Lawmakers pledge support for supercomputing

Used to assist with everything from intelligence work and cancer research to weather forecasting and consumer product design, supercomputers play an integral role in science and research, said a series of experts testifying before the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation and Competitiveness.

While the commercial applications are needed to support the development of high-performance computers, the science still relies heavily on the U.S. government for support, several speakers said.

Lawmakers agreed a national commitment to high performance computing is important.

"To stay competitive as a nation, we must maintain U.S. leadership in high-performance computing and computational sciences," said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). "Nevertheless, the U.S. government still remains the primary user of high performance computing. We use it to maintain our military superiority, to achieve the goals of stockpile stewardship, and to defend national security."

Subcommittee Chairman Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) said supercomputers will play a role in better tapping oil reserves, exploring alternative energy and finding a cure for diseases like Alzheimer's disease.

Cray Inc. has developed supercomputers for decades and much of that work has centered on the federal government, said Christopher Jehn, vice president of government programs at Cray of Seattle.

"As the largest user of supercomputing, the federal government understands how necessary supercomputers are to fulfilling the requirements of government missions?from national defense and homeland security to scientific leadership," Jehn said. "Agencies need supercomputing to help maintain military superiority, enable scientific research, advance technological development, and enhance industrial competitiveness. For decades, supercomputing has paved the way for real progress for federal agencies."

Cantwell co-sponsored the High End Computing Revitalization Act of 2004, which focuses only on Energy Department activities. Now the time has come for congress to update the laws to address the challenges of high-performance computing across the rest of the federal government.

"Let's not fall behind, just when our global economy continues to grow ever more competitive. Right now, we need to do more," Cantwell said. "I believe H.R. 28, 'The High-Performance Computing Revitalization Act of 2005', which passed the House in April 2005, is a good framework to begin with. But I am not tied to any specific language."

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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