The Need for Money

Progress in supercomputing depends crucially on a sustained investment by the government in basic research, in prototype development, in procurement, and in ensuring the economic viability of suppliers. Erratic or insufficient funding stifles the flow of new ideas and cuts off technology transfer, inevitably increasing aggregate costs.

Basic research support requires a mix of small science projects and larger efforts that create significant experimental prototypes. Large numbers of small individual projects are often the best way of exploring new concepts. A smaller number of technology demonstration systems can draw on the successes of basic research in architecture, software, and applications concepts, demonstrate their interplay, and validate concepts ahead of their use in preproduction or production systems. These would typically be the sorts of projects centered at universities or research laboratories.

It is difficult to determine the U.S. government investment in supercomputing research at the present time, in terms of either money or the number of projects. The current Blue Book12 has a category called High-End Computing Research and Development. (This annual publication is a supplement to the President’s budget submitted to Congress that tracks coordinated IT research and development, including HPC, across the federal government.13) From the description of the programs in various agencies, one sees that the category includes efforts that are in development and research efforts, as well as research in topics outside the scope of this discussion (such as quantum computing or astronaut health monitoring). The recent HECRTF report14 estimates 2004 funding for basic and applied research in high-end computing to be $42 million.

A search of the number of funded NSF projects with the word “parallel” in the title or abstract (admittedly an imperfect measure) shows that there were an average of 75 projects per year in the 1990s, but only 25 from 2000 to 2003.15 The committee does not have numbers for other agencies, but its experience suggests that there were decreases at least as

12  

National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development. 2004. Advanced Foundations for American Innovation: Supplement to the President’s Budget. Available online at <http://www.hpcc.gov/pubs/blue04/>.

13  

An archive of these documents is at <http://www.hpcc.gov/pubs/bb.html>.

14  

NITRD High End Computing Revitalization Task Force (HECRTF). 2003. Report of the Workshop on the Roadmap for the Revitalization of High-End Computing. Daniel A. Reed, ed. June 16-20, Washington, D.C.

15  

These projects include some that entail only equipment or workshop sponsorship and a few that have nothing to do with supercomputing. On the other hand, there are undoubtedly supercomputing projects that have not been described using the word “parallel.”



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