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October 1993

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July 1993

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April 1993

Volume 1, Issue 1
January 1993

High-Performance Computing in Trouble
Ken Kennedy, Director, CRPC

This year's appropriations debate in Congress has highlighted the extent to which the High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) program has fallen from grace. In the Senate, the appropriation for the National Science Foundation (NSF) HPCC program was explicitly reduced by $50 million, "out of concern over the Foundation's inability to articulate specific, quantifiable, and measurable goals for its activities in high-performance computing." On the House side, the HPCC budget for the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was marked for a $100 million reduction from the President's request. Although financial limitations were cited as the reason for the ARPA cut, language accompanying the bill explicitly mentioned concern raised by reports from the General Accounting (GAO) Office and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). In addition, the House appropriations report asserted that the ARPA program was spending too much money on acquisition of hardware for which the software was not yet mature. As I am writing this editorial, the conference committee for the NSF has voted for a smaller $12.5 million HPCC reduction, and the Senate version of the appropriation for ARPA included a $53 million dollar reduction for the Scalable Computing and Microsystems projects. While these smaller reductions would be less destructive than those originally proposed, they will nevertheless severely impede progress in the HPCC program.

It is worth considering how HPCC could get into so much trouble only two years after it was endorsed by a near-unanimous vote in both houses of Congress. It is particularly puzzling because Al Gore, the author of the original bill, has become the vice president and is in charge of the administration's technology program. I believe that a large part of the problem is the poor quality of information that Congress is being given about high-performance computing. The Congressional Budget Office report on HPCC, which I criticized in the July issue of Parallel Computing Research, is a good example. This report was written by an economist who failed to consult a single recognized expert on high-performance computing technology in his research. Furthermore, he ignored critical feedback from the FCCSET committee on early drafts of the report. As a result, he mistakenly concluded that funding for high-performance computing research was benefiting only companies that produced high-end parallel supercomputers and hence, was not worth the cost. The irony of this situation is that the ARPA program most affected by the reductions spends more than 50 percent of its budget on software research. Therefore, the cuts are likely to impede progress on software for high- performance systems-- exactly the opposite of what Congress hopes to achieve.

I firmly believe that the Congress and its staff are, on the whole, well -meaning and intelligent people. Unfortunately, bad information leads to bad decisions, no matter how intelligent the decision-maker. As a community, we need to do a much better job of getting our story across to Congress. The story is a good one--the high-performance computing research community is addressing important problems and actively transferring the results of their research to industry and to scientists and engineers who use high-performance systems. Given the concern in Washington with job creation, it will not be enough for researchers to convey the message directly to Congress. To have any real impact, it must come from corporations that are the beneficiaries of HPCC research.

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