Budget Request Reveals New Elements of US Exascale Program

By Tiffany Trader

February 12, 2016

A drill down into the FY2017 budget released by the Obama administration on Tuesday brings to light important information about the United States’ exascale program. As we reported in earlier coverage of the budget announcement, this is the first time that real numbers have been proposed for the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) since it was announced by executive order on July 29, 2015.

With this budget, the strategy of a coherent, connected and overarching exascale-targeted program, unified under the NSCI banner, begins to reveal itself. The budget proposes an investment of $285 million for NSCI on the DOE side and another $33 million for the NSF ledger. Beyond this $318 million sum, there are still other agencies to consider since as you’ll recall, NSCI is very strongly a multi-agency effort. In addition to the three leads — the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) — there are two foundational research and development agencies (the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)); and five deployment agencies identified (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). It is not clear at this point, what the full scope of funding entails.

As a DOE crosscut, exascale funding, linked to the Exascale Computing Initiative, is set to go from FY 2016 enacted levels of $252.6 million to $285 million in FY 2017, an increase of more than $32.3 million. Total Office of Science exascale investment is set to increase from $188.6 million in FY16 to $190 million in FY17; and NNSA exascale spending (under the domain of Advanced Simulation and Computing) is set to increase from $64 million to $95 million in the same period, as depicted in the chart below, extracted from the Department of Energy FY 2017 Congressional budget request.

Exascale Computing Initiative funding FY16vFY17

Very significantly, the Exascale Computing Project is also introduced by this budget. As explained in a presentation prepared by Cherry A. Murray, PhD, director of Office of Science, “ECP is initiated as a joint ASCR/NNSA partnership using DOE’s formal project management processes.” Further the budget proposes to transition the Exascale Computing Initiative to the Science Exascale Computing Project in FY17, and to satisfy this change, a new budget line was created, SC-ECP, with a proposed budget of $154 million.

ASCR FY 2017 Budget Request to Congress p8 slide

In an interview with HPCwire, Dan Reed, vice president for research and economic development at the University of Iowa and chair of the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC), shed light on the finer points of the budget’s exascale funding elements and clarified the distinctions between ECI, which will still go on, and ECP, which is being led by Paul Messina, senior strategic advisor of Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. “The ECP is ultimately an execution plan to deliver machines,” Reed shared, adding, “It is the whole process associated with the the deliverables. It’s not just procurement, it’s the development of the whole program.”

Reed emphasized that ECI still exists and will continue to focus on R&D issues related to exascale. “The high-level takeaway is that ECP got funded as a program line and the money that had been parked in ASCR got mostly moved into that, and both ECP and ECI are part of the DOE’s response to the NSCI,” said Reed.

Offering additional insight, Reed explained, “Before [the creation of the new line item for ECP], the place where the exascale R&D money was parked was in the math, computational and computer science part. With this change, the computing-research part of ASCR in some sense will go back to its core mission before the start of exascale which is doing basic and applied research in computer science, computational science and applied mathematics. So in some sense, that’s a return to the past.”

We learn from the Office of Science’s budget proposal that ECP will be “managed according to the project management principles of DOE Order 413.3b” and that an ECP Project Office has been established Oak Ridge National Lab.

DOE Order 413.3B refers to the “Program and Project Management for the Acquisition of Capital Assets” and it’s the process by which DOE stands up capital assets.

“Remember,” said Reed, “that DOE has a well-defined process for standing up new scientific instruments, whether that be historically things like the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne or the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge, or the heavy ion accelerators. They have a well-defined process that includes work breakdown structures, reviews, and delivery checks. That is the part that is ECP. It is a march to an operational facility. It’s not just procurement because there is obviously some magic that has to take place before that in terms of the R&D but it is driven by a focus on establishing an operational facility. That is the same process they would use to stand up any other instrument the DOE operates.”

Asked for his personal take on the likelihood of the budget getting funded, Reed said he thinks that the President’s proposed budget aligns with what expectations were. “The budget is really a placeholder, given the election process,” he said. “There’s a high-probability there will be a continuing resolution rather than a approved budget, but having said that, I think it’s very likely that the new money will appear for DOE to move forward with exascale.”

When asked for comment, Tim Polk, assistant director of Cybersecurity with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), highlighted the importance of exascale computing for the maintenance of US leadership over the coming decades. “The United States must make strategic investments in High-Performance Computing to meet increasing computing demands and emerging technological challenges,” he said, noting that with the proposed $285 million in exascale computing investment at DOE and an additional $33 million in NSCI-focused programs at NSF, combined with existing HPC streams, the BRAIN initiative and other activities, “the NSCI agencies are well-positioned to advance key technologies during FY17.”

This marker of progress toward a national exascale computing program also inspired Jack Dongarra, distinguished professor of computer science in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at the University of Tennessee, to share the following commentary:

This past summer’s announcement of President Obama’s National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI) should usher in a national environment for scientific research that will help the Innovative Computing Laboratory to continue to thrive. Aspiring to “… create systems that can apply exaflops of computing power to exabytes of data,” the NSCI proposes to establish a coordinated, long term, multiagency strategy for improving the nation’s economic competitiveness and research prowess by raising its high performance computing and data analysis capabilities to unprecedented heights.

I remember very well the last time—more than 15 years ago—when such an ambitious federal initiative was launched because it was my long time friend and collaborator, the late Ken Kennedy, who led the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee (PITAC) that produced the Information Technology Research: Investing in Our Future report. If the NSCI generates, over time, the same kind of national research environment that Ken’s PITAC report did, then the future prospects for Computing will indeed be bright.

The reviewed budget documents did not mention a deadline for an exascale deployment, but we know that ECI’s goal is to deploy capable exascale computing systems by 2023.

The DOE budget request reflects a trend of heightened focus on exascale computing. The word “exascale” shows up 26 times — that’s 10 more than last year. Continued funding for exascale computing is an official program highlight, with the following commentary provided as a statement of justification:

Exascale Computing: Enables U.S. leadership in the next generation of high performance computing

Since the beginning of the digital era, the U.S. Federal government has made pivotal investments in the computer industry at critical times when market progress was stagnating. We are once again at a critical turning point in high performance computing (HPC) technology, with industry innovations in hardware and software architectures driving advances in computing performance, but where the performance of application codes is suffering because the technology advances are not optimized for memory intensive, floating point HPC use. Yet the importance of HPC simulations is increasing as the U.S. faces serious and urgent economic, environmental, and national security challenges based on dynamic changes in the energy and climate systems, as well as growing security threats. Providing tools for solving these and future problems requires exascale capabilities. Committed U.S. leadership toward exascale computing is a critical contributor to our competitiveness in science, national defense, and energy innovation as well as the commercial computing market.  Equally important, a robust domestic industry contributes to our nation’s security by helping avoid unacceptable cybersecurity and computer supply chain risks.   

Addressing this national challenge requires a significant investment by the Federal government involving strong leadership from the Department and close coordination with national laboratories, industry, and academia. The Exascale Computing crosscutting initiative is organized around four pillars: application development, software technology, hardware technology, and exascale systems. In FY 2017, DOE proposes to expand its efforts in the first three technical focus areas, and begin efforts in the fourth focus area in FY 2018.  

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