US must invest more in advanced computing

Over the course of the last year, our writings in The Hill have addressed emerging technology issues including big data, the Internet of Things, automation/artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Our focus has been the growing implications of these new technologies for both the public and private sectors. There is a common threat that ties all these tech innovations together: the collection, analysis, and utilization of data via advanced computing capabilities, specifically supercomputing and high-performance Computing (HPC).

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In today's world, computing rules almost all that we do. The exponential upsurge of data and its uses directly impact the critical infrastructure of society, including healthcare, security, transportation, communications and energy. Organizing, managing and analyzing data, though, is more important than ever. The U.S. military and the intelligence community depend on maintaining a qualitative edge in processing power that factors in the design, creation and operations of many technologies and programs of national security interest. Supercomputing and the corollary of high-performance computing have become the means mechanisms for those vital tasks.

Seymour Cray is commonly referred to as the "father of supercomputing" and his company, Cray Computing, is still a driving force in the industry. Supercomputers are differentiated from mainframe computers by their vast data storage capacities and expansive computational powers.

The website Techtarget.com provides a strong working definition of HPC: "the use of parallel processing for running advanced application programs efficiently, reliably and quickly. The most common users of HPC systems are scientific researchers, engineers and academic institutions. Some government agencies, particularly the military, also rely on HPC for complex applications." HPC works hand-in-hand with supercomputing as it requires the aggregation of computer power to address problems and find solutions.

Maintaining leadership in supercomputing and HPC is both a national and economic security imperative for the United States. The White House budget for fiscal 2017 request lays out the framework for the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). The NCSI names three lead agencies — the Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense and National Science Foundation — to lead these efforts.

A July White House 2015 executive order, "Creating a National Strategic Computing Initiative," also highlighted the need for "Developing an enduring public-private collaboration to ensure that the benefits of the research and development advances are, to the greatest extent, shared between the United States Government and industrial and academic sectors."

There is indeed a "supercomputer race," and there are real concerns that the United States' domination in supercomputing is eroding and more investment is needed for the NSCI. This year, the TOP500 organization announced in its biannual global listing of the top supercomputers that China has overtaken the United States in the amount of computers being used. They also noted that China now has the world's fastest supercomputer, a new machine called Sunway TaihuLight. U.S. company Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) still maintains the most supercomputers in the world with 127 machines.

Aside from China's new Sunway TaihuLight, other leading top supercomputers include:

  • The U.S. Jaguar, located at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility in Tennesse.
  • The Chinese Nebulae, which is located at the newly built National Supercomputing Centre in Shenzhen.
  • The U.S. Roadrunner system located at Los Alamos labs in New Mexico.
  • The U.S. Kraken, located at the National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS).
  • The German Jugene supercomputer housed at the Juelich Supercomputing Centre.
  • The U.S. Pleiades supercomputer located at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.
  • The Chinese Tianhe-1 system installed at the National Super Computer Center in Tianjin.

The National Academy of Sciences, in its study "The Future of Supercomputing," envisions investments in supercomputing as highly beneficial and that it plays an essential role in national security and in scientific discovery. They recommend that U.S. government agencies should increase their levels of stable, robust, sustained multiagency investment in research for supercomputing.

It is evident that government cannot do it alone. If the United States is to excel in the evolving era of supercomputing and HPC, then government, academia and industry will need to heighten collaboration in research and development activities. The National Strategic Computing Initiative is a great starting point to expand the public/private partnerships. Because of the rapidly changing advanced computing landscape, time is of the essence. 

Brooks serves as the vice president for government relations and marketing at Sutherland Government Solutions. He is also vice chairman of CompTIA's New and Emerging Technologies Committee. Brooks served at the Department of Homeland Security as the first director of legislative affairs for the Science and Technology Directorate. He also spent six years on Capitol Hill as a senior adviser to the late Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.). Follow him on Twitter @ChuckDBrooks and on LinkedIn.

Logsdon is the senior director of public advocacy for CompTIA. In this role, he runs the association's New and Emerging Technologies Committee (focused on the policy surrounding social, mobile, big data/data analytics, cloud, the Internet of Things and smart cities). He was also the staff lead for CompTIA's federally focused technology convergence commission, which examined the impact on the public sector when social, mobile, analytics and cloud converge. Follow him on Twitter @DJLSmartData.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.