People to Watch 2016

William “Tim” Polk
Assistant Director, Cybersecurity
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

Tim Polk joined the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 1982, where he has concentrated on Internet security since 1987. In 2013, he joined the Office of Science and Technology Policy, where high performance computing complements his duties as Assistant Director for Cybersecurity.

HPCwire: Hi Tim. Congratulations on being selected as an HPCwire 2016 Person to Watch. We’re eagerly awaiting the full NSCI implementation plan that’s expected early in 2016. While the details are being closely guarded, I wonder if you could you discuss what specific elements we should expect in the plan, which specific elements are likely to be among the first pieces of the plan initiated, and perhaps discuss any of the primary NSCI objectives beyond what was outlined in President Obama’s executive order that steered the direction of the program’s development as the proposal was put together?

Tim Polk: In October 2015, we held a White House Workshop on the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). The workshop panels focused on convergence of data analytics and computationally intensive computing, improving productivity in HPC application development, workforce development, and the impact of future computing technologies on HPC’s evolutionary path.

While the NSCI is a new whole-of-government initiative, we are also building on a core set of ongoing and long planned agency activities. The Department of Energy’s plans for exascale computing will form the foundation for achieving the strategic objective of capable exascale. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and Semiconductor Research Corporation (SRC) joint solicitation on energy-efficient computing published in December 2015 will address one of the critical impediments to scaling HPC systems and their broad deployment. Another good example is the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) Cryogenic Computing Complexity (C3) program, which launched in 2013 and will be a foundational component for our exploration of that future computing technology.

HPCwire: Getting governance and funding right are two topics that have generated a lot of HPC community discussion around NSCI. What do you see as the primary hurdles facing NSCI efforts as you look to the year ahead and are there concrete indicators of success and progress you’ll be watching for?

With respect to our whole-of-government efforts, active participation by agencies is the key to NSCI governance. Agency participation in the NSCI Executive Council meetings has been terrific, so we will be focusing our efforts in 2016 on supporting the NSCI’s whole-of-nation aspirations. Since the Federal government will not be directing industry or academia, governance may not be quite the right phrase, but coordination and communication will be essential. The quantity and quality of collaborative efforts that the NSCI can establish with industry and academia will be a primary indicator of success. The NSF-SRC joint solicitation gets us off to a nice start.

HPCwire: What trends in high performance computing do you see as particularly relevant as you look forward to the year ahead?

Open source has been a significant technical accelerator in many aspects of information technology, including cloud computing. Harnessing the power of open source to accelerate technology adoption and promote broad deployment was a recurring theme in the workshop presentations and side conversations at the White House Workshop on the NSCI. I hope that we will see significant progress on this front in 2016.

HPCwire: Outside of the professional sphere, what can you tell us about yourself – personal life, family, background, hobbies, etc.?

My wife and I are anticipating an empty nest this year, as our youngest graduates from University of North Carolina – Wilmington. Spending time with the kids is the first priority for our free time, when we can work our way into their schedules. Failing that, we love cruising and racing on the Chesapeake Bay on Incommunicado, a 36-foot sloop we co-own with one of my grade school buddies.

HPCwire: Final question: What can you share about yourself that you think your colleagues would be surprised to learn?

I am a “lifer” at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), having joined the agency as a student back in 1982 when it was still the National Bureau of Standards. I devoted most of the next 30 years to Internet security protocols and the supporting infrastructure. In 2012, NIST detailed me to the Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop cybersecurity policy initiatives. By serendipity, I became part of the high performance computing team as well, which has been one to the most rewarding aspects of my time at OSTP.


Toni Collis
Women in HPC
Jim Ganthier
Sumit Gupta
Dr. Yutong Lu
Bill Mannel
Hartmut Neven
William “Tim” Polk
Irene Qualters
Thomas Sohmers
REX Computing
John West
SC16 Chair
Kathy Yelick


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