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The High Performance Computing Initiative

Eugene Wong

Eugene Wong is Associate Director for Physical Sciences and Engineering in the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Dr. Wong began his research career in 1955. From 1962 to 1969, he served as Assistant Professor and Professor and, from 1985 to 1989, as Chairman in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department of the University of California at Berkeley. When he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 4, 1990, he continued serving in a dual capacity as Professor and Departmental Chairman at the University of California. Dr. Wong received his B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from Princeton University. His research interests include stochastic processes and database-management systems.

I would like to devote my presentation to an overview of the High Performance Computing Initiative as I see it. This is a personal view; it's a view that I have acquired over the last six months.

The High Performance Computing Initiative, which many people would like to rename the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative, is a proposed program of strategic investment in the frontier areas of computing. I think of it as an investment—a long-term investment. If the current proposal is fully funded, we will have doubled the original $500 million appropriation over the next four to five years.

There is a fairly long history behind the proposal. The first time the concept of high-performance computing—high-performance computing


as distinct from supercomputing—was mentioned was probably in the White House Science Council Report of 1985. At that time the report recommended that a study be undertaken to initiate a program in this area.

A strategy in research and development for high-performance computing was published in November 1987 under the auspices of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and FCCSET. FCCSET, as some of you know, stands for Federal Coordinating Council on Science, Engineering and Technology, and the actual work of preparing the program and the plan was done by a subcommittee of that council.

In 1989, shortly after Allan Bromley assumed the office of Director of OSTP, a plan was published by OSTP that pretty much spelled out in detail both the budget and the research program. It is still the road map that is being followed by the program today.

I think the goal of the overall program is to preserve U.S. supremacy in this vital area and over the next few years to accelerate the program so as to widen the lead that we have in the area. Secondly, and perhaps equally important, is to effect a timely transfer of both the benefits and the responsibilities of the program to the private sector as quickly as possible.

"High performance" in this context really means advanced, cutting edge, or frontiers. It transcends supercomputing. It means pushing the technology to its limits in speed, capacity, reliability, and usability.

There are four major components in the program:

• systems—both hardware and system software;

• application software—development of environment, algorithms, and tools;

• networking—the establishment and improvement of a major high-speed, digital national network for research and education; and

• human resources and basic research.

Now, what is the basic motivation for the program, aside from the obvious one that everybody wants more money? I think the basic motivation is the following. In information technology, we have probably the fastest-growing, most significant, and most influential technology in our economy. It has been estimated that, taken as a whole, electronics, communications, and computers now impact nearly two-thirds of the gross national product.

Advanced computing has always been a major driver of that technology, even though when it comes to dollars, the business may be only a very small part of it. Somebody mentioned the figure of $1 billion. Well, that's $1 billion out of $500 billion.

It is knowledge- and innovation-intensive. So if we want as a nation to add value, this is where we want to do it. It is also leveraging success.


This is an area where, clearly, we have the lead, we've always had the lead, and we want to maintain that lead.

In my opinion, a successful strategy has to be based on success and not merely on repair of flaws. Clearly, this is our best chance of success.

Why have a federal role? This is the theme of the panel. You'll hear more about this. But to me, first of all, this is a leading-edge business. I think several presenters at this conference have already mentioned that for such a market, the return is inadequate to support the R&D effort needed to accelerate it and to move ahead. That's always the case for a leading-edge market. If we really want to accelerate it rather than let it take its natural time, there has to be a federal role. The returns may be very great in the long term. The problem is that the return accrues to society at large and not necessarily to the people who do the job. I think the public good justifies a federal role here.

Networking is a prominent part of the program, which is an infrastructure issue and therefore falls within the governments purview. The decline in university enrollment in computer science needs to be reversed, and that calls for government effort—leadership.

Finally, and most importantly, wider use and access to the technology and its benefits require a federal role. It is the business of the federal government to promote applications to education and other social use of high-performance computing.

As a strategy, I think it's not enough to keep the leading edge moving forward. It's not enough to supply enough money to do the R&D. The market has to follow quickly. In order for that market to follow quickly, we have to insure that there is access and there is widespread use of the technology.

There are eight participating federal agencies in the program. Four are lead agencies: the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Department of Energy, NSF, and NASA, all of whom are represented here in this session. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the EPA will also be major participants in the program.

So, where are we in terms of the effort to implement the program? The plan was developed under FCCSET, and I think the group that did the plan did a wonderful job. I'm not going to mention names for fear of leaving people out, but I think most of you know who these people are.

That committee under FCCSET, under the new organization, has been working as a subcommittee of the Committee on Physical Sciences,


Engineering, and Mathematics, under the leadership of Erich Bloch (see Session 1) and Charlie Herzfeld. Over the last few months, we've undertaken a complete review of the program, and we've gotten OMB's agreement to look at the program as an integral program, which is rare. For example, there are only three such programs that OMB has agreed to view as a whole. The other two are global change and education, which are clearly much more politically visible programs. For a technology program to be treated as a national issue is rare, and I think we have succeeded.

We are targeting fiscal year 1992 as the first year of the five-year budget. This is probably not the easiest of years to try to launch a program that requires money, but no year is good. I think it's a test of the vitality of the program to see how far we get with it.

The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has provided input. I'm in the process of assembling an ad hoc PCAST panel, which has already met once. It will provide important private-sector input to the program. In that regard, someone mentioned that we need to make supercomputing, high-performance computing, a national issue. I think it has succeeded.

The support is really universal. You'll hear later that, in fact, committees in the Senate are vying to support a program. I think the reason why it succeeded is that it's both responsive to short-term national needs and visionary, and I think both are required for a program to succeed as a national issue. It's responsive to national needs on many grounds—national security, economy, education, and global change. It speaks to all of these issues in a deep and natural way.

The grand challenges that have been proposed really have the potential of touching every citizen in the country, and I think that's what gives it the importance that it deserves.

The most visionary part of the program is the goal of a national high-speed network in 20 years, and I think most people in Washington are convinced that it's going to come. It will be important, and it will be beneficial. The question is how it is going to come about. This is the program that we will spearhead.

The program has spectacular and ambitious goals, and in fact the progress is no less spectacular. At the time it was conceived as a goal, a machine with a capacity of 1012 floating-point operations per second was considered ambitious. But now it doesn't look so ambitious. The program has a universal appeal in its implications for education, global change, social issues, and a wide range of applications. It really has the potential of touching everyone. Thus, it's a program that I'm excited


about. I'm fortunate to arrive in Washington just in time to help to get it started, and I'm hopeful that it will get started this year.

Let me move now to the theme of this session-What Now? Given the important positions that the presenters in this session occupy, their thoughts on the theme of the federal role in high-performance computing will be most valuable. In the course of informal exchanges at this conference, I have already heard a large number of suggestions as to what that role might be. Let me list some of these before we hear from our presenters.

What is the appropriate government role? I think the most popular suggestion is that it be a good customer. Above all, it's the customer that pays the bills. It should also be a supporter of innovation in a variety of ways—through purchase, through support R&D, and through encouragement. It needs to be a promoter of technology, not only in development but also in its application. It should be a wise regulator that regulates with a deft and light touch. The government must be a producer of public good in the area of national security, in education, and in myriad other public sectors. It should also be an investor, a patient investor for the long term, given the current unfriendly economic environment. And last, above all, it should be a leader with vision and with sensitivity to the public need. These are some of the roles that I have heard suggested at this conference.


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