Council seeks opinions on the future of supercomputing

PHOENIX'The National Research Council is soliciting advice on the best ways the federal government can meet its supercomputing needs in the future.

The panel conducting the NRC study, which is co-sponsored by the Energy Department's Office of Science, reviewed its interim findings and asked for opinions at a discussion forum yesterday at the SC2003 conference.

The United States appears to be in good shape in supercomputing hardware innovations, said Susan Graham, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkeley and co-chair of the NRC panel. Most of the systems on the recent list of the world's 500 fastest computers were built by American firms.

But Japan's Earth Simulator has led the Top 500 list for nearly two years, which Graham attributed to its high memory bandwidth, custom-built microprocessors and other tweaks. Better choices were made in designing the Earth Simulator than in building some of the large U.S. computers, she said.

U.S. supercomputer software is in worse shape than hardware, mainly because of limited standards, inadequate investment in development and a shrinking pool of third-party vendors for high-performance technical applications, Graham said.

The government needs to support development of supercomputing technology and its use in cutting-edge science and engineering, Graham said.

The panel's final report is due by the end of 2004. Over the next few months, panelists will meet in Washington and Chicago and make site visits to the National Security Agency, several Energy labs and Japan.

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