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Photo of Arden Bement

Dr. Arden L. Bement, Jr.
National Science Foundation

"Cyberinfrastructure's Central Role in Building a Wise Crowd"
TeraGrid All-Hands Meeting

Indianapolis, IN
June 13, 2006

See also slide presentation.

If you're interested in reproducing any of the slides, please contact the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs: (703) 292-8070.

[Title Slide]
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Good morning. It is a great pleasure to join with the TeraGrid partners and the user community in sharing some of the exciting "goings on" in the growing arena of cyberinfrastructure. On behalf of the National Science Foundation, I want to thank all of those involved with TeraGrid for the vital work that you are doing in developing our world-class CI system.

A robust CI architecture is a critical part of the foundation upon which we will build our nation's future competitiveness and innovation. We at NSF appreciate your help in making the vision of computational power and connectivity a reality.

The term "information revolution" has become ubiquitous, although it means different things to different people. Some see it as a current or a tide. I tend to see it more as a swift, transformational sea change that will sweep much of the known landscape clean. Our task is to create a new and positive landscape from our collective work in the coming decades.

[Slide #2: America's Three Spikes In a Flattening World]
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An increasing number of nations recognize that the new coins of the realm are education, R and D investment, and a robust knowledge infrastructure. These three historic "spikes" have allowed the U.S. to retain its premier place in the global innovation race. They also frame the economy of the 21st century. Henceforth, it will be the human resource; namely -- individual intellectual capital -- that determines a nation's wealth. Institutions and companies the world over are already engaged in a heated competition for the best talent.

But the accelerated pace of change today means that the window of time from research to marketplace will continue to shorten. The innovation playing field is crowded and the pace of the game is lightening-quick.

For some, the break-neck pace of technological change breeds caution and even isolationism. We must resist the impulse to turn inward and construct barriers. The key to our national success -- as it always has been -- lies in meeting the forces of change head-on with abundant energy and bright ideas.

It is very difficult to lead from a defensive crouch. The current competitive context requires openness, collaboration, and partnerships.

TeraGrid participants are taking a clear leadership role in evolving modalities and computational power that will enable researchers to do their work more swiftly, collaboratively, and efficiently than ever before.

[Slide #3: The TeraGrid Approach]
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TeraGrid's goal is to create a CI framework that is deep, wide, and open. The depth component enables scientific discoveries, aided by the unparalleled digital muscle of supercomputers, at the various centers. As NSF invests in the petascale computing program, TeraGrid ensures that these new and powerful machines are seamlessly "embedded" in an infrastructure that the user community can navigate with ease.

As such, a new stream of data is immediately available for use on the new machine, and the basic user environment is entirely familiar. The technical support phone numbers are the same and users go to the same website for documentation. The only difference is that the TeraGrid researcher or student user has access to increased power and connectivity. Thus, a fire hose replaces the garden hose.

The width component refers to TeraGrid's goal of significantly expanding the number of TeraGrid users. Currently there are over 4,000 NSF PIs using TeraGrid. These PIs have been able to use high performance computing resources over the past twenty years.
However, this is but a small fraction of the broader community that NSF supports in terms of PI's, educators, and students.

The TeraGrid Science Gateways initiative is aimed at broadening the impact of TeraGrid and cyberinfrastructure in terms of overall community participation.

Currently, there are nineteen science gateway partners, with new gateways joining TeraGrid at a rate of more than one per month. These gateways ensure that each research and education community has a web portal that they helped design themselves, thus allowing them to transparently "tap into" TeraGrid.

An exciting example of a science gateway in action is the Nanohub at Purdue. It is comprised of 1500 students and faculty who come to the Nanohub portal to access tools, applications, databases, and collaborative environments. Users are able to transparently submit large-scale simulations and store their customized data on the TeraGrid system.

They are able to log onto the TeraGrid using their university ID numbers and passcodes much the same way they would log onto their schools' website.

