Nichols Research captures $159M DOD modernization pact

Batting two for two, Nichols Research Corp. last week won an eight-year, $159 million contract to establish and maintain a Defense Department high-performance computing center at the Aeronautical Systems Center (ASC), Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Nichols had captured a contract of similar size only weeks before to manage a high-performance computing center at the Army Corps of Engineers' Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg, Miss.

The DOD High-Performance Computing Modernization Program Office (HPCMP) has awarded both contracts as part of a major overhaul of the department's high-performance computing resources. The Army Information Systems Selection and Acquisition Agency is the contracting agency.

"We're real pleased," said Michael Solley, corporate vice president for computer systems at Nichols. "This was a very complicated RFP. It had training, hardware [and] facilities [requirements]. One copy of our proposal filled 42 copier boxes. It was huge."

Nichols will purchase and install different computer systems, including a C90 built by Cray Research Inc., an SGI Power Challenge, built by Silicon Graphics Inc., and Sun Microsystems Inc. workstations. Nichols will also install an Intel Corp. Paragon that the company currently owns. Except for the C90, all the hardware will constitute scalable architectures rather than shared-memory configurations. "The focus was toward scalable architectures," Solley said, which reflects "a major shift in the industry."

In addition to providing hardware, Nichols will provide maintenance and thousands of hours of training. The ASC shared-resource center will provide support for computational science.

"This essentially represents a big shot in the arm for the whole program," said Joe Batz, deputy program manager for the HPCMP. "And, in particular, for those computational areas"—including structural mechanics, computational fluid dynamics, computational chemistry and materials science, computational electromagnetics and acoustics, and computational electronics and nano-electronics—that will become specialized subjects for ASC.

Batz said the procurement has garnered interest in the high-performance computing industry. "There's a large amount of money, and there's been a large amount of interest," he said. To compete in the HPCMP competition, bidders have formed teams of companies, Batz said. SGI, Cray, IBM Corp., E-Systems, I-NET Inc., AT&T, Science Applications International Corp., Mevatec Corp. and AIT teamed up with Nichols in the ASC win.

HPCMP plans to award two more shared-resource centers and a high-speed network, called the Defense Research and Engineering Network, by August. All four shared-resource centers will be procured using the same request for proposals, with attachments added for site-specific requirements. Under the modernization, a high-speed network will interconnect four major shared-resource centers, 12 smaller "distributed centers" and several smaller, high-performance computing research sites to serve a user base of about 4,200 scientists, engineers and analysts.

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