US Supercomputing Needs Fed Boost

Amidst the back-slapping at SC2004, experts issue a warning on the future of US supercomputing

November 13, 2004

3 Min Read
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This week has been a great one for U.S. supercomputing, with America regaining top position in the worlds Top 500 list of supercomputers, and the IT industry showcasing a wealth of cutting edge technology at the SC2004 conference in Pittsburgh (see US Reclaims Supercomputing Crown and IBM Unveils Next-Gen Supercomputer).

But all this back-slapping is a tad premature, according to a team of experts working on behalf of the National Academies’ National Research Council. In a report presented at SC2004 today, the academics warn that federal government must increase spending and improve their long-term planning if U.S. supercomputing is to meet the growing demands of defense and national security.

The researchers, which include big-hitters from some of America’s top universities, called on the GOP to provide stable, long-term funding as well as support for the hardware and software vendors that help build the systems. Key areas include national intelligence and monitoring the U.S. nuclear stockpile, which is a major concern for officials at the Department of Energy (see US Stakes Supercomputing Claim).

There have been indications over the past few months that Washington is planning a major supercomputing push. Earlier this year the House Science and Technology Committee passed the Department of Energy High End Computing Revitalization Act 2004, which aims to boost the DOE’s supercomputing infrastructure. Other high-profile public bodies, such as NASA and the Army have also been making waves in the supercomputing space (see SGI, Intel Build NASA Supercomputer and US Army Chooses IBM Supercomputer).

But all these disparate efforts need to be brought together, according to the report. Susan Graham, professor of computer science at the University of California, Berkeley and Marc Snir, professor of computer science at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign point to a long-running lack of funding and insufficient coordination among federal agencies. “Our concern is that current investments and plans are not sufficient to provide the capabilities that our country needs,” says Snir.One of the biggest challenges, according to the experts, is the fact that many supercomputers, particularly those needed for national security, have to be custom made. As a result, the government has been urged to make sustained investments in supercomputing research and development -- which will doubtless be music to the ears of IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) (NYSE: SGI).

For the long term, the researchers urged different government agencies to develop a single, integrated plan to help identify common needs at an early stage and avoid duplicating work.

This approach is not without precedent. Over in the European Union, an organization that is certainly no stranger to political in-fighting, member states are now working to pool their technology resources. In September, the European Commission, the EU’s governing body, launched a major initiative designed to bring together universities, research institutes, and companies across Europe to develop grid computing (see EC Goes for the Grid).

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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