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Getting up to Speed the Future of Supercomputing
ENSURING FUTURE SUPERCOMPUTING LEADERSHIP
The Need for Hardware and Software Producers
The need for the government to ensure that there are suppliers to meet national needs is not unique to supercomputing. The committee’s earlier discussion suggests some possible modes of government intervention. In the case of supercomputing, the discussion of ecosystems has illustrated the interdependency of hardware, system software, and applications software. Nevertheless, different forms of intervention might be possible in different cases.
In the committee’s view, it is necessary that there be multiple suppliers of both hardware and software. As it discussed previously, different applications (and different problems within those applications) have different computational needs. There is no single architecture or architectural family that will satisfy all needs. In the foreseeable future, some of the needed architectures will come from systems built from custom processors. Among the possible hardware suppliers are vertically integrated supercomputer vendors, such as Cray used to be,6 vertically integrated supercomputer product lines within larger companies such as IBM or Hewlett-Packard, and systems created from products of horizontal vendors that produce components (e.g., commodity microprocessors from Intel, AMD, and Apple/IBM and switches from LAN vendors, Myricom or Quadrics).
Vertically integrated companies usually provide system software as well as hardware. However, the committee also believes it is possible to have nonprofit software organizations that develop and maintain community codes, software tools, or system software. These organizations might have a single physical location, or they might be geographically distributed. Their products might be open source, or they might have other licensing agreements. They would likely draw on contributions from the larger research and development community, much as Linux efforts do today. They might be broad in scope or more narrowly specialized. Historically, supercomputing software has also been supplied by ISVs. However, participants in many such companies say that there is no longer a successful profit-making business model, in part because highly skilled software professionals are so attractive to larger companies. For example, many companies that were developing compilers, libraries, and tools for high-performance computing went out of business, were bought, or no
The recent development of the X1 was largely vertically integrated, but the development of other Cray products such as Red Storm is not.