Physical infrastructure is an essential resource for the conduct of R&D. Not long ago, the capital infrastructure for R&D consisted primarily of research space (e.g., laboratories and computer rooms) and instrumentation. Accordingly, the square footage of a designated research space and counts of instruments have been the principal indicators of the status of research infrastructure.
Advances in information technology have brought significant changes to both the methods of scientific research and the infrastructure necessary to conduct R&D. The technologies, human interfaces, and associated processing capabilities resulting from these innovations are often called cyberinfrastructure.
Cyberinfrastructure has become an essential resource for science. It helps researchers process, transfer, manage, and store large quantities of data. Cyberinfrastructure includes resources such as high-capacity networks, which are used to transfer information, and data storage systems, which are used for short-term access or long-term curation. It may also involve HPC systems used to analyze data, create visualization environments, or facilitate remote use of scientific instrumentation (NSF 2012). Indicators for research facilities, research equipment, and cyberinfrastructure are highlighted below.
The nation’s research-performing colleges and universities had 202.9 million net assignable square feet (NASF) of research space available at the end of FY 2011 (appendix table
Biological and biomedical sciences continued to account for the bulk of growth, increasing by 8.0% during the FY 2009–11 period (appendix table
New research space is added each year through new construction projects and the repurposing of existing space. Along similar lines, some space is withdrawn from use. The net result has been an increase in research space for more than two decades. As part of this process, academic institutions broke ground on 8.1 million NASF of new S&E research space construction projects in FYs 2010–11. This total is 50% lower than NASF constructed in FYs 2002–03 (table
Academic institutions draw on various sources to fund their capital projects, including the institutions’ own funds, state or local governments, and the federal government (appendix table
Academic institutions expended $3.5 billion on major repairs and renovations of S&E research space in FYs 2010–11 (appendix table
In FY 2012, about $2.0 billion in current funds were spent for movable S&E academic research equipment necessary for the conduct of organized research projects (appendix table
Research equipment expenditures continue to be concentrated in just a few S&E fields. In FY 2012, three fields accounted for 85.8% of the annual total: life sciences (41.0%), engineering (28.1%), and physical sciences (16.7%). The shares for these three fields have remained similarly predominant for many years (appendix table
Some academic research equipment funding comes from the federal government. These federal funds are generally received as part of research grants or as separate equipment grants. In FY 2012, the federal government supported 57.0% of total academic S&E research equipment funding, which marked a 6 percentage point decline from the 25-year high reached in FY 2011 (appendix table
Academic institutions continue to enhance their cyberinfrastructure, which is an essential component to both research and instruction. The cyberinfrastructure indicators noted here include access to high-speed/high-capacity bandwidth, dark fiber, HPC, and the ability to store large amounts of data for immediate access or long-term curation.
Networking is an essential component of cyberinfrastructure. It facilitates research-related activities such as communication, data transfer, HPC, and remote use of instrumentation. Universities may have networks that are available to the entire campus community for both research and nonresearch activities. The traffic on these campus networks cannot be differentiated between administrative, instructional, research, and general student purposes. Thus, total bandwidth capacity cannot be treated as an indicator solely of research capacity, and changes in research uses cannot be inferred from changes in bandwidth capacity.
Some cyberinfrastructure is dedicated primarily to research activities. For example, research-performing universities may have access to high-performance networks such as Internet2, an organization established in 1997 that is composed of research, academic, industry and government partners, and National LambdaRail, a university-owned organization established in 2003 that manages a 12,000-mile high-speed network. The Energy Sciences Network, a DOE-funded network supporting 30 major DOE sites as well as researchers at universities and other research institutions, serves a similar purpose. Regional networks or gigapops (gigabit points of presence) facilitate access by providing networking resources and supplemental bandwidth to the national networks, which are often referred to as the network backbone. These resources are provided to universities as well as government agencies, federally funded research and development centers (FFRDCs), and other entities. The regional networks not only serve as network access points, they also provide advanced network services to ensure reliable and efficient data transfer.
By FY 2012, access to high-performance networks had become widespread at research universities, which is evidenced by the 63% of institutions reporting bandwidth of at least 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) (table
Doctorate-granting institutions have significantly higher bandwidth capacity than non-doctorate-granting institutions due to their research demands. In FY 2011, the percentage of doctorate-granting institutions with bandwidth of at least 2.5 Gbps (43%) was more than 10 times greater than that of non-doctorate-granting institutions (4%). Furthermore, in FY 2012, 53% of doctorate-granting institutions estimated that they would have bandwidth of 2.5 Gbps or greater, compared to 5% of non-doctorate-granting institutions.
Dark fiber is fiber-optic cable that has already been laid but is not yet being used. The amount of dark fiber controlled by institutions indicates the ability to expand existing network capabilities, either between existing campus buildings or from the campus to an external network. The percentage of academic institutions with these unused cables has increased steadily in recent years. The percentage of institutions with dark fiber to their Internet service provider has grown from 29% in FY 2005 to 47% in FY 2011. The percentage of institutions with dark fiber between their own buildings remained high throughout this period, increasing slightly from 86% in FY 2005 to 90% in FY 2011.
Many academic research institutions manage their HPC resources through a distinct organizational unit within the institution that has a separate staff and budget. A total of 192 academic institutions reported ownership of centrally administered HPC resources in FY 2011. This approach enables faculty to focus on their primary responsibilities instead of being diverted by administration and fundraising to support their own HPC. Central HPC administration can decrease overall operating expenses and create wider availability of computing resources. However, many HPC resources, not included here, reside beyond direct institutional administration because they are supported by external funding sources.
Forty-seven percent of doctorate-granting institutions provided centrally administered HPC resources, compared to less than 9% of non-doctorate-granting institutions. Similar percentages of public doctorate-granting (48%) and private doctorate-granting (45%) institutions provided these resources. Clusters are the most common centrally administered HPC architecture used by academic institutions because they provide the most flexibility and cost efficiency for scaling in addition to their generally lower administrative costs. Over 97% of HPC-providing institutions employ cluster architectures (appendix table
Colleges and universities often share their HPC resources with external organizations. In FY 2011, these partnerships most often involved other colleges or universities (72%). Sharing of HPC resources with other external users was fairly evenly distributed among government (21%), industry (18%), and nonprofit organizational (17%) partners. Public institutions were more likely to have external users of their HPC than were private institutions.
As the collection of massive data sets has increased in recent years, data storage and curation have become an increasingly critical issue. Data management plans are often required in funding proposals where large data sets will be used. Of the academic institutions with centrally administered HPC in FY 2011, 56% reported usable online storage greater than 100 terabytes. A smaller share of public (21%) and private institutions (18%) provided greater than 500 terabytes of online storage.
As of FY 2011, 45% of institutions with centrally administered HPC reported no archival storage. Archival storage includes online and offline storage for files and data that do not support immediate access from HPC resources. This percentage changed little from FY 2009 (43%), yet it stands much higher than FY 2007 (29%).