NSF planning major new computing initiative

BOSTON'The National Science Foundation is planning up to a $1 billion upgrade of the computing infrastructure supporting its research and engineering activities.

Dubbed the Cyberinfrastructure Initiative, the project will run for five years, beginning with fiscal year 2005, according to Gregory Andrews, division director for experimental and integrative activities at NSF.

Andrews spoke to federal IT project managers and academic grantees of the NSF's Digital Government Research Program, which is holding its annual conference this week.

'This has the potential to have a broad impact on many people's live,' Andrews said.

The additions to NSF's existing complex of supercomputers and networks were recommended earlier this year by a blue-ribbon commission. It recommended asking Congress for $1 billion, but Andrews said that in the current federal budget climate, the Cyberinfrastructure Initiative would more likely receive closer to $500 million.

The initiative will have three components, Andrews said. First is adding hardware and software that builds on the existing Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure. PACI now has networked nodes at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois at Champaign and the University of California at San Diego. But more processor, memory and network bandwidth is needed for research involving ever-larger data sets, Andrews said.

The stated purpose of the initiative is to 'let scientists and engineers work on advanced research and education projects that would not otherwise be solvable.'

The second component will be sales, he said'selling continued funding to Congress by showing what problems scientists can solve. The third is really the initiative's goal: 'Having revolutionary impact on science, engineering and society,' Andrews said.

Current computing infrastructure funding exists as a line item for the Information Technology Research program in each of the NSF's five research directorates. Andrews said NSF leadership wants a fresh budget line item for the Cyberinfrastructure Initiative because it is more than simply a continuation of the ITR.

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