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Getting up to Speed the Future of Supercomputing
broader mandate, issued a report in February 1999, in which it recommended that a senior policy official be appointed and that a senior-level policy and coordination committee be established for strategic planning for information technology R&D.21 Neither recommendation has been followed.
In May 2004, an interagency High End Computing Revitalization Task Force (HECRTF) report again recommended an interagency governance and management structure. The report suggests some forms that such a structure might take.22 Legislation has been proposed to implement that recommendation.
The NSF is a primary sponsor of basic research in science and engineering and thus has the responsibility to support both the engineering research needed to drive progress in supercomputing as well as the infrastructure needs of those using supercomputing for their scientific research. However, a study of research grants in areas such as computer architecture shows a steady decrease in research focused on high-performance computing in the last decade: NSF has essentially ceased to support new HPC-motivated research in areas such as computer architecture or operating systems. In computational sciences, reduced NSF support for long-term basic research is not compensated for by an increase in DOE support through the SciDAC program, because the latter’s 5-year project goals are relatively near term. The significant DARPA investment in the HPCS program has not extended to the support of basic research. There is at present a gap in basic research in key supercomputing technologies.
NSF supported supercomputing infrastructure through the PACI program, which ended in September 2004. There is some uncertainty about follow-on programs. Supercomputing infrastructure at NSF is the responsibility of the Division of Shared Cyberinfrastructure (SCI) within the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE); most of the users of this infrastructure are supported by other disciplinary directorates in NSF, or by NIH. The role of supercomputing in the larger cyberinfrastructure is not yet clear. This uncertainty continues to hurt supercomputing centers: It leads to a loss of talent as the more creative and entrepreneurial scientists move to areas that seem to offer more promising opportunities, and it leads to a conservative strategy of diversifying into many different directions and small projects to reduce risk,
PITAC. 1999. Report to the President: Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future. February.
National Coordination Office for Information Technology Research and Development. 2004. Federal Plan for High-End Computing: Report of the High-End Computing Revitalization Task Force (HECRTF). May.