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A New 'Frontera' for Science Discoveries

Published on September 12, 2018 by Jorge Salazar

Manish Parashar (NSF), speaking at the Frontera supercomputer announcement event.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on August 29, 2018 an award of 60 million dollars to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at UT Austin for the acquisition and deployment of a new supercomputer that will be the fastest at any U.S. university and among the most powerful in the world. The new system is called Frontera, Spanish for "frontier," and it will begin operations in 2019.

On this TACC podcast, host Jorge Salazar interviewed Manish Parashar, Office Director for the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure (OAC) at the National Science Foundation. Dr. Parashar took time out during the announcement event at TACC to talk more about the Frontera supercomputer.

You've spoken on the changing landscape for cyberinfrastructure – the online ecosystem shared by researchers, backed up by advanced computing resources, hosted in data centers, and supported by experts. What are a couple of the most important ways that the NSF is responding to big changes in cyberinfrastructure?

At the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure, which is in the directorate of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation, we seek to foster a computer cyberinfrastructure ecosystem composed of advanced computational resources and services that can support the full range of computational and data-intensive research across all of science and engineering. For nearly four decades now, OAC and NSF have effectively supported the broad availability and innovative use of a diverse set of computational resources to accelerate fundamental science and engineering research.

However, recent years have witnessed dramatic changes in the number and the nature of applications using NSF-funded resources, as well as their resource demand. For example, we're seeing large streaming data applications, on-demand resource access needs, near real-time processing requirements. Concurrently, we've seen dramatic changes in the landscape of technologies, resources, and delivery mechanisms in, for example, in cloud services and server-less computing. It is essential that the research cyberinfrastructure ecosystem evolve in response to these changes.

Moving forward, we are evolving our priorities in programs accordingly, driven, as always, by science needs. For example, we are viewing cyberinfrastructure more holistically as a continuum of computational data software networking and security, resources, tools and services. We are also exploring how we can leverage investment, for example, at the campuses and industry. It's also very critical that we support the translational research continuum for catalyzing core cyberinfrastructure innovations through fostering the development of community tools and frameworks and enabling the deployment and operation of sustainable production cyberinfrastructure services. Our recent OAC research core program is an example of our efforts here.

And finally, we're working very closely with the diverse science and engineering communities to tightly couple the cycle of discovery and innovation essential to addressing new challenges and opportunities in this era of disruptive technologies.

TACC dedicated today its new Frontera system, with funding awarded by the National Science Foundation. How will Frontera maximize the investment that the NSF has made?

Frontera is NSF's next-generation leadership-class computing system. It'll be one of the most powerful academic computing systems in the world. It'll provide up to five times greater performance over the current NSF leadership-class system at about one-fourth the power requirements. And it will provide access to new and innovative capabilities, technologies, and industry partnerships and support new classes of applications. Frontera will also leverage the tremendous knowledge and experience at TACC.

What value will Frontera provide to scientists?

Frontera will provide scientists the capabilities and the capacities needed to tackle some of the most challenging problems in all areas of science and engineering. It'll also enable new classes of applications, for example, that are trying to leverage data analytics, data science, and machine learning and integrate them into the more traditional science application domains. And it's going to provide a new level of scaling as well as new technologies that can be used by scientists across the nation.

What's the most important thing you want the public to know about the Frontera supercomputing system?

Leadership class computing is an important component of the NSF cyberinfrastructure ecosystem, enabling science and engineering research that's not otherwise possible. Collectively, leadership-class computing investments by the NSF and other agencies represent national assets critical to US science and engineering leadership. The Frontera system announced today represents Phase One of NSF's two-phased approach toward realizing a leadership-class computing facility. It brings innovative capabilities, critical capacities, expertise, and industry and academic partnerships. NSF is confident that Frontera is capable of enabling unprecedented science and engineering advances and discoveries.

Manish Parashar serves as the Office Director of the Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure at the National Science Foundation (NSF). Dr. Parashar is Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at Rutgers University. He is also the founding Director of the Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute (RDI2) and The Applied Software Systems Laboratory (TASSL), and Full Member (Clinical Investigations and Precision Therapeutics Program) of the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey,. He is also Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Business, Computing & Law at University of Derby, UK. Before joining NSF, Dr. Parashar was the Lead Principal Investigator for Cyberinfrastructure for the NSF Ocean Observatories Initiative.


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