The above process is a typical rational industrial planning process. A unique feature of supercomputing that makes it difficult is the technical challenge of estimating the time to solution of a complicated problem on a future hardware and software platform that is only partially defined. Here are some possible outcomes of this roadmap process:

  • Performance models will show that some applications scale on commodity-cluster technology curves to achieve their goals. For these applications, no special government intervention is needed.

  • For other applications, it may be the case that the algorithms used in the application will not scale on commodity-cluster technology curves but that known alternative algorithms will scale. Supporting these applications may require investment in algorithms and software but not hardware.

  • For yet other applications, commodity processors will be adequate, but only with custom interconnects. In this case, government investment in supercomputer interconnection network technology will be required, in addition to the investment in associated software and related costs.

  • For some applications, only full-custom solutions will work. In this case long-term technology R&D and “submarine”-style procurement will be required.

It is likely that this roadmap process will identify certain common technologies that different applications can use, such as software tools, and it will be fortunate if this turns out to be so. Indeed, in order to leverage government investment, the roadmap process must be coordinated at the top in order to identify as many common solutions as possible.

Responsibility and Oversight

In response to the High-Performance Computing Act of 1991, the National Coordination Office for High Performance Computing and Communications (NCO/HPCC) was established in September 1992. (It has had several name changes subsequently.) That office has done an excellent job over the years of fostering information exchange among agencies, facilitating interagency working groups, and increasing human communication within the government concerning high-end computing. However, its role has been coordination, not long-range planning.

The High-Performance Computing Act of 1991 also directed the President to establish an advisory committee on high-performance computing. That committee, the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC), which was not established until 1997 under a somewhat



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