Snapshot 2020: A Year We’ll Never Forget

A message from Alfonso Licata
ORION President & CEO

2020 was a year of turmoil and triumphs.

Alfonso Licata Profile PhotoWhat a year.

The pandemic affected every part of our lives, but especially how we connect.

Overnight, we went from working in an office to working from home. Instead of becoming isolated, ORION’s community connections got stronger. We talked to each other more frequently, connected constantly online and discussed important issues in lively video sessions. We got a lot of work done and we got to know each other better.

I hope this connectedness and sense of community will last. Not just in 2021, but for years to come.

In 2020, the need for ORION’s work and technology became more tangible and real.

Reliable online access was indispensable in 2020, and I’d like to think that ORION delivered on that need consistently. Our products and services were needed like never before.

But the pandemic also shone a light on gaps in connectedness affecting communities across Ontario, not just technically but in terms of community connection, too. This motivated us to advocate for equal access to broadband in all areas of the province, and to examine how we could better connect underserved communities to information, innovation and the rest of the ORION community.

2020 showed us that our real reason for being is to connect people and ideas.

ORION isn’t about fibre in the ground. It’s about connecting people so they can do great work. The pandemic has also shown us what happens when people and communities can’t connect. It’s shown us that we’re all vulnerable, and it’s driven us to come together and fight back. Our platform facilitates progress, action and solutions by bringing people and ideas together.

For example, we supported the work of Ontario’s COVID-19 Genomics Rapid Response Coalition, where many in our community came together over our network to help decode the COVID genome sequence using Ontario’s Advanced Research Computing. We’re proud to have contributed to this critical social initiative that will make a significant impact around the world.

Please join us in building a better 2021 for all.

In 2020, we’ve all been touched by the pandemic in different ways. I’ve lost people. Many of you may have, too. We’ve all missed being with other people and doing things together. But the pandemic also served to inspire the ORION team to respond to community needs more nimbly and adeptly, to help make Ontario better, stronger and more connected. I couldn’t ask for a more committed, talented team to join me on this journey.

In 2021, we’ll be celebrating ORION’s 20th anniversary and will be embarking on a new year filled with big ideas and lots of action. I hope you’ll participate by sharing your own thoughts and ideas and by providing us with feedback on ours. I also hope to see you soon, on video or in person.

Alfonso Licata
President and CEO

But while it was undeniably challenging for us all, it was also a year of triumph over adversity.

Faced with a local and global pandemic, ORION – like the community we serve – had to rise to the occasion again and again to overcome a never-ending stream of obstacles and threats. In retrospect, it’s amazing how much we achieved.

Faced with constant new challenges, we adapted our programs and services to keep up with new needs in a radically altered landscape.

What we accomplished amid the chaos of 2020 was impressive and worth holding onto. As a result of this difficult year, we are now:

  • More in touch and engaged in two-way communication with our stakeholders
  • More agile at pivoting to meet new situations with new technology
  • More nimble at responding to our users’ changing needs

Let’s take a look back at what we managed to do, against all odds, in 2020, the Year of the Pandemic.

Network Achievements in 2020

Network Achievements in 2020

In March of 2020, ORION invited our community to participate in a workshop to determine network priorities. The outcomes of this meeting, driven by the community, informed the direction of our network activities.

Priority #1 came through loud and clear: resiliency.

Across the board, users were looking for increased resiliency. To address that priority, we’ve launched several network enhancements, including:

  • Adding a second Tier 1 transit point to add redundancy, so that if one of the providers ever has an outage, a backup is in place to prevent the network from going down.
  • Modernizing our Points of Presence (PoPs). After undertaking a series of facility assessments over the summer (read about the road trip here), ORION added important enhancements to PoPs right across Ontario.
  • Relocating Ottawa’s Point of Presence from Albert Street in Ottawa to the University of Ottawa, helping us deliver increased resiliency while improving overall service to the region (read our press release).

Achievements in Cybersecurity in 2020

Achievements in Cybersecurity in 2020

With the pandemic forcing Ontarians to work and learn from home during much of 2020, cybersecurity commanded our attention.

Due to a surge in global cyberattacks, ORION heard from more users than ever who feared for the safety of their data, research and operations.

In response, we doubled down on our commitment to delivering products, services and programs to provide users with further threat protections and enhanced security when they connect through our dedicated network.

What Was New in Services for 2020?

Our users needed support to strengthen their cybersecurity culture and to enhance protection against evolving threats, so ORION launched many new additions to our service offerings:

ORION DDoS Threat Protection

DDOS Threat Protection : 114 Threat interventions network-wideDDoS attacks can cause serious harm. They can disrupt your operations, damage your reputation, operate as a smoke screen for more severe cyberattacks – and occasionally, involve ransom demands.

Responding to concerns from the ORION community, last summer, we rolled out ORION DDoS Threat Protection. It detects attacks on the network and is monitored during business hours. It is now included as part of our core service.

The result? ORION successfully mitigated dozens of significant DDoS attacks. We sent detailed incident reports to every targeted organization so they could take action to prevent future similar attacks.

ORION DDoS Enhanced Threat Protection

Enhanced DDOS Threat Protection infographic : 33 Threat interventions for five organizationsSome ORION community members needed more. They needed round-the-clock DDoS protection. So, in September we launched ORION Enhanced DDoS Threat Protection. It provides customized DDoS protection and automated mitigation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The result? After just a few months, our Enhanced DDoS Threat Protection program had detected and automatically mitigated dozens of potentially costly threats in as little as two minutes.

Learn more about DDoS Threat Protection here.

ORION Cybersecurity Awareness Training

In October of 2020, ORION partnered with CIRA (the Canadian Internet Registration Authority) to launch ORION Cybersecurity  Awareness Training  as a one-year pilot program because every single person on your network is a powerful part of protection against cybersecurity attacks.

