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Happy birthday NSCI!

Speed read
  • Next phase of national computing plan announced at keynote speech at XSEDE16. 
  • Big computers and even bigger data are the centerpieces in US scientific strategies. 
  • XSEDE to be a key partner in national research initiative.

Meredith Drosback went to Miami for a birthday party with 600 of her closest friends. Drosback's boss, President Obama, asked her to go.

One year ago, Obama launched the National Strategic Computing Initiative (NSCI). Drosback shared a progress report at XSEDE16, stressing the importance of academia and private sector collaboration for NSCI to achieve its goals.


The NSCI is a national high-performance computing (HPC) effort to advance scientific discovery and ensure US economic competitiveness. The US National Science Foundation (NSF)Department of Energy (DoE), Department of Defense (DoD), and eight other federal departments and agencies back the effort.

The gathering of engineers, students, and scientists affiliated with eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) was a good place for Drosback to announce the release of the NCSI's new strategic plan. After all, the XSEDE community is directly involved in implementing and supporting the US cyberinfrastructure. XSEDE supports 16 supercomputers and high-end visualization and data analysis resources across the country.

In July 2015, recommendations from Drosback's science division in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) led to the creation of the NSCI, established by Presidential Executive Order. For the first time, the order created a coordinated federal strategy in HPC.

NCSI Objectives

  • Accelerate delivery of a capable exascale computing system delivering approximately 100 times the performance of current systems.
  • Increase computational coherence between HPC simulation and HPC data analysis.
  • Establish a viable path forward for future HPC systems in the 'post-Moore's Law era'.
  • Increase the capacity and capability of an enduring national HPC ecosystem.
  • Develop a lasting public-private collaboration so the benefits of research and development are shared with government, industry, and academia.

Adding value

Drosback also pointed out the successes in other national science initiatives, such as the Precision Medicine Initiative that applies advanced supercomputing and data analysis to the Million Veteran Program (MVP). The first phase focuses on cardiovascular health, mental health issues, and prostate cancer.

Other examples of HPC-charged science initiatives include Jetstream at Indiana University and Bridges at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center. These comprise two of the most diverse set of NSF-supported high performance resources ever deployed in a similar time period.

Going forward, the NSCI strategic plan focuses on areas where government engagement and coordination by federal agencies are essential. However, it stresses that success will also depend on all-new high performance computing technologies and infrastructure. The FY 2017 federal budget includes investments within the DoE ($285 million / €260 million) and the NSF ($33 million / €30 million).

Big brains. National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins explains the BRAIN initiative. Courtesy White House.

To ensure the NCSI yields a long-term return on investment, it should also result in student training and workforce development that takes full advantage of HPC, Drosback said. That is why the NSCI directly supports national initiatives like the Advanced Manufacturing Initiative, the BRAIN Initiative, the Materials Genome Initiative, the National Big Data R&D Initiative, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative, among others.

XSEDE and NSF resources will be critical if the NSCI is to meet its long-term strategy, Drosback concluded. Indeed, collaboration across all key sectors like government, academia, and industry is necessary to achieve more rapid discovery and greater economic gains.

Just in case the purpose of the investment was missed, Drosback reminded the XSEDE birthday gathering that achieving scientific discovery and economic gain is the ultimate goal of the national cyberinfrastructure. Putting the icing on the cake, she noted US HPC prowess is to benefit all of society; it is not an end in itself.

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