Panel urges Washington to finance fast computer

The scientists also warn of a looming imbalance between hardware and software technology in high-performance computing.

2 min read
A panel of leading computer scientists warned in a report issued Monday that unless the federal government significantly increases support for advanced research on supercomputing, the United States will be unable to retain its lead on that technological front.

The panel of scientists, which was convened by the National Research Council, warned of a looming imbalance between hardware and software technology in high-performance computing.

"We are calling for a sustained and long-term investment to help develop advanced software and algorithms," said Steven Wallach, a computer designer at Chiaro Networks, maker of an optical router for high-speed computing, and a member of the panel.

The report, "Getting Up to Speed: The Future of Supercomputing," was based on an effort begun in 2002.

"Our situation has deteriorated during the past 10 years," said Susan L. Graham, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who was co-chairwoman of the panel.

The authors of the report, which was prepared for the U.S. Energy Department, said they were recommending that the federal government spend $140 million annually on new supercomputing technologies. The federal government currently spends about $42 million each year, according to a recent report of the High End Computing Revitalization Task Force, a federal government working group.

"If we don't start doing something about this now, there will be nothing available in 10 years when we really need these systems, " Graham said.

Also on Monday, the BlueGene/L supercomputer from IBM was placed first on a list of the world's 500 fastest computers in a ranking announced at a high-performance-computing conference in Pittsburgh. The ranking is issued twice each year. The IBM machine, which is being installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, surpasses the speed set in 2002 by a Japanese supercomputer known as the Earth Simulator.

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The Japanese machine, which sent shockwaves through government offices and the computer industry, has now fallen to third place in the current top 500 list. It is behind the IBM system, which reported a computing speed of 70.72 trillion calculations per second, and a supercomputer designed by Silicon Graphics Inc. for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which last month reported that it had reached 51.87 trillion calculations per second. The Japanese system is rated at 35.8 trillion calculations a second.

The top 10 this year included the fourth-ranked IBM cluster-style supercomputer that was recently installed at the Barcelona Supercomputer Center in Spain. A system designed from Apple Computer components that is installed at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., ranked eighth on the list.

Over all, Intel consolidated its advantage in supercomputing. More than 320 systems on the top 500 list are based on Intel microprocessors, an increase from 287 Intel-based systems just six months ago.

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