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Glenn Lockwood on the NSF Future Directions Interim Report

Glenn Lockwood

Glenn Lockwood

Glenn K. Lockwood writes that a recent interim report on NSF Advanced Computing raises big concerns about the future of HPC at the National Science Foundation. With NSF funding currently under fire in Congress, I’m thinking concerned taxpayers should give this a good read.

So what is the heart of the problem? Lockwood contends that it is the seeming inability of NSF to find stabile funding for the technical staff required to achieve their goals.

How to create advanced computing infrastructure that enables integrated discovery involving experiments, observations, analysis, theory, and simulation? Answering this question involves a few key points:
 

  1. Stop treating NSF’s cyberinfrastructure as a computer science research project and start treating it like research infrastructure operation.  Office of Cyberinfrastructure (OCI) does not belong in Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE).
  2. Stop funding cyberinfrastructure solely through capital acquisition solicitations and restore reliable core funding to NSF HPC centers.  This will restore a community that is conducive to retaining expert staff.
  3. Focus OCI/ACI and raise the bar for accountability and transparency.   Stop funding projects and centers that have no proven understanding of operational (rather than theoretical) HPC.
  4. Either put up or give up.  The present trends in funding lie on a road to death by attrition.
  5. Don’t waste time and funding by presuming that outsourcing responsibility and resources to commercial cloud or other federal agencies will effectively serve the needs of the NSF research community.
Lockwood goes on to make the following recommendations:

I would recommend a model, similar to many European nations’, where a solicitation is issued for a vendor-neutral proposal to deploy and support a program that is built around a resource. A winning proposal is selected based on not only the system features, its architecture, and the science it will support, but the plan for training, education, collaboration, and outreach as well. Following this award, the bidding process for a specific hardware solution begins. This addresses the two high-risk processes mentioned above and simultaneously eliminates the current qualification in Track 2 solicitations that no external funding can be included in the proposal. By leaving the capital expenses out of the selection process, the NSF stands to get the best deal from all vendors and other external entities independent of the winning institution.Bottom-up coordination is much more labor-intensive because it requires highly motivated people at the grassroots to participate. Given the NSF’s current inability to provide stable funding for highly qualified technical staff, I cannot envision how this would actually come together.

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