Energy to open assignment of supercomputing time

The Energy Department's process for allocating computer time at its National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center will be open this year to peer review, DOE said this week.

Under the new policy, a 12-member committee of scientists from outside DOE will have a say in how the NERSC assigns 40 percent of the time on its supercomputers. Bill McCurdy, associate laboratory director with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which runs NERSC, said the change would encourage new projects from university researchers and help the center maintain its place as a major computing research facility.

NERSC is DOE's largest unclassified computing center. Its 11 supercomputers offer a peak capacity of more than 500 billion floating point operations per second, but the average performance of these systems is lower. The lab is scheduled to double its capacity with a new supercomputer purchase this spring.

"The more the community has to say about how the facility is run, the better off we are in the long run,'' McCurdy said. "We most certainly didn't resist this.''

The decision is a response to persistent pressure from the scientific community and, more recently, the White House, to bring more scrutiny to how NERSC spends $26 million a year on its supercomputing program. Peer review is an established method in the scientific community to ensure that funds and equipment are dedicated to the best research projects.

McCurdy said the facility still will be dedicated mainly to researchers who have DOE funding, with about 10 percent of the computing time allocated to scientists who are not doing DOE projects.

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