Snapshot 2021: Forging the Future

A message from Alfonso Licata
ORION President & CEO

Photo of Alfonso Licata2021 was a year of reflection and planning.

Unlike the quick pivots required in 2020, this past year provided us with the opportunity to reflect on the experiences, discoveries and developments that have taken place since the start of the pandemic so that we may begin to forge a sustainable and equitable future.

Each one of us, in our homes, families and communities, has adapted and devised new ways of living, working and connecting that have now become second nature. Our collective ability to adapt and grow in response to challenge is truly inspiring.

I am proud of what we, as a community, have discovered and achieved in 2021 and I invite you to join me in looking forward to forging a vibrant and sustainable future together.

In 2021, listening and learning were more important than ever.

Understanding the needs of our community and responding with relevant and meaningful support is what drives ORION. In 2021, we made it our priority to lean in; learning what the community required to succeed during this challenging time, and how we could help to facilitate accessible, equitable and meaningful solutions.

Thanks to the ubiquity of online video conferencing, we were able to host more community conversations, advisories and working groups, bringing together Ontario’s research, education and innovation community to share, listen and explore common challenges.

From the Women in Cybersecurity Roundtable and ON-CHEC Day, to the Cloud Working Group, Shared SIEM Proof of Concept and ORION Cybersecurity Awareness Training Advisory, your voices came through strong and clear.

The future will be collaborative.

From these valuable conversations, we have recognized that the need for a strong and secure network continues to rank among the community’s highest priorities. ORION is committed to providing educators, researchers and innovators with safe and reliable connections so that this community can continue to make a meaningful impact, solving new and complex local, national and global challenges.

Whether through increasing connectivity, reliability and access to collaboration in Northern Ontario, or through partnering with the community to create accessible shared solutions, ORION is poised to advocate, innovate and foster diversity to support research, education and innovation across the province.

This year, we are planning to come together again, in person and online, inspired and informed by the experiences of the past two years and to set the map for the road ahead.

I hope you will join us at THINK 2022, adding your voice and vision so that we may forge the future together.

Alfonso Licata
President and CEO


In 2021, we released our three-year strategy. Created in collaboration with the community, it identifies three strategic themes that set the path forward to support and connect research, education and innovation in Ontario.

A Culture of Purpose and Connection

ORION’s culture supports our social purpose of trusted connection. Our commitment to transparency, equity and engagement enables an intentional balance between collaboration, inclusivity, operational excellence and focus.

World Class Research Education and Innovation Platform

ORION sustains and constantly advances the province’s shared essential research, education and innovation platform. We protect its value and performance, driven by world class standards and an ambition for equitable access.

Trusted Community Partnerships

ORION connects Ontario’s research, education, and innovation ecosystem through trusted, relevant community partnerships. We lead transparent, focused conversations to unify our voices for shared digital infrastructure.

Let’s take a look back at what we achieved in each of these strategic themes in 2021.

Theme One: Creating a Culture of Purpose and Connection

Committing to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

ORION takes our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) very seriously. In 2021, we launched an initiative to ensure that EDI is woven into the cultural fabric of our organization at every level. We also championed EDI across our community, hosting two critical conversations. 

The Women in Cybersecurity Roundtable highlighted the diverse perspectives that are needed to build and sustain a strong cybersecurity culture.  

ON-CHEC Day’s Tackling the Diversity Divide panel showcased the importance of mentorship and adapting recruitment processes in fostering diversity of thought, experience and perspective within cybersecurity.  

Connecting to Community-Grown Talent

Recruiting New Talent Through Strategic Partnerships

Since it was founded in 2018, ORION has partnered with the Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst at Toronto Metropolitan University. The Catalyst collaborates closely with industry leaders, governments, public agencies and academic partners to empower Canadians and Canadian organizations to tackle the challenges of cybersecurity. In 2021, ORION hired two recent graduates to join our ON-CHEC and DDoS support teams.

The Accelerated Cybersecurity Training Program (ACTP), an initiative of Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst, is thrilled to have two of our recent graduates join ORION. In their new roles, they will be utilizing the skills they’ve acquired through ACTP to advance cybersecurity for Ontario’s education, research and innovation sector. The Catalyst is proud to have ORION as a valued partner in our efforts to drive Canada’s global competitiveness in cybersecurity.

— Andrea Dermody, Employer Partner Specialist, Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst, Toronto Metropolitan University

I joined ORION as a Cybersecurity Analyst after graduating from the Accelerated Cybersecurity Training Program (ACTP) at Ryerson University, Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst. I am very proud of both organizations and their partnership. The training program helped develop my cybersecurity skills, and ORION allowed me to use these skills to advance cybersecurity within the higher education community. I am very excited to be a part of this forward-looking and innovative organization where we strive to make a difference and build a stronger future.

