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Next Generation Internet Agenda Dominates Clinton's HPCC Advisory Council Meeting

Source: HPCC Week, March 6, 1997

The U.S. government's role in developing the Next Generation Internet (NGI) dominated discussions at the first meeting of President Clinton's Advisory Committee on High-Performance Computing and Communications, Information Technology, and the Next Generation Internet. But by the end of the two-day meeting, held Feb. 27-78, two other issues were granted subcommittee status; high-end computing and computations; and large-scale applications, such as information management, healthcare and very-large-scale bandwidth.

"At one point I was worried that we might not converge," Kenneth Kennedy told HPCC Week, as the committee had so much to consider in so little time. "But we got done what we had to get done, which was to get some organizational issues closed. From that perspective I think it was pretty successful. Obviously, the real work is ahead."

The real work ahead in the short term centers around publishing a report on the NGI for the administration in time to affect the FY 1998 budget negotiation process. "We want to make sure there are no mistakes [in the administration's NGI plan]," Kennedy said. President Clinton's budget includes $100 million for the NGI initiative spread across several agencies. The advisory committee's 10-member subcommittee will immediately begin drafting the report, which the full committee will review when it meets again in June. Then the NGI subcommittee will prepare a more detailed assessment of the administration's NGI strategy in order to affect the FY 1999 NGI budget allocation.

A good portion of the first day the committee met was spent discussing how the body should proceed with its job. Anita Jones, DOD's director of Defense Research and engineering, told its members to first assess current federal investment, future plans, and progress in high-end information technologies. Then, in issuing its advice, Jones told the group, the committee should pick a few topics that matter to the president and his science advisers, and that emphasize what matters most to the future of the United States.

"Decide where you can help government the best, and where the government will listen," Jones said. "The Next Generation Internet is absolutely essential.

That the Next Generation Internet dominated the debate was somewhat unsettling to at least one federal HPCC leader who was present at the meeting. ""Don't be hypnotized by the Next Generation Internet," said Juris Hartmanis, head of the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering. "[The committee should] formulate for bigger problems than the Next Generation Internet."

After the meeting, Dick Glassbrook, federal program manager for the Research Consortium RCI ltd., said the three chosen subcommittees were good choices, but "you can't separate these three issues. They must be viewed as a total package," Glassbrook said.

In terms of how to approach its work, Kennedy said the group will follow the suggestion of Cray Research President Bo Ewald, who urged the committee to brainstorm a vision of how HPCC applications would impact life in the year 2007, and then work backward in examining what technological innovations will be necessary to achieve that vision.

Larry Smarr, director of the National Center for Supercomputer Applications, backed Ewald's idea during the meeting. "We should look at our existing digital fabric and decide what has to be done to break the bottlenecks in the next five to 10 years," Smarr said.

During the meeting, each member was given three minutes to air views on what most demanded the committee's attention. Co-chair Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems and Steve Wallach of Hewlett-Packard agreed that the government needs to spend more on HPCC. "A billion dollars a year doesn't seem like much to an information economy of this size" Wallach said. Joy added that, when inflation is taken into account, the government is actually spending less today than in recent years.

Kennedy said he had not met with Vice President Al Gore prior to the advisory committee meeting. However, after the meeting he and Joy met with Gore for "about 25 minutes' in the Old Executive Office Building.

"First, he said how important this [advisory committee] activity was, and how interested he was in it, and how supportive [he was of it]. Then both Bill Joy and myself made brief comments about the various things we felt were important and interesting, reaffirming our support and the committee's support for Next Generation Internet activity."

Kennedy said the two men then suggested to Gore that he join them for "a deeper and more substantive" discussion of the technical issues facing the government's HPCC program, to which he seemed amenable. Then, Kennedy said, Gore displayed some technical knowledge of his own, as he has long been prone to do.

He was interested in what we thought of quantum computing," Kennedy said. "Obviously, he's not a technical person, but he is quite conversant with the ideas and the issues. I think it's a great asset [for the HPCC program] to have a vice president with such technical knowledge."

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