Supercomputing partnerships win high marks

Companies cite satisfaction with their HPC partners

When the government shares its supercomputing resources with businesses, it furthers its own projects and produces measurable payoffs for the private sector, two new federally funded studies have concluded.

Earlier this month, the Council on Competitiveness released reports on companies’ satisfaction with public/private partnerships that provide access to high-performance computing (HPC) systems and expertise.

With the research firm IDC, the council surveyed officials from 12 companies involved in a university HPC consortium organized by the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Started in 1997, the consortium, known as the Academic Strategic Alliance Program (ASAP), combines the resources of research centers at Stanford University, University of Utah, University of Chicago, California Institute of Technology and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The council concluded in one of the two reports that ASAP provides an opportunity for NNSA to realize “an enhanced return on the government’s investment in HPC assets.” Industry reaps rewards, too. Half the companies polled assigned a dollar value of $200,000 to $1 million to the return on their partnerships.

One-third of the survey respondents further reported 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.

NNSA officials said they established the HPC alliance program to apply academic expertise to complex problems whose challenges are similar to the nation’s nuclear security problems. The alliance’s universities — on their own and with their own resources — chose to partner with companies.

“While NNSA encourages university/industry partnerships to apply HPC simulations to real-world problems, NNSA will not directly get involved in the relationship between the university center and industry,” said Dimitri Kusnezov, director of NNSA’s Office of Advanced Simulation and Computing.

A second survey examined the experiences of 40 companies that partner with the National Science Foundation through the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, the San Diego Supercomputing Center and the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

Nearly all those interviewed said the NSF partnerships, which lasted an average of more than eight years, contributed to their research and development efforts. More than half reported the collaborations had led to a breakthrough.

Sixteen businesses assigned a dollar value of $100,000 to $57 million to those partnerships.

“The companies view the NSF center’s HPC 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 HPC,” the report states.

NSF officials said they are reviewing the council’s recommendations to determine areas for improvement.

“It certainly was not the intent to make these HPC resources a hidden gem, but we are certainly pleased the commercial sector appreciates the value of both the computational [facilities] and expertise available at these sites,” said Jose Munoz, deputy director of NSF’s Office of Cyberinfrastructure and a senior scientific adviser.


Council reports benefits from HPC partnershipsA new Council on Competitiveness study found that partnerships between high-performance computing research centers and businesses produce the following mutual benefits, among others.

  • They help eliminate two major barriers that prevent widespread private-sector adoption of high-performance computing: lack of access to large-scale systems and lack of access to research experts.

  • They encourage companies to buy their own high-performance computing systems, thereby accelerating market growth and helping lower the future costs of such systems.

  • They help meet the government’s mission-critical needs and accelerate innovation.

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