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Congress approves supercomputing bill

Following report of security inadequacies, Congress passes bill for $165 million in new supercomputing funds.

Congress passed a bill Wednesday for $165 million in new supercomputing funding in the United States, a move that came a week after a report criticized current supercomputing as insufficient for the country's security needs.

The bill, called the Department of Energy High-End Computing Revitalization Act of 2004, now needs the signature of President Bush to become law. The president is expected to sign the bill, a representative of the House Science Committee said.

Supercomputers are powerful machines used for tasks such as predicting hurricane paths and other weather issues, assuring nuclear weapons will work despite aging, investigating human biochemistry, cracking encoded communications, and projecting the consequences of global warming. For more than two years, the fastest supercomputer by one measurement was a Japanese system, NEC's Earth Simulator.

The bill authorizes $50 million to be spent in fiscal 2005, $55 million in fiscal 2006 and $60 million in fiscal 2007. With the funding, the Energy Department will research high-end computing; develop and buy supercomputers; establish a center to develop and maintain software; and transfer technology to the private sector.

Last week at the SC2004 supercomputing show, U.S. computing companies IBM and Silicon Graphics reclaimed for the United States the top position on a list of the 500 fastest machines. Despite that, a National Research Council report by academic researchers concluded that the high-performance computing cluster design that underlies 296 of those 500 systems isn't sufficient to meet national security needs.

The funding will support a "leadership-class" facility that outgoing Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham announced would feature a mammoth Cray machine at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Among the sponsors of the bill were Rep. Bart Gordon, a Tennessee Democrat, and Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican.

According to the bill, the Energy Department research should examine different hardware architectures such as "vector, reconfigurable logic, streaming, processor-in-memory, and multithreading architectures" and software development in "algorithms, programming environments, tools, languages, and operating systems for high-end computing systems."