The committee recommends the purchase of individual workstations and departmental mini-supercomputers to provide a distributed network for astronomical computing.
NASA has, on the one hand, pioneered a cost-effective policy of funding workstations for research. On the other hand, computers have in some cases been eliminated from the budgets of approved individual NSF (and NASA) proposals. The committee believes that requests for workstations should be encouraged within the existing individual grants program; the workstations could include “basic” or “high-performance” machines according to the legitimate needs of the investigator.
The committee urges that the NSF promote mid-range, local computing by funding computers to be used jointly by small groups of investigators. A modest annual budget could provide 50 or more machines for theoretical and observational groups, the largest of which could be funded on a cost-sharing basis with the individual institutions. This investment would bring immense improvements to the people who rely on computers for their work. The committee also urges NASA to allocate an appropriate fraction of the Mission Operations and Data Analysis funds associated with the space missions of the 1990s for purchases of mini-supercomputers by those university departments involved in space research. The committee bases this suggestion on the assumption that the NSF, NASA, and DOE supercomputer centers, which must be periodically upgraded to remain at the forefront of technology, will continue to provide this scarce resource to the astronomical community.
The committee recommends that the NSF's Astronomy Division encourage the development of high-speed national networks by funding, on a continuing basis, links between the national networks and widely used observatories, interested astronomy departments, and other research groups.
The committee recommends that NASA increase its role in furthering the development of community software and software standards.