Supercomputing partnerships produce success, studies show

Two reports show that public/private alliances have positive results and that human interaction is more important than the computers.

New federally funded studies show public/private partnerships that maximize supercomputing resources produce measurable payoffs for industry and support the government’s mission needs.

The Council on Competitiveness released two reports this week based on interviews with companies to gauge their satisfaction with high-performance computing partnerships.

In one report, the council and IDC questioned 12 industrial partners in a university alliance called the Academic Strategic Alliance Program (ASAP). The initiative, organized by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), brings together centers at Stanford University, the University of Utah and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The survey, conducted last winter, concludes that “ASAP provides an opportunity for NNSA to demonstrate in quantifiable terms that it can successfully leverage its [high-performance computing] resources to both meet national security mission needs and accelerate the nation’s economic security and global competitive position -– providing an enhanced return on the government’s investment” in high-performance computing assets.

Half of the companies were able to assign a dollar value of $200,000 to $1 million to the results of the partnerships.

“Although the computing problems tackled by ASAP do not involve nuclear weapons research, the computational science, computer science and computational mathematics methodologies and tools developed do provide benefits to the DOE,” the report states.

One-third of the industrial partners reported that they had achieved a breakthrough or discovered something totally new through the program. All participants said they would be willing to pair with their academic partners again.

The respondents indicated that they valued the human expertise more than the hardware.

“The aspect of the partnership the largest contingent of respondents considered important was access to experts within the alliance centers,” the report states. “Access to large [high-performance] computers emerged as the second most popular benefit.”

The other survey, also administered last winter, focused on the experiences of 40 companies in partnerships with the National Science Foundation at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the San Diego Supercomputing Center and the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

Nearly all respondents – 93 percent – said the partnerships advanced their research and development efforts. More than half reported that their collaborations had led to a breakthrough or revealed something new.

Helping industry solve complex problems also advances NSF’s mission of supporting high-risk, high-payoff ideas and collaborations, according to the findings.

Sixteen businesses could assign a dollar value of $100,000 to $57 million to their partnerships.

Human interaction was once again more important than the actual computers, according to the report.

A major theme that popped up in the comments was that NSF’s supercomputing resources are not well-known among the business community.

“The companies view the NSF center’s [high-performance computing] resources as a hidden gem and believe NSF has not just an opportunity but a responsibility to market and promote these resources far more aggressively to U.S. businesses that exploit or wish to exploit” high-performance computing, the report states.

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