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It is time for a National Strategic Computing Reserve?

When the pandemic hit last year, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Energy and a number of government, industry and academic partners launched the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium to ensure researchers had access to HPC resources. In the space of year, it tapped 600 petaflops of compute power shared by 43 members from across the globe to take on more than 90 projects modeling the virus and potential drugs.

That massive effort was “achieved without exchange of money or contracts, but rather simply thanks to the donation of time, talent and determination,” said Dario Gil, IBM senior vice president and director of IBM Research, in a panel discussion hosted by IBM on the consortium and possible next steps.

Some of the members are pushing for a National Strategic Computing Reserve. The NSCR is envisioned as “a coalition of experts and resource providers that could be mobilized quickly to provide critical computational resources (including compute, software, data, and technical expertise) in times of urgent need,” as the National Science Foundation described it in a December request for information.

“Our national advanced computing infrastructure that spans academia, government, industry and non-profits, can be a strategic national asset,” said HPCwire panelist Manish Parashar, director of NSF’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure. “[It] can serve as an important tool in our response to these events if it can be mobilized and made available to researchers quickly and in an agile way as we did in response to COVID-19.”

The NSCR would need strong governance and oversight as well as clearly defined processes for activation and winding down after the crisis passes, panelists said. Data-sharing and IP agreements must be worked out ahead of time, they said, and conducting well-resourced drills is essential.

IBM’s Gil is also championing the creation of a Science Readiness Reserve, a diverse corps of volunteer scientists from communities, universities and industries that, like the National Guard, could be quickly be mobilized to develop and deploy critical technologies when crises hit.

The reserves would tap into existing, distributed talent. “We have capabilities at IBM,” Gil said in an interview with Protocol, adding that he’s sure scientists at MIT, Google, Amazon and Microsoft would also be willing to volunteer some of their time and skills.

“In times of crisis, we do come together, but it seems that we're improvising a bit,” Gil said. “We have to learn how to do this.”

Editor's note: This article was changed March 31 to correctly identify the host of the panel discussion (IBM, not HPCwire) and include Gil's full title. 

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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