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


Recommendation 7. Supercomputing research is an international activity; barriers to international collaboration should be minimized.

Research has always benefited from the open exchange of ideas. In light of the relatively small community of supercomputing researchers, international collaborations are particularly beneficial. The fast development cycles, the fast technology evolution, and the frequent flow of ideas and technologies between supercomputing and the broader IT industry require close interaction between the supercomputing industry and the broader IT industry, and between supercomputing research and the broader IT research. The strategic advantage to the U.S. from supercomputing is not due to a single product, but from a broad capability to acquire and exploit effectively systems that can best reduce the time to solution of important computational problems. Looser export restrictions would not erode this advantage but would benefit U.S. vendors; in particular, restrictions that affect commodity clusters that can be assembled from widely available components lack any rationale.

Barriers also reduce the benefit of supercomputing to science. Science is a collaborative international endeavor, and many of the best U.S. graduate students are foreigners. A restriction on supercomputer access by foreign nationals means that supercomputers are less available to support science in the U.S.

Recommendation 8. The U. S. government should ensure that researchers with the most demanding computational requirements have access to the most powerful supercomputing systems.

Supercomputing is important for the advancement of science. NSF supercomputing centers, as well as DOE science centers, have done an important service in providing supercomputing support to scientists. However, these centers have seen a broadening of their mission with constant budgets, and have been under pressure to support an increasing number of users. It is important that sufficient stable funding be provided to support an adequate science supercomputing infrastructure. Capability systems should be available to scientists with the most demanding problems and should be used only for jobs that need this capability; supercomputing resources should be available to educate the next generation and to develop the needed software infrastructure. Finally, it is important that the science communities that use supercomputers have a strong say and a shared responsibility for the provision of adequate supercomputing infrastructure, with budgets for the acquisition and maintenance of such infrastructure being clearly separated from the budgets for IT research.

What Next

The final report was presented at the 2004 Supercomputing Conference and at briefings attended by DOE staff, congressional staff, staff from the Office of Science and Technology Policy and staff from the Office of Management and Budget. Its content was covered by the general press and by trade publications. The report was generally well received, with words of caution on the difficulty in allocating more money to supercomputing in a world of retrenching research budgets. People in the audience at Supercomputing rightly remarked that similar recommendations appeared in previous reports yet were not acted upon. While it would be better if these recommendations had been acted upon, it is good that various reports push similar recommendations: In order to effect change, the community has to speak in one voice. The recent High-End Computing Revitalization Act is a step in the right direction, but much more is needed. The agencies and the scientists that need supercomputers have to act together and push not only for an adequate supercomputing infrastructure now, but for adequate plans and investments that will ensure they have the tools they need in five or ten years.

The authors wish to thank Cynthia A. Patterson for her careful editing of this text.

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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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