What Will the Sequester Mean to HPC (and Federal) Research?

By Richard L. Brandt

March 20, 2013

On Friday, March 15, President Obama gave a speech at DOE’s Argonne National Laboratory, and light-heartedly expressed his concerns about the effects of sequestration on budgets at the country’s national laboratories.

Noting that some of the employees were standing in the crowded auditorium, he quipped, “I thought [that at] Argonne, one of the effects of the sequester [was that] you had to get rid of chairs!”

People laughed. Outside of that speech, however, nobody in a federal lab is chuckling over the possible impact of sequestration. Prominent heads of national labs, university researchers and technology executives are very concerned about how budget stalemates between the White House and Congress will affect government-funded research across the country.

Sequestration, because it demands cuts in government spending almost across the board, has brought the issue directly to the datacenter. If left in place, it will put federally funded R&D this year at a level $12.5 billion less than the amount spent in 2011 – an 8.7% decrease. Several organizations have already instituted budget cuts to prepare for the decrease in funding. The National Institutes of Health has said it is cutting grant levels by 10 percent and will offer fewer grants. The National Science Foundation says it will eliminate 1,000 grants this year.

Moreover, sequestration has sparked an op-ed debate over the value of government-funded research itself. It’s a debate that could extend well beyond the current stalemate.

Locating the speech at Argonne and putting energy research on the table was itself a strategic move to highlight the importance of funding national labs. President Obama also tried to offer new funding in a palatable way. He did not call for additional taxes or even preventing future cuts, but suggested using a non-tax form of revenue to fund energy research. The approach would take $2 billion over the next 10 years from leases paid by energy companies that develop fossil fuel resources on federal land. That money would fund a very specific type of research: developing electric vehicles, homegrown biofuels, and domestically produced natural gas.

But that still leaves the longer-term question open. Is it a good idea to use tax revenue to fund research that may or may not have future benefits to the country? The heads of government organizations, national labs, universities and other supporters of technology are now defending the concept in hearings and in editorial pages across the country.

William Brinkman, director of the Office of Science at DOE, testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on March 5. He said that sequestration would cut this year’s budget for the Office of Science by $215 million from 2012, something the country cannot afford at a time when “other countries around the world are challenging our scientific leadership in essentially all the scientific disciplines that we steward.” HPC research is a big part of that. “Since the inception of high-performance computing, the United States has been a world leader in this field,” Brinkman continued.

But that may no longer be the case. Budget cuts will affect research intended to “accelerate the next generation of supercomputers at a time when international competition in this domain is growing,” he said.

In fact, the US is not the clear leader it once was. In 2011, a 700,000-core Fujitsu K computer installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science (AISC) hit the summit of the TOP500 list. It dropped to third position on the November 2012 list because of competition from newer machines, but 31 of the 50 most powerful computers on that list are based outside the US. Throughout the world, countries such as China, Japan, the UK, Germany, India and most recently Switzerland are touting the competitive benefits of new supercomputers.

China has joined the competition to become the first country with an exascale computer, as has a European consortium, the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE). The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IIT Delhi) is partnering with NVIDIA to create a research lab to try to reach exascale computing in India by 2017.

Next >>

Brinkman also argues that federally-funded HPC research is an enormous boon to industry at home. “Growth in computing performance has the potential to advance multiple sectors of our economy, including science, manufacturing, and national defense,” he testified before Congress. As one example, he pointed out that corporations are conducting 15 projects in the Industrial High Performance Computing Partnerships Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

Others have also become very vocal in defending federal R&D in general as a boon to the economy. The Washington think tank ITIF estimates that projected cuts in R&D will reduce the GDP by between $203 billion and $860 billion over the next nine years. It also says that sequestration will put the US “$511 billion behind in R&D investment when compared to expected Chinese R&D expenditure growth rates.”

In an editorial in The Atlantic, National Lab Directors Paul Alivisatos (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory), Eric D. Isaacs (Argonne) and Thom Mason (ORNL) write that the impact of sequestration “will be felt years – or even decades – in the future, when the nation begins to feel the loss of important new scientific ideas that now will not be explored, and of brilliant young scientists who now will take their talents overseas or perhaps even abandon research entirely.” Federal R&D spending amounts to less than one percent of the federal budget, they argue, and cuts will result in “gaps in the innovation pipeline [that] could cost billions of dollars and hurt the national economy for decades to come.”

