National Academy Offers Guidance to NSF on Advanced Computing Priorities

By John Russell

May 4, 2016

Yet another major policy report on national high performance computing – Future Directions for NSF Advanced Computing Infrastructure to Support U.S. Science and Engineering in 2017-2020 – was released today. This one is from National Academies for Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and commissioned by National Science Foundation (NSF). To a significant extent it echoes themes in the National Strategic Computing Initiative but focused more tightly on scientific endeavor.

Priorities around cyberinfrastructure, software modernization, and blended simulation-big data computation capability, all in the context of constrained budgets, are discussed. Likewise significant attention is given to the decline in Moore’s Law and resulting obstacles. All in all, the report covers a great deal of ground with a fair amount of illustrative data towards end.

“We are very pleased with the National Academy’s report and are enthusiastic about its helpful observations and recommendations. The report has had a wide range of thoughtful community input and review from leaders in our field. Its timing and content give substance and urgency to NSF’s role and plans in the National Strategic Computing Initiative,” said Irene Qualters, NSF Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Division Director, in today’s announcement.

Irene Qualters, NSF
Irene Qualters, NSF

By combining superfast and secure networks, cutting-edge parallel computing, efficient software, state-of-the-art scientific instruments and massive datasets with expert staff across the U.S., the NSF-funded cyberinfrastructure ecosystem lets researchers investigate questions that can’t otherwise be explored.

NSF supported $211 million in advanced cyberinfrastructure in 2014 and requested $227 million in funding in its 2016 budget. As a leading national provider of cyberinfrastructure, NSF supports and coordinates the development, acquisition and provision of state-of-the-art advanced computing resources, tools and services essential to the advancement and transformation of science and engineering, and also supports forward-looking research and education to expand the future capabilities of cyberinfrastructure.

The report’s seven recommendations are:

  1. NSF should sustain and seek to grow its investments in advanced computing—to include hardware and services, software and algorithms, and expertise—to ensure that the nation’s researchers can continue to work at frontiers of science and engineering.
  1. As it supports the full range of science requirements for advanced computing in the 2017-2020 timeframe, NSF should pay particular attention to providing support for the revolution in data- driven science along with simulation. It should ensure that it can provide unique capabilities to support large-scale simulations and/or data analytics that would otherwise be unavailable to researchers and continue to monitor the cost-effectiveness of commercial cloud services.
  1. To inform decisions about capabilities planned for 2020 and beyond, NSF should collect community requirements and construct and publish roadmaps to allow NSF to set priorities better and make more strategic decisions about advanced computing.
  1. NSF should adopt approaches that allow investments in advanced computing hardware acquisition, computing services, data services, expertise, algorithms, and software to be considered in an integrated manner.
  1. NSF should support the development and maintenance of expertise, scientific software, and software tools that are needed to make efficient use of its advanced computing resources.
  1. NSF should also invest modestly to explore next-generation hardware and software technologies to explore new ideas for delivering capabilities that can be used effectively for scientific research, tested, and transitioned into production where successful. Not all communities will be ready to adopt radically new technologies quickly, and NSF should provision advanced computing resources accordingly.”
  1. NSF should manage advanced computing investments in a more predictable and sustainable way.

Last week, of course, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington D.C. think tank with close ties to the Office of Science and Technology Policy and government broadly, also released an expansive report – The Vital Importance of High- Performance Computing to U.S. Competitiveness. (See HPCwire coverage, ITIF Report Aims to Sway Congress, Promote National HPC Agenda)

The new National Academy’s report is available for download at:

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