Providing IT to the Canadian High Arctic Research Station Campus
Planning, designing and installing the information technology (IT) infrastructure for a new building is a complex job. Add to that: a campus being built more than 3100 km away, in a remote Canadian Arctic location, where the average temperature for more than half the year ranges between -15 and -36, and the complexity level rises.
But that’s exactly the challenge Shared Services Canada (SSC) faced when tasked with providing the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) campus with the IT infrastructure needed to help make it state of the art.
The campus’ IT infrastructure is one of the key elements that underpins how those working there function or conduct research. The research performed at the CHARS campus will be very important to Northerners, Canadians and the world. It will include topics such as climate change and its global impacts, plus studies on the health and wellbeing of ecosystems in the Arctic. SSC is proud of its role in helping this research campus become more operational.
SSC provided all of the following to the CHARS campus:
- Hardware and wiring install in the server room and telecommunications rooms
- Multiple networks to connect different types of users (researchers, government employees) in different ways, internally (within the campus, within government) and externally (across the country, and around the world)
- Satellite communications
- Government of Canada (GC) Wi-Fi
- Phone service over the Internet (Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP))
- Government of Canada email service
- Government of Canada Secure Remote Access service, giving GC employees a secure gateway to their work files and emails from any location
All bases covered
IT infrastructure is the blend of hardware, software, networks, facilities, resources and equipment needed to deliver, manage and secure IT services, like Wi-Fi, videoconferencing, and telephony. SSC worked with partners to make sure the campus’ IT infrastructure was comprehensive.
“They have all the bells and whistles,” says Charbel El-Helou, Acting Project Portfolio Director who oversaw the SSC project team. Over the course of the project, more than 100 SSC staff were a part of the project team.
Polar Knowledge Canada (POLAR) operates the CHARS campus, which was built in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, a small hamlet along the Northwest Passage with a population of just over 1,700. It was built to support Canadian leadership in polar science and technology and to welcome researchers from around the world. It was also built to be a space where local Indigenous communities and scientists can meet and discuss and exchange information, ideas, and experiences. Indigenous knowledge is recognized as fundamentally essential to the co-creation of the best new knowledge.
SSC worked closely with POLAR and we look forward to our continued partnership to maintain and modernize their IT infrastructure in the future. We also worked closely with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC, formerly Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada). CIRNAC led and managed the overall construction of the CHARS campus, including architectural design, construction, equipment and fit-up of the campus.
Another key partner, Public Services and Procurement Canada, was responsible for the overall project management of the campus’ construction, as well as for buying goods and services relating to the campus’ fit-up and for POLAR in general.
SSC provided all of the following to the CHARS campus:
Hardware and wiring install in the server room and telecommunications rooms
Multiple networks to connect different types of users (researchers, government employees) in different ways, internally (within the campus, within government) and externally (across the country, and around the world)
Government of Canada (GC) Wi-Fi
Phone service over the Internet (Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP))
Government of Canada email service
Government of Canada Secure Remote Access service, giving GC employees a secure gateway to their work files and emails from any location
Rising to the challenges
The IT infrastructure extended to all of the campus’ buildings: the Main Research Building, the Field and Maintenance Building and the accommodation buildings, which can lodge up to 44 visiting researchers at a time.
The campus’ remote location was challenging. It wasn’t possible to have SSC staff on the ground at all times. The SSC team had to work virtually but closely with POLAR employees in Nunavut.
“The POLAR staff is wearing many hats,” says Christopher Chisholm, Facilities Manager for the CHARS campus. He lives and works in Cambridge Bay and worked with SSC to finalize the design, development and roll-out of the IT infrastructure plans. “SSC demonstrated much patience and provided help.”
Chisholm met with the SSC project team weekly via teleconference. He says he also appreciates that team members did make trips up North.
El-Helou notes that SSC had to be flexible when sending people or equipment to Cambridge Bay, often because of the weather. “We needed to build in lots of contingency time into our plans. When shipping equipment, what would normally take a week could take two.”
There are also limited planes and cargo space heading North and equipment sometimes got bumped from flights if the space was needed for travellers.
Security was another major project piece. The CHARS campus is open to researchers from around the world as well as the local community. “Everything went through lots of checks,” El-Helou says. “Extra due diligence was required in order to avoid any potential risk to government systems. We gave security a higher level of consideration and attention. At the same time, we made sure we weren’t compromising the services to POLAR in fulfilling their mandate.”
Both El-Helou and Chisholm agree that it took a lot of communication and coordination to make sure all those involved in the project understood the IT needs and the reasons behind infrastructure decisions, but it was worth it.
“IT improves work performance. If you can’t connect with the outside world, it’s extra challenging,” Chisholm says.
Canadians and the world look forward to the great things to come from this cutting-edge research campus.
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