The open component means that TeraGrid is an open facility providing integrative services within the larger framework of our national cyberinfrastructure. In the coming months and years, TeraGrid is expected to grow from the original eight providers to 16 to 20 major center-resources and large-scale university providers.

[Slide #4: NCAR]
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Today, I am pleased to announce the good news that the National Center for Atmospheric Research is officially the latest TeraGrid resource provider. NCAR's participation will increase the overall level of integration of NSF's cyberinfrastructure and advance the ability of the geoscience community to mine TeraGrid's incredible resources.

Further, TeraGrid is actively working with campus leaders to begin to develop a campus partnership program.

This program will create campus computing centers that will enable faculty and student's to conveniently access TeraGrid much the same way Purdue students access the Nanohub. The program will provide a broad foundation for the continuing integration of NSF-funded CI on a national scale.

[Slide #5: TeraGrid User Community]
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TeraGrid's deep, wide, open approach has served the CI community well. Your efforts mean that all of the science, engineering, and technology disciplines are able to collaborate in greater depth than ever before. In the future, I would challenge you to find novel ways to enhance TeraGrid's deep, wide, and open concepts into realms unimagined today.

Yes, it is exciting to have a backhoe where we once had a shovel but we need to build a digital architecture that will make today's backhoe look like yesterday's shovel.

A Feb. 6 Computerworld article makes a compelling case for advanced CI. The article "IT Struggles with Climate Change" revealed that today's supercomputers can't run the complex simulations that climatologists need to study global warming. MIT researcher Patrick Heimbeck explained, "We ... require a minimum of a twenty-five-fold improvement in computational technology."

NSF's aim is nothing less than a thousand-fold increase in computation, data storage and networking.

[Slide #6: Leadership-Class System Acquisition]
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To that end just last week, NSF announced a program solicitation entitled Leadership-Class System Acquisition -- Creating a Petascale Computing Environment for Science and Engineering. The anticipated funding amount is $200,000,000 over four years, subject to the availability of funds, with the first $50,000,000 anticipated in fiscal year 2007. This initiative should dramatically further the goal of a state-of-the-art petascale computing environment.

[Slide #7: Cyberinfrastructure Vision]
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Though high-performance computing is a key component of the NSF's CI project, it is only one facet.

Our draft CI vision document includes strategic plans for four critical components of a comprehensive cyberinfrastructure:

  • high-performance computing
  • data, data analysis and visualization
  • virtual organizations
  • and learning and workforce development.

The objective of high-performance computing and data analysis in any robust CI are obvious to the technology community. Virtual organizations are not so obvious, yet their inclusion reflects the holistic philosophy behind the NSF's CI plans.

Virtual organizations cross barriers of time zones and geography to allow researchers and educators to work and collaborate in new and exciting ways. Participants will share computational, data, and instrumentation resources for long-term collaborations or to rapidly address spontaneous problems.

For example, in response to Hurricane Katrina, researchers at Tulane University and Xavier University collaborated to create KERRN, the Katrina Environmental Research and Restoration Network. Using existing technologies, scientists and educators across the world, from the University of Texas to Radboud University in the Netherlands, are developing methods to address major environmental disasters.

The next generation of CI will enhance KERRN's work and foster new collaborations across the world.

[Slide #8: Collaboration and Community]
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By definition, CI represents collaboration and community. We at NSF can't develop a national cyberinfrastructure in a vacuum. We need to have many stakeholders from the public sector, industry, academia, and professional organizations.

Cooperation with other federal agencies will reduce duplication of effort and promote effective stewardship of tax dollars. Private-sector involvement will ensure that CI is built on open standards for interoperability.

Partnership with the research and education community will help the NSF balance efforts to meet the specific needs of diverse disciplines with the development of shared CI components. Guidance from educators will help us position CI as a learning and workforce-development tool.

Learning and workforce development are critical. It is merely a half measure to produce new, powerful technologies without also creating a highly educated force of students, scientists, and workers who can effectively use and maintain them.

We need to develop workers who are as skilled with CI as they are with iPods. In the future, CI needs to be as ubiquitous as it is revolutionary.

