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Inspired by COVID-19 HPC Consortium, Cabinet-level National Science and Technology Council’s Blueprint for a National Strategic Computing Reserve

According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the ad-hoc creation of the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing (HPC) Consortium during the coronavirus pandemic revealed the unintended consequences of the shift of personnel and computational power for emergency use, including:

  • Significant impacts on the workloads of the personnel involved as well as on the communities that are typically served by the resources that were diverted to address the pandemic;
  • The delay of other science and engineering (S&E) projects, putting on hold advances in the broader research ecosystem; and
  • The potential for undesirable implications—for example, for long-term competitiveness—of diverting human and computing resources to emergency response.

The highly successful Consortium compelled the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC- part of the OSTP) to do an analysis of the COVID-19 HPC Consortium’s resources, processes, and structures (in addition to issuing an RFI to solicit community inputs) to explore the creation of a National Strategic Computing Reserve (NSCR).

As the report title (“National Strategic Computing Reserve: A Blueprint”) implies, it is a formative design document for ‘standing’ up an NSCR. The blueprint cites the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and the United States Merchant Marine as analogous structures for the NSTC.

Origin Story

Coordinated, accessible computational resources have proven mission-critical in mounting a response to the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 HPC Consortium was created in March of 2020 to bring together these computing resources and service providers. According to the Consortium website:

“The Consortium is making available computational resources and expertise from government, academia, nonprofits/foundations, and industry to the broader S&E community in an agile and expedient way to support research and development (R&D) related to the novel coronavirus.”

The Consortium’s successes and impacts have been impressive, including:

  • 43 Consortium members, including domestic and international service providers
  • An aggregate computing power of over 600 petaflops.
  • Computing resources provided to over 100 projects that have allowed researchers to: understand the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how it spreads; develop therapeutics and vaccinations; identify approaches to manage and mitigate pandemic impacts, and plan and execute logistics responses such as the delivery of medical supplies.”

About the Authors

The blueprint was created by:

The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program is the Nation’s primary source of federally funded work on pioneering information technologies (IT) in computing, networking, and software. The NITRD Subcommittee of the NSTC Committee on Science and Technology Enterprise guides the multiagency NITRD Program in its work to provide the R&D foundations for ensuring continued U.S. technological leadership and meeting the needs of the Nation for advanced IT. The National Coordination Office (NCO) supports the NITRD Subcommittee and the Interagency Working Groups (IWGs) that report to it. For more information see https://www.nitrd.gov/about/

The NSTC Subcommittee on Future Advanced Computing Ecosystem (FACE) coordinates Federal agency activities to pioneer, sustain, and enhance the advanced computing ecosystem necessary for U.S. scientific, technological, and economic leadership. The FACE Subcommittee is guided by the objectives, priorities, and recommendations outlined in the 2019 NSTC report, National Strategic Computing Initiative: Pioneering the Future of Computing, in alignment with the NITRD Subcommittee and other Subcommittees as appropriate.

Inspiring an NSCR

According to the blueprint:

“The positive outcomes and lessons learned from the COVID-19 HPC Consortium led to the conceptualization of the National Strategic Computing Reserve, envisioned as a coalition of experts and resource providers that can be mobilized quickly to provide critical computational resources—including computing resources, software, data, and technical expertise—in times of national or international urgent need.

Because computing and data analytics are expected to play an increasingly critical role in addressing future national emergencies, it is important to leverage the experiences of the Consortium to establish the structures and processes now that will allow the rapid mobilization of resources in the future to maximize their effectiveness and use and to minimize detrimental side-effects such as delays to existing portfolios.

It is also important to ensure that the deployment and operation of these resources are coordinated with other responses to amplify their impact. The overarching goal of instituting an NSCR is to establish these structures and processes, so they are readily available when they are needed.”

What Would the NSCR Look Like?

The NSCR blueprint envisions:

  • An accessible strategic reserve of advanced computing resources, services, and expertise that can accelerate response to, mitigation against, and recovery from future national emergencies, whether they are natural disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, or wildfires; public health emergencies like pandemics; manmade or environmental disasters like chemical spills, or mission crises such as when space missions are in jeopardy.
  • A coalition of experts and resource providers (of compute, software, data, and technical expertise) spanning government, academia, nonprofits/foundations, and industry supported by appropriate coordination structures and mechanisms that can be mobilized quickly to provide critical computing capabilities and services in times of urgent need.
  • An operational structure analogous to the roles of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet and the United States Merchant Marine:  In much the same way as the Merchant Marine maintains a set of “ready reserve” civilian mariners and merchant vessels that can be put to use in wartime, the NSCR aims to maintain reserve computing capabilities that can be made available in times of urgent national need. Like the Merchant Marine, this effort involves building and maintaining sufficient infrastructure and human capabilities, and ensuring that these capabilities are organized, trained, and ready in the event they need to be activated.
  • Volunteer subject-matter experts working with computing resource providers to make advanced computing and data resources and services available to respond to crises.
  • The availability of HPC tools such as rapid-turnaround modeling and prediction, high-speed simulations, real-time data assimilation and analysis, geospatial analysis, scientific visualizations, infrastructure resiliency, and machine learning for in-depth decision support.

The blueprint also lays out the principal functions of the NSCR, including:

  • Establishing clear policies, processes, and procedures for activating and operating the NSCR in times of crisis;
  • Recruiting and sustaining a group of advanced computing and data resource and service provider members in government, industry, and academia;
  • Developing relevant agreements with members, including provisions for augmented capacity and/or cost reimbursement for deployable resources, for the urgent deployment of computing and supporting resources and services, and for provision of incentives for non-emergency participation;
  • Developing methods and tools for making critical proprietary datasets securely available to compute platforms and researchers when needed;
  • Developing a set of agreements to enable the NSCR to collaborate with Federal agencies and industries in preparation for and execution of NSCR deployments.
  • Executing a series of preparedness exercises with some recurring frequency to test and maintain the NSCR;
  • During a crisis:
    • Executing procedures to receive project proposals and review and prioritize projects and to allocate computing resources to approved projects;
    • Tracking project progress and disseminating products (including software and data) and outputs to ensure effective use and impact; and
    • Participating in the broader national response as an active partner; and
  • Following a crisis:
    • Managing the return to normal operations of the involved resources;
    • Implementing changes from post-crisis lessons learned; and
    • Documenting experiences and outcomes

What Next?

  • Establishing an interagency group to conduct deeper dives into the various structural and operational components of the NCSR outlined in the blueprint;
  • Organizing community events to explore the NSCR’s role in specific emergency scenarios; and
  • Establishing the requisite relationships with other reserves as well as other entities responsible for coordinating and responding to emergencies.

Watch this space for more on the implementation of the NSCR as outlined by the blueprint, as it is a really compelling project.  We plan to monitor its progress and provide updates to the membership when available.

A direct link to the OSTP Blueprint:  National Strategic Computing Reserve: A Blueprint

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Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira

Daniel Pereira is research director at OODA. He is a foresight strategist, creative technologist, and an information communication technology (ICT) and digital media researcher with 20+ years of experience directing public/private partnerships and strategic innovation initiatives.