— Sheetal Patel, RCC Valedictorian and ORION Cybersecurity Analyst for ON-CHEC

Supporting Interns from Connected Institutions

ORION is always excited for the opportunity to support young people from diverse backgrounds to gain industry experience. In 2021, we hosted students from the University of Toronto, George Brown College, and Humber College. Maham Bhatti, ORION’s Security Analyst Intern, joined us from the University of Toronto and said of her experience “My time at ORION was very hands-on and this internship gave me real-world experience and I was able to learn more about the day-to-day network and security operations. I gained many mentors at ORION.” Maham also identifies mentorship as a key component of her success and recognizes, through her work here, that “community is key” for success.    

Theme Two: Sustaining and Advancing a World Class Research Education Network

Strengthening and Expanding ORION’s Network

This is a responsibility we take very seriously – since our beginning in 2001, we have connected over 100 institutions, facilities and organizations to one another and globally through the ORION network. In 2021, we furthered that commitment with action, providing faster connection on high traffic routes, and by increasing the reliability and reach of the ORION network into Northern Ontario. 

Service for high-traffic routes including London to Toronto, Toronto to Ottawa and Peterborough to Sudbury received significant upgrades improving capacity, ensuring the network continues to meet community needs and enhancing access to high-quality connectivity. 

As part of our continued focus on enhancing connections for Northern Ontario, a core network span from York through Barrie to Sudbury was upgraded using next-generation optical equipment, increasing transport capability and to improving access between the North and Canada’s National Research and Education Network (NREN).  

Evolution of the Orion Network Infographic

Evolving and Strengthening Cybersecurity for the ORION Community

In 2021, the importance of cybersecurity for higher education was more important than ever. So many conversations with constituents and our partners focused on the increasing need to protect research, people, data and infrastructure across the whole community.

ORION’s second annual report on the state of cybersecurity in higher education was released with the goal of building equity in the cybersecurity capabilities for all institutions in Ontario. The report makes recommendations that we hope will facilitate conversation and contribute to our goal of improving the cybersecurity posture of the higher education sector, both in Ontario and nationally.

At our second annual ON-CHEC Day, members and panellists from Ontario and Nova Scotia came together to explore Emerging from the Pandemic Together, ultimately landing on three key themes that will drive the future of ON-CHEC:

  • Do what makes the most sense for your institution
  • Diversity in cybersecurity starts with making the field less intimidating
  • Collaboration is essential

97% of attendees confirmed that, “Thanks to ON-CHEC Day, I am more likely to collaborate and share with other members of the consortium.”

Theme Three: Building and Sustaining Trusted Community Partnerships

In 2021, as part of our commitment to listening and collaboration, ORION worked together with the community and external partners to explore shared solutions for connectivity and cybersecurity.

ORION Cybersecurity Programs and Partnerships

Shared Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)
With support from CANARIE and the participation of ORION community members, we completed the final year of our shared SIEM proof of concept. This has helped ORION to detect and manage threats to the NREN by enabling real-time monitoring of security incidents on the network. Likewise, both ORION and the participating institutions better understand the value, benefits and challenges of creating a rigorous managed security event and threat detection solution to be applied at a larger scale.

ORION Cybersecurity Awareness Training Advisory
Building on the success of our Cybersecurity Awareness Training pilot, ORION brought community members together with our collaborators CIRA and Beauceron to drive improvements for the ORION program and implement platform enhancements tailored to the needs of higher education.

ORION Community Training Returns

When the community asked us to restart Community Training workshops in late 2021, we were more than happy to oblige. Starting with two live online Certified Network Defender workshops and closing out with record setting registrations for our Certified Information Systems Security Professional workshop, ORION Community Training came back, ready to build much needed skills to support the emerging cyber landscape.

Adoption and growth of ORION Cybersecurity Products and Services timeline graphic


ORION Connectivity Services and Partnerships

ORION Cloud Connect

Thanks to the feedback and vison of the ORION Cloud Working Group, we launched ORION Cloud Connect, a new service that enables dedicated access to public cloud services and eliminates exposure to the internet by using the ORION network. Ultimately, this provides a cost-effective and flexible solution for dedicated cloud connectivity that offers predictable performance and hassle-free deployment.

New Video Conferencing Software

With the increased demand for online teaching and learning, Canada’s NREN Partners collectively identified the need for tools to simplify the experience for educators and students and offer robust, low-cost cloud-based video conferencing tools tailored to the unique requirements of education. To answer this challenge, ORION has secured access to two top tier services, designed to meet the unique needs of the education community. BlueJeans Meetings and Kaltura Education Video Cloud are now accessible to users across the NREN, including ORION constituents.

ORION Facts & Figures

Network Infrastructure Investment
Over the Past 10 Years

Operating Expenses Over the Past 10 Years

Operating Expenses graph image

Revenue Over the Past 10 Years

Revenue graph image

Despite the many challenges we’ve faced, the future looks bright as we continue to foster strong community connections founded on a shared vision of sustainability, equity and innovation.  We invite you to come along with us as we forge new paths and create meaningful impact together over the years to come!

We want to continue to hear from you, and learn how ORION can better serve you, and our whole community.

Please email to share your thoughts.