The U.S. need for cybersavvy students, scientists and workers is intensified by the global challenges to U.S. competitiveness. At NSF, we realize that we must transcend today's Internet and Web browsers to develop the next generation of cyberinfrastructure technologies. By doing so, we will also develop the cybersavvy workforce of researchers and technicians that will keep the U.S. at the forefront of knowledge and the global economy.

This year, IBM released a report entitled "Expanding the Innovation Horizon". In it, they interviewed 765 CEOs from 21 industries from around the globe. Those leaders stressed the overwhelming importance of collaborative innovation – specifically beyond the company walls.

Historically, we at NSF have recognized the value and necessity of looking beyond our own institutional walls for the next force of creative transformation. From the IBM study and other indicators that measure the steady pull of globalization, collaboration among industry, the public sector, and academia is not just a good idea, it's a matter of national survival.

[Slide #9: Building the Wise Crowd]
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The achievements of TeraGrid are vivid proof that we are clearly moving beyond the realm of the singular expertise of the individual. Increasingly, the walls that have separated individuals, nations, and institutions are dissolving.

Taking their place are resilient webs of collaborators who are working on our most challenging problems. They are proving at every turn that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

These revolutionary collaborations are an example of what the author James Seurowecki (pronounced: Sir-weck-ee) would call "the wisdom of the crowd".

It is vital that we find new ways to use the awesome potential of the TeraGrid and CI to find new ways of reaching deeper into the science, technology, engineering, and math talent pipeline. Many of today's youngsters are used to complex technology being ambient in their daily lives. We can engage the next generation of scientists and engineers that are in our elementary and high schools through channels already familiar in their lives.

There are currently numerous initiatives that the TeraGrid resource-providers are undertaking to engage young girls, high school and elementary school science educators, and others.

The TeraGrid must be used not just to connect but to excite as well. We should keep in mind that it is upon our shoulders that tomorrow's scientists will stand just as we stood on the shoulders of the giants who went before us. They are the innovators-in-waiting and we need to work tirelessly to see that they have the right tools as well as every chance to wield them.

[Slide #10: The Coming Demographic Revolution]
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I spoke earlier of the information revolution but there is also a massive demographic revolution occurring in our midst. The demographics for the year 2050 are already in motion.

By that time, we will be a majority of minorities. The face of America and the face of our institutions will be experiencing profound change.

This is nothing short of a seismic, demographic transformation that will profoundly shape our national character over the next half century.

If you go into our elementary schools, you can see the full impact of that change that will steadfastly grow into the next adult generation.

Author and New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman wrote in early June of attending his high-school-age daughter's graduation.

There were so many students of diverse nationalities that they had to give the principal their names spelled phonetically on index cards so he would not mispronounce them as he handed out their diplomas. Friedman said that in his daughter's class of hundreds, there were only five "Smiths".

He recalled his own high school graduation where it seemed as if there were only five students not named "Smith".

Within the context of this demographic shift, I challenge the leaders of TeraGrid to find ways not just to reach down to those youngest among us, but to also find new ways to reach out to those underrepresented groups that often wind up on the wrong side of the digital divide.

It is our civic duty to reach out to underrepresented students from the Badlands to the Bronx. The keys to the future of our nation reside in their midst.

Archimedes once famously said: "Give me a lever long enough, and I will move the world." He was right, but for the challenges of the new millennium, we will need an army of new hands to man that lever. If we fail to enlist them, we will fail ourselves.

[Slide #11: The Frontier]
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I thank you all for your efforts, both now and in the future, in finding the best ways to marshal our powerful CI resources. As you know, the core of the NSF mission is to expand the frontiers of science and technology.

TeraGrid plays an important role in expanding these frontiers for all science disciplines. It is increasing the velocity and scope of transformational change.
As thought leaders, I look forward to your continued partnership and careful stewardship to secure the nation's digital future. NSF is proud of your advocacy and audacious creativity. We are energized by your vision for the future.

It is a future I am excited to share with you.

Thank you and now I'll open things up for your questions.



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