NASA supercomputing to lift off with Google

NASA Ames Research Center and Google have announced they will borrow each other’s computer scientists.

The two Silicon Valley-based engineering titans announced yesterday that they have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on information technology research and development projects.

NASA officials said they need Google’s search power to cope with information overload.

“Our huge files of data from Mars, Jupiter and the moon need more search capability,” said Scott Hubbard, Ames’ director. “The Earth science missions alone are sending a terabyte a day from the ground. Scientists are drowning in data.”

Supercomputing R&D will be a focus of the new partnership. Ames’ $50 million Columbia supercomputer, built by Silicon Graphics Inc. and named in honor of the crew of the Columbia space shuttle, has hit processing speeds of 51.87 teraflops, making it the third fastest supercomputer in the world. Columbia’s massively parallel architecture excels in science and engineering. On the other hand, Google uses a much less expensive distributed computing structure, which links many separate servers, for search algorithms.

Hubbard said the two will team on the R&D of future supercomputer architectures.

“You get smart people together and who knows what exciting things might come out,” he said.

Google, which recently unveiled its geographic information system application Google Earth, stands to benefit from access to NASA space mission imagery.

The effect of the joint venture on Ames' workforce, which is the victim of recent NASA budget cuts, remains unclear. Ames officials said as many as 300 federal civil servants could be laid-off at the center in a year, as NASA redistributes resources to fund the moon and Mars exploration program.

“At this point, I couldn’t predict what the workforce implications would be,” he said, adding that NASA’s fiscal 2006 budget has yet to be signed.

Hubbard said the agency’s reorganization will not affect the Google relationship.

“It’s really two different things,” he said. “We have a strategy of collaborating with the Silicon Valley for some time. Independent of that, the agency has made the decision to restructure what the agency does,” he said.

Google is expected to bring money to the table under the agreement.

“If they are interested in a research project, Google will put their own money into developing things,” Hubbard said.

NASA will not outsource IT R&D programs to Google.

The agreement highlights plans for Google to develop up to 1 million square feet within the NASA Research Park at Moffett Field.

NASA is molding the Research Park into a shared-use educational and R&D campus. As part of a comprehensive plan, new laboratories, classrooms, housing, museums, retail facilities and a conference center are envisioned. NASA will partner with local communities, academia, industry, nonprofit organizations and other government agencies on R&D projects.


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