is designed to be very “elastic”, enabling more “horizontal” capability to be added to the cloud, so that storage can grow, as needed. This is one of the defining attributes of “cloud infrastructure.”

Does the cloud ever clear out?

Storing and running data can be very expensive, and since there is a storage maximum, some companies might choose to store the data only for a period of time. Other companies, however, understand the potential long-term benefit of having access to massive amounts of data and tend to store everything that they can. With this in mind, it is important to realize that your activity online may create a “digital footprint” that could be difficult to erase. So think twice before posting that crazy selfie, as it may show up in a job interview down the road…

Is our data ever truly deleted?

To a certain extent, it depends on the provider and/or service.

For example, if a Facebook account is deleted, the user receives a notification that all of his or her data will be available for 30 more days, and afterward, Facebook deletes the account and its data. On the other hand, Google doesn’t delete anything – it hangs on to all its data. However, as users, we often have the ability to determine what data is important and cloud providers will offer various data retention services (ex. data backup) for a fee.

What if something happens to the cloud?

The security of the cloud depends on companies providing cloud infrastructure, which is a fancy way of saying how a cloud is built. For example, a local cloud might be part of a global cloud, in order to have lots of redundancy or resiliency. That way, if something happens to one of the local clouds, the global cloud has everything retained.

During these early days of cloud, the level of quality from one cloud provider to another can be quite broad. Some cloud providers offer incredibly resilient technology with redundant infrastructure running across the globe, which means if some infrastructure in one rack or location is disrupted, there are other elements that can take on the load. Others, however, sell a “cloudified” story but their infrastructure may not have all of the necessary components to help prevent service disruptions. A service disruption is when a failed component results in an interruption to your service. For example, if Snapchat had a significant data centre issue and you weren’t able to upload new content, that would be a service disruption. Reputable cloud providers ensure that there are numerous systems that are able to take on the work of faulty systems to help ensure that services are not disrupted. That’s called “fault tolerance.” Therefore, it is important that you do your research and make sure that your selected providers offer service assurances that match your needs.


The programming at v4Lab gave students a chance to apply and explore emerging technology and design at a deeper, tactile level. ORION was proud to participate in Ryerson’s innovative pilot summer program because of the shared belief that equipping the next generation requires more than giving textbooks and getting good grades. It requires a higher level of thinking that critically assesses the digital tools and products before us. Technology is only useful when given a purpose – and ORION’s community speaking event helped shed light on the types of technology that the next generation can harness to pursue more innovative purposes for more good.

As Ontario’s innovation partner in education, research and innovation, ORION’s participation at community events like v4Lab helps learners to not merely consume content, but intelligently innovate and assess the skills and tools they’ll be armed with as they create the content of the future.