February 2005
Trends in High Performance Computing
Susan L Graham, University of California at Berkeley
Marc Snir, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Recommendations 3 through 8 outline some of the actions that need to be taken by these agencies to maintain leadership.

Recommendation 3. To satisfy its need for unique supercomputing technologies such as high-bandwidth systems, the government needs to ensure the viability of multiple domestic suppliers.

The viability of vendors of unique supercomputing technologies depends on stable, long-term government investments at adequate levels: both the absolute investment level and its predictability matter, because of the lack of alternative support. Such stable support can be provided either via government funding of R&D expenses or via steady procurements (or both). The model proposed by the British UKHEV initiative, whereby government solicits and funds proposals for the procurement of three successive generations of a supercomputer family over four to six years is a good example of a model that reduces instability.

The most important unique supercomputing technology identified in this report is custom supercomputing systems. The committee estimated the R&D cost for such a product to be about $70 million per year. This includes both the hardware platform and the software stack. The cost would be lower for a vendor that does not do both.

There also are many supercomputing unique technologies in the software area, leading to the following recommendation:

Recommendation 4. The creation and long-term maintenance of the software that is key to supercomputing requires the support of those agencies that are responsible for supercomputing R&D. That software includes operating systems, libraries, compilers, software development and data analysis tools, application codes, and databases.

The committee believes that higher and more coordinated investments could significantly improve the productivity of supercomputing platforms. The models for software support are likely to be varied — vertically integrated vendors that produce both hardware and software, horizontal vendors that produce software for many different hardware platforms, not-for-profit organizations, software developed in the open source model, etc. However, no matter which model is used, stability and continuity are essential. Software has to be maintained and evolved over decades; this requires a stable cadre of software developers with intimate knowledge of the software. Independent software vendors (ISVs) can play an important role in developing and maintaining software products; the government can help by ensuring that software is developed in national labs only when it can not be bought.

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Reference this article
Graham, S., Snir, M. "The NRC Report on the Future of Supercomputing," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 1, February 2005. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2005/02/nrc-report/

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