Oral Testimony of

Edward D. Lazowska

Chair, Department of Computer Science & Engineering
University of Washington


Chair, Government Affairs Committee
Computing Research Association

U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science
Subcommittee on Basic Research
Hearing on the High Performance Computing and Communications Program

October 31, 1995

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on the subject of the High Performance Computing and Communications program.

My name is Ed Lazowska. I head the Department of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. I was a member of the recent National Research Council committee to examine the status of the HPCC Initiative, about which Ivan Sutherland has testified. I also serve on the Board of Directors of the Computing Research Association. Today I'm here to represent the members of the Computing Research Association: nearly 200 industrial research laboratories and academic programs in computer science and computer engineering, where the nation's cutting-edge research and graduate education in these fields takes place.

The Computing Research Association strongly endorses the key findings of the NRC study which were discussed by Ivan Sutherland in his testimony. To recap:

The Computing Research Association believes that continued authorization of the HPCC program elements -- that is, continued funding in these critical research areas, and continued strengthening of the inter-agency process -- is essential to the nation. Here's why:

1. The HPCC program is the nation's research and education program in information technology

HPCC is the coordinated multi-agency initiative that supports nearly all of our nation's fundamental research and graduate education in information technology.

HPCC is much more than the supercomputer centers -- although the supercomputer centers are multi-dimensional and make a wide variety of contributions to science and engineering -- from astrophysics to zoology, and including computer science and engineering.

HPCC is much more than the highest performance systems -- although the highest performance systems are indeed time machines offering a window onto the future, and although the path from cutting edge to desktop is direct and rapid.

HPCC is systems, software, networking, human resources, and the technology and applications for the nation's information infrastructure.

Information technology is our nation's future. The HPCC program is our nation's research and education program in information technology.

2. HPCC's inter-agency coordination has been a model success

To maximize the likelihood of success in risky endeavors requires multiple agencies with multiple approaches. These agencies can and should be coordinated. They can't and shouldn't be tightly managed. There are lots of specific examples of successful coordination in HPCC: And beyond these and other specific examples, agencies such as NSF and ARPA have fundamentally different and complementary "styles" that have stood us in good stead.

3. The HPCC program has proven to be appropriately flexible and adaptable

Fundamental research is by its very nature unpredictable. When Lewis and Clark were exploring America's geographical frontier, they had a strategic objective. But things didn't always turn out exactly as planned: there were false starts, and changes in direction and emphasis.

So it is with HPCC, as we explore America's technological frontier. The name has stayed the same, but the program has evolved and adapted:

HPCC has proven its ability to adapt.

4. A strategic plan for the future exists

Though much is done, much remains to do. The National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Information and Communications, chaired by Anita Jones, who has just testified, last spring produced a Strategic Implementation Plan. The plan identified six Strategic Focus Areas: Within these areas are critical "core" topics such as software for both computation and communication, "infrastructure" topics such as "middleware" to support broad classes of information infrastructure applications, and "applications" from the domains of many federal agencies -- the real technology drivers and paradigm shift agents. Applications such as "computational prototyping": complete design and prototyping by computer, leading to reduced design time and increased quality.

The Computing Research Association strongly endorses the CIC Strategic Planning effort and the directions that it has identified.

5. The role of universities and the federal government is critical

The historical track record is clear: over the course of many decades, federally-supported university research has played a critical role in essentially every aspect of information technology: timesharing, computer networking, workstations, computer graphics, database technology, Very Large Scale Integrated circuit design, Reduced Instruction Set Computer architectures, I/O subsystems based upon Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks, parallel computing, and others.

I serve on the 6-person Technical Advisory Board for Microsoft. Over the past five years, Microsoft discovered that in order to create new markets it needed new technologies in areas such as data compression, encryption, networking, 3D computer graphics, operating systems, statistical decision theory, and so forth. As demonstrated by the Brooks/Sutherland report, without America's research universities, these and other technologies would not be available to spur our world leadership.

Universities look to the future. The HPCC program has been a huge success in allowing them to see the future through the "time machine" phenomenon. It's important to emphasize that the university research carried out under the HPCC program avoids picking winners and losers. The purpose of publicly funded research in high technology fields is to advance knowledge and create new opportunities that industry can exploit in the medium and long term -- not to determine how the market should develop.

Universities transfer technology in two ways:

Close industry/university interactions facilitate this technology transfer, as well as the exchange of insights about long-term strategic directions.

It's this pattern of innovation and technology transfer -- the fluid interaction between academia and industry -- that has made America the world leader in information technology, and that will help us maintain this critical lead.


Mr. Chairman, the Computing Research Association believes that continued authorization of the HPCC program elements -- that is, continued funding in these critical research areas, and continued strengthening of the inter-agency process -- is essential to the nation.

We believe that the authorization should be flexible in its approach, focused on fundamental research in a broad range of strategic areas and allowing adaptation as new research targets of opportunity appear. The research areas described in the CIC Strategic Plan provide an excellent framework. We need to increase the focus on software for HPCC -- on both the computation and the communication side. And we need to keep in mind that applications are important research drivers and paradigm shifters -- applications such as those covered by the Information Infrastructure Technology and Applications component of the HPCC program and the User-Centered Interfaces and Tools component of the CIC Strategic Plan.

I understand the extraordinary constraints under which this Subcommittee is working. The Federal investment in information technology research, though, has been incredibly small compared to the payoff.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

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