In an editorial in The Financial Times, MIT president Rafael Reif and former Intel CEO Craig Barrett argue that “scientific discovery improves life and creates wealth like nothing else. But that notion has essentially been on trial in the US for decades.” They point out that the commerce department has estimated that since WWII, 75 percent of postwar growth came from technological innovation.

Some people, however, dispute those numbers. Roger Pielke a professor of environmental studies at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has become something of a de-facto spokesman to counter the economic arguments. He is also a Senior Fellow at The Breakthrough Institute, which he describes as a “progressive think tank.” He argues that the numbers claiming economic growth from R&D are bogus. “It would be remarkable if true,” he writes at the organization’s website. “Unfortunately, it is not.” He says that there is no statistical basis for the claims. He also says that early proponents of the theories that economic growth is sparked by “creative destruction” in the economy (Joseph Schumpeter) or “technical change” (Robert Solow), which led to the arguments of the economic impact of R&D, have been misunderstood.

Many fiscal conservatives in Congress are likely to agree. The result so far is that the debate continues and budget cuts may still slice into funding of HPC centers, federal labs, and federal R&D in general. It’s an impact that may be felt for years to come.

Related Articles:

Supercomputing Challenges and Predictions

Presidential Supercomputing

Debt Deal Casts Shadow on US Research Funding

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Study Identifies Best Practices for Public-Private HPC Engagement

August 22, 2017

What's the best way for HPC centers in the public sphere to engage with private industry partners to boost the competitiveness of the companies and the larger communities? That question is at the heart of a new study pub Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Launches Site to Share its NYC-based Algorithm Research

August 22, 2017

Much of Google’s algorithm development occurs in groups scattered throughout New York City. Yesterday, Google launched a single website - NYC Algorithms and Optimization Team page - to provide a deeper view into all of Read more…

By John Russell

Dell Strikes Reseller Deal with Atos; Supplants SGI

August 22, 2017

Dell EMC and Atos announced a reseller deal today in which Dell will offer Atos’ high-end 8- and 16-socket Bullion servers. Some move from Dell had been expected following Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s purchase of SGI Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Leveraging Deep Learning for Fraud Detection

Advancements in computing technologies and the expanding use of e-commerce platforms have dramatically increased the risk of fraud for financial services companies and their customers. Read more…

Glimpses of Today’s Total Solar Eclipse

August 21, 2017

Here are a few arresting images posted by NASA of today’s total solar eclipse. Such astronomical events have always captured our imagination and it’s not hard to understand why such occurrences were often greeted wit Read more…

By John Russell

Study Identifies Best Practices for Public-Private HPC Engagement

August 22, 2017

What's the best way for HPC centers in the public sphere to engage with private industry partners to boost the competitiveness of the companies and the larger c Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tech Giants Outline Battle Plans for Future HPC Market

August 21, 2017

Four companies engaged in a cage fight for leadership in the emerging HPC market of the 2020s are, despite deep differences in some areas, in violent agreement Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft Bolsters Azure With Cloud HPC Deal

August 15, 2017

Microsoft has acquired cloud computing software vendor Cycle Computing in a move designed to bring orchestration tools along with high-end computing access capabilities to the cloud. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Ships Supercomputer to Space Station, Final Destination Mars

August 14, 2017

With a manned mission to Mars on the horizon, the demand for space-based supercomputing is at hand. Today HPE and NASA sent the first off-the-shelf HPC system i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD EPYC Video Takes Aim at Intel’s Broadwell

August 14, 2017

Let the benchmarking begin. Last week, AMD posted a YouTube video in which one of its EPYC-based systems outperformed a ‘comparable’ Intel Broadwell-based s Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Thrives in Cancer Moonshot

August 8, 2017

The U.S. War on Cancer, certainly a worthy cause, is a collection of programs stretching back more than 40 years and abiding under many banners. The latest is t Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Raises the Bar for Distributed Deep Learning

August 8, 2017

IBM is announcing today an enhancement to its PowerAI software platform aimed at facilitating the practical scaling of AI models on today’s fastest GPUs. Scal Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Storage Breakthrough Paves Way for 330TB Tape Cartridges

August 3, 2017

IBM announced yesterday a new record for magnetic tape storage that it says will keep tape storage density on a Moore's law-like path far into the next decade. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum. Read more…

By John Russell

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This