Last week a Silver City, NM newspaper published a commentary by Paul Gessing, the president of a NM political nonprofit called the Rio Grande Foundation that agitates for “limited government” among other goals. The title of the commentary clearly indicates the author’s point of view, “Supercomputer a waste of taxpayer money.”
The supercomputer in question is Encanto, of course, the big SGI machine built by the state of New Mexico in 2007; in that year the machine was number 3 on the Top500. We predicted here back in February of 2008 that selling this project within the state as one that would pay for itself by selling cycles was a recipe for trouble. Evidently we were right, as the state hasn’t brought in much revenue relative to the investment
According to the new report on the supercomputer which was published [by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee] in May, taxpayers have spent $13.8 million on the project to date. Gov. Richardson originally asked the state Legislature for $42 million for the project, but according to the LFC, documents provided by the governor’s science advisor indicate that $115.5 million will be required over a seven-year period for recurring and nonrecurring costs.
According to the LFC, the supercomputer known as Encanto has taken in only about $300,000 in cash.
Low, but not surprising. There are all kinds of fantastic reasons for a state or government institution to invest in substantial supercomputing resources, including economic development (several of the big car manufacturers that located in Mississippi did so in part because of the advanced engineering computation being done at MSU and other state universities). Directly generating revenue is not one of them. It seems that all they would have had to do is pick up the phone and call pretty much anyone in the HPC community to have found this out. Too bad they didn’t check. Since they framed the initiative as a money maker it will be a failure no matter how much good science and engineering is done with it — short of the cure for cancer, I guess.