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!

Do Cryptocurrencies Have a Part to Play in HPC?

February 22, 2018

It’s easy to be distracted by news from the US, China, and now the EU on the state of various exascale projects, but behind the vinyl-wrapped cabinets and well-groomed sales execs are an army of Excel-wielding PMO and Read more…

By Chris Downing

HOKUSAI’s BigWaterfall Cluster Extends RIKEN’s Supercomputing Performance

February 21, 2018

RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, recently expanded the capacity and capabilities of its HOKUSAI supercomputer, a key resource managed by the institution’s Advanced Center for Computing and C Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Experience Memory & Storage Solutions that will Transform Your Data Performance

High performance computing (HPC) has revolutionized the way we harness insight, leading to a dramatic increase in both the size and complexity of HPC systems. Read more…

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HPE to provide the DoD High Performance Computing Modernizatio Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HOKUSAI’s BigWaterfall Cluster Extends RIKEN’s Supercomputing Performance

February 21, 2018

RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, recently expanded the capacity and capabilities of its HOKUSAI supercomputer, a key resource manage Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

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