ORION Cybersecurity Awareness Training combines ORION’s community-centred cybersecurity approach with CIRA’s software-as-a-service training platform.

During the one-year pilot, ORION is helping institutions implement the training platform and establish ongoing programs tailored to their objectives and needs.

Need help making cybersecurity part of your organization’s culture?  Learn more here.

ORION Community Training

ORION Community TrainingThe pandemic had a huge impact on how we supported the community with training in 2020. Training had to be delivered 100% online and be accessible to meet varying needs across the community.

ORION Flexible Online Training ensures that IT and cybersecurity teams have access to high quality skills training via self-paced courses delivered online. Interested? Find out more.

CodeRed is a cost-effective, subscription-based learning platform with premium online content created specifically for IT professionals. For more information, click here.


ON-CHEC (Ontario Cybersecurity Higher Education Consortium) is a well-established program built by our community, for our community.

In 2020, due to popular demand, we facilitated a one-day event that brought together ON-CHEC’s 29 active Ontario member organizations and seven higher learning institutions from Nova Scotia, joined the Ontario cohort.

The event focused on fostering collaboration across the higher education community by:

  • Creating an environment where member organizations were inspired to speak openly about industry challenges, with assured confidentiality
  • Inviting thought-leaders to present case histories and share solutions that would benefit many in our community
  • Genuinely inspire open dialogue and collaboration between peer-to-peer groups across the higher education field

The result?  83% of attendees reported that – as a result of attending the event – they would be more likely to collaborate with other members in the future.

Cybersecurity Initiatives Program (CIP)

Cybersecurity Initiatives Program (CIP)CIP is a National Research and Education Network (NREN) program funded by CANARIE. It is designed to support cybersecurity for post-secondary institutions, non-federal research facilities and Centres of Excellence.

In December of 2020, ORION launched CIP to Ontario’s eligible organizations to provide solution-driven programming in partnership with institutions. The initiatives include:

  • The CIRA DNS firewall initiative
  • The CanSSOC  Threat Feed initiative
  • The Joint Security Project intrusion detection system
ORION Shared Security Information Event Management (SIEM)

ORION Shared Security Information Event Management (SIEM)In response to feedback from our community, we established a proof of concept for a fully hosted multi-tenant SIEM.

Our shared SIEM proof of concept is designed to manage and configure the platform to meet the unique needs of each participating institution. Our goal is to provide rapid detection as well as improved reporting, analysis and compliance, thereby helping reduce the frequency, impact and cost of security events for us all.

Achievements in Partnerships in 2020

Achievements in Partnerships in 2020

Advisory Partnerships

After consulting the ORION community, we formed new two new advisory groups to inform our strategy and our planning priorities:

  • ORION’s Rural Remote Broadband Advisory Group (ORRB), to help us advocate effectively for equity in connectivity in rural and remote communities, particularly in research and innovation, and to help us fill connectivity gaps right across Ontario.
  • A Cloud working group, to help us serve the needs of our community by developing new products and services involving cloud solutions.
NREN Partnership

Also, to better understand our community’s challenges and opportunities (regarding digital infrastructure, services or other kinds of support), we partnered with the NREN on several initiatives to benefit us all, including:

  • Co-hosting the NREN Summit, an event designed to inspire networking and digging into shared issues and solutions within our community.
  • Developing key programs like our Cybersecurity Initiatives Program and MANRS (Mutually Agreed Norms for Routing Security), which provides crucial fixes to reduce the most common routing threats.
Partnerships in Cybersecurity

Finally, in partnership with ON-CHEC , we released the 2020 Higher Education Cybersecurity Report, which leveraged data from one of the largest benchmarking datasets on cybersecurity and addressed the biggest gaps in the cyber-readiness of higher learning institutions.

The report made concrete recommendations about what governments can do to support cybersecurity in higher education in Ontario. We’ve been discussing with our government partners how we can work together to improve cybersecurity for the whole sector.

Because together, we will all be stronger.

Celebrating Progress

As we approach a new milestone – our 20th anniversary in 2021 – we thought it would be worth taking a quick look back at where we started and where we are now, after almost two decades of supporting research, education and innovation in Ontario.Celebrating Progress Map: ORION network 2003

ORION started life in 2001 as the Optical Regional Advanced Network of Ontario (ORANO) and by 2003, it had provisioned 500 km of cable, connecting Sudbury and Toronto.

Celebrating Progress Map : showing ORION's Network today

Today, the ORION network stretches more than 6000 km, from Thunder Bay in the west to Ottawa in the east, and from Timmins in the north to Windsor in the south.

It connects higher learning institutions, school boards, teaching hospitals, research institutes, advanced research computing facilities, other researchers and innovators, as well as public libraries.

As the Ontario partner in Canada’s NREN, ORION connects 1.7 million students, educators, and researchers to their peers and the resources they need to succeed right across the country and all around the world.

ORION Facts & Figures: Looking Back at the Past 10 Years

Revenue Over the Past 10 Years  

Revenue Over the Past 10 Years Graph

Operating Expenses Over the Past 10 Years 

Operating Expenses Over the Past 10 Years Graph

Network Infrastructure Investment Over the Past 10 Years

Network Infrastructure Investment Over the Past 10 Years Graph

ORION’s Impact Over the Past 5 Years

Orion's Impact Over the Past 5 Years Graph

Here’s to all we’ve achieved as a community so far, even during a year as fraught with challenges as 2020.

Join us in looking forward to the future of our community, and to celebrating ORION’s 20th anniversary in 2021!

We want to hear from you. Especially any ideas you have for how ORION could serve you – and our whole community – better.

Please email to share your thoughts.