As governments realize the urgent need for (and utility of) powerful weather and climate supercomputing, 2020 has seen a boom in major supercomputer announcements for that sector: the UK announced a plan to build the world’s largest weather and climate supercomputer, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts announced plans to quintuple its supercomputing power, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced plans to triple its own. The Trump administration’s latest budget request, however, threatens major cuts to NOAA’s funding – including a 38 percent cut to its supercomputer acquisition budget.
The bulk of this cut – $15 million of the $16 million slashed from the acquisition budget – would come from the termination of the Mississippi State University Partnership, which the budget request describes as a “congressionally directed” program that aimed to develop a dedicated high performance computing facility in collaboration with partners with existing high performance computing expertise and scientific synergies.” Mississippi State University has an ongoing supercomputing partnership with NOAA, most recently hitting the news just a few months ago with the ribbon cutting of the Orion supercomputer, a joint NOAA-MSU project that stood as the fourth most powerful publicly ranked academic system in the U.S. when it launched.
The budget request casts something of a pall on NOAA’s announcement, just a few weeks ago, that it would triple its operational weather and climate supercomputing capacity with two new Cray Shasta systems, each with a peak theoretical performance of 12 petaflops. (Those systems, however, will be located offsite and operated through a contract with GDIT.)
In the budget proposal, it is made very clear that NOAA’s needs are already unmet. “Based on an analysis carried out in 2016,” it reads, “demand for HPC compute resources outweighs the current supply of NOAA’s capabilities by 32X. NOAA is exploring ways of mitigating this shortfall through other means such as cloud computing. NOAA currently has several pilots examining if cloud could be a possible solution to fill the supply and demand gap.”
Elsewhere, however, the document proposes a $1.6 million cut to cloud and community computing for HPC, arguing that “NOAA will be able to meet reduced cloud computing strategies and fully support traditional high performance computing […] needs.” The proposal would also slash the budget for the Joint Technology Transfer Initiative, which transitions the latest technological advances into the operational weather models run on HPC systems, by 80 percent (from $15 million to $3 million).
Of course, it remains in question whether the budget proposal will be accepted by Congress. Previous recent attempts to dramatically slash NOAA’s budget have been rejected, and at a total cut of 13 percent to NOAA, this proposal may be destined for a similar fate.