• Architecture. DARPA built up an impressive body of national expertise in supercomputer architecture in the 1980s and 1990s, which was then allowed to languish and atrophy. DOE sponsored the acquisition and evaluation of experimental architectures in the 1980s, but such experimentation has largely disappeared.

  • Software. NASA actively supported the development and maintenance of libraries, benchmarks, and applications software, but support for many projects and organizations that would have continuing value has disappeared.

  • Collaborations. The NSF Grand Challenge program of the early 1990s produced some strong collaborative interdisciplinary teams that had no follow-on program in which to continue. More recently, the NSF ITR program has again led to the creation of successful collaborations, but their expertise seems destined to be lost.

It is difficult to achieve stability in the face of local decisions that have an unpredictable collective effect. Each of the inauspicious outcomes mentioned above has an explanation. Some outcomes stem from the turnover of government personnel and concomitant shifts in budget priorities. Others come from the near-universal desire to start something new without, however, waiting to extract the best aspects of the previous programs. Still others ensue when agencies decide to stop sponsoring an important activity without finding other sponsorship. The net effect is that U.S. leadership in supercomputing suffers.

The Need for a Continuum from Research to Production

As the discussion in Chapter 5 makes clear, research in supercomputing has to overcome many hard, fundamental problems in order for supercomputing to continue to progress. The dislocations caused by increasing local and remote memory latencies will require fundamental changes in supercomputer architecture; the challenge of running computations with many millions of independent operations will require fundamental changes in programming models; the size of the machines and the potential increase in error rates will require new approaches to fault-tolerance; and the increased complexity of supercomputing platforms and the increased complexity of supercomputing applications will require new approaches to the process of mapping an application to a platform and new paradigms for programming languages, compilers, run-time systems, and operating systems. Restoring a vigorous, effective research program is imperative to address these challenges.

Research and development in an area such as supercomputing requires the interactions of many organizations and many modes of activity

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement