3.0 Applications Strategy

The ultimate customers for information and communications R&D are the users of tomorrow's information and communications systems. These users from government, industry, and academia determine the need for future applications to address national economic and defense goals, overarching societal goals, and agency mission goals. Geographic distance, time to accomplish tasks, separation of people from resources, and outdated organizational structures are impediments that inhibit the ultimate achievement of all these goals. Information technology, as applied to user-driven applications, has a pervasive and unprecedented ability to remove these barriers to progress.

As shown in Figure 1, societal and agency goals determine needs for innovative information and communications applications and technologies. As part of the strategic planning process that identified the Strategic Focus Areas described in Section 2.2, the Committee on Information and Communications has identified three broad classes of user-driven applications that are central to long-term NSTC and agency goals. The efficient development of these applications will be enabled by the interrelated and integrated fundamental research and development organized around the CIC Strategic Focus Areas. Each of these application classes directly support Agency missions. These classes of user-driven applications are:

High Performance Applications for Science and Engineering: These applications have traditionally pushed the envelope of computational capabilities, enabling new discoveries in science and engineering. The science and engineering enabled by these applications are often called the Grand Challenges. The communications and information applications-enabling solutions of these Grand Challenge problems have succeeded in keeping the U.S. at the forefront of science and technology. They have been critical to maintaining our competitive edge in complex industrial and design processes, including those required for defense science and technology. These applications require access to the highest performance computing systems in existence, interconnected by high speed networks across the U.S. and other select sites around the world. This enables resource sharing and collaboration at a distance, with capabilities for visualization and the analysis of complex phenomena. This class of application directly contributes to leading edge national security, energy research, affordable design in DoD and NASA, science supported by NSF, and many others.

High Confidence Applications for Dynamic Enterprises: These high confidence applications will ensure that American enterprises remain competitive and continue to advance with the new technologies of the 21st century Information Age. This will be accomplished by improving the integration, privacy, security, and reliability of information flows within and across organizations. A major collection of the National Challenge problems articulated for the National Information Infrastructure (NII), such as health care systems, environmental monitoring, law enforcement, and energy management, will benefit from such high confidence applications. In addition, this class of application is essential to National Security, information infrastructure, and future information technology across all Federal agencies.

High Capability Applications for the Individual: These applications will benefit our society and greatly improve the way we live. Examples include digital libraries, computer-based education and training systems, and medical information for in-home use. They are also part of the National Challenge applications envisioned for the NII. Such applications are enabled by universal, easy-to-use access to information resources, powerful methods of presenting information for ease of understanding, and support for the customization and control of personal "information space" to empower individual users. Furthermore, this class of applications will deliver a wide variety of information technology supporting individuals in DoD, DOE, NASA, NSF, as well as individuals in society.

These three application areas will provide the context for pilot implementations, applications testbeds, and demonstrations, presenting opportunities to test and improve new underlying information and communications technologies, including services for information infrastructures. Such testbeds and demonstrations are an effective, precompetitive vehicle for transferring tested interfaces, protocols, and proven technologies to the private sector.

4.0 Today's Foundation and Beyond

Identifying future research directions in rapidly advancing technology areas requires continuous planning and evaluation. The information and communications R&D investment has a successful model of on-going interagency planning and coordination at its core: the Federal High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) Program. It is the largest Federally coordinated program in over forty years of sustained Federal support of computing and information technologies. This program' s development of technologies is the foundation for the future of information and communications R&D. This section briefly describes the HPCC Program and some of the most important information technologies needed to meet social and Federal agency goals.

4.1 The Federal HPCC Program

The High Performance Computing (HPC) Act was unanimously enacted into law by Congress in December 1991, and was enthusiastically supported by industry. The resulting HPCC Program focuses on U.S. leadership in high performance computing and communications technologies, accelerating the pace of innovation to serve national goals. While conceived primarily to support world leadership in science and engineering, the HPCC Program has also spurred gains in U.S. productivity and industrial competitiveness by making HPCC technologies an integral part of the design and production processes used by U.S. manufacturers.

The four components of the original HPCC Program were High Performance Computing Systems, the National Research and Education Network, Advanced Software Technology and Algorithms, and Basic Research and Human Resources. A fifth component, Information Infrastructure Technologies and Applications, was added in FY 1994 to address the special technological needs to develop the National Information Infrastructure, which has now become a major driver for many parts of the program. One important indication of the program' s effectiveness is that new agencies have recognized the relevance of HPCC-developed technologies and have joined the program on their own initiative.

Figure 3 illustrates the conceptual relationship of the HPCC investment and the Strategic Focus Areas. The HPCC Program has already begun to address the Strategic Focus Areas and can be viewed as the first generation of the new plan, establishing a basis for the continuing evolution of information and communications research to meet societal and agency goals. The HPCC Program also serves as an important model for government, academia, and industry coordination in strategic planning. The CIC will extend this coordinated planning process in order to identify and refine new strategic areas to be addressed by CIC. This process will enable CIC to efficiently exploit information and communications technologies to empower individuals, science and engineering enterprises, and the Nation as a whole.

4.2 Successes of the HPCC Program

The Federal HPCC Program has been a highly successful program [OSTP 94b]. It has focused primarily on Global-Scale Information Infrastructure Technologies and High Performance / Scalable Systems (as illustrated in Figure 3). This section highlights some of those successes.

Building on the scalable technologies developed in the program, more than 100 scalable high performance systems are in operation at more than a dozen high performance computing research centers nationwide. These include large-scale parallel systems, vector parallel systems, hybrid systems, workstations and workstation clusters, and networked heterogeneous systems. The largest of these systems today has demonstrated 281 gigaflops (billions of floating point operations per second) performance on benchmarks. Further understanding of scalable technologies will enable these very high performance systems to be "scaled down", and hence to become usable by a much wider class of users.

The Internet, whose creation was seeded by government funding, has evolved over a 15 year period of successful interagency management and has experienced phenomenal growth in size, speed, and number of users. This worldwide system of networks enables researchers to easily access high performance computers and advanced scientific instruments and serves as an early prototype both for the communications network of the NII and for the rapidly developing Global Information Infrastructure (GII). Today, the Internet links nearly 3 million computers, more than 18,000 networks in the U.S., more than 13,000 networks outside the U.S., 1200 4-year colleges and universities, 100 community colleges, 1,000 high schools, and 300 academic libraries in the U.S.

The HPCC Program has funded more than half a dozen gigabit testbeds on which research in high capacity networks is conducted. These testbeds currently connect 24 sites, including many of the high performance computing research centers. Seven Federal agencies, 18 telecommunications carriers, 12 universities, and two state high performance computer centers participate in this program. The testbeds demonstrate technologies to handle the NII's increased demand for computer communications, along with greater accessibility, interoperability, and security.

Teams of HPCC researchers are using high performance scalable systems to discover new knowledge and to demonstrate new capabilities never before possible. They are addressing fundamental science and engineering problems in with broad economic and scientific impact whose solutions can be advanced by applying emerging high performance computing techniques and resources. New HPCC applications will allow agencies to better meet the challenges of their missions. Agencies are increasingly working with U.S. industry to exploit HPCC technologies to improve commercial and industrial competitiveness.

As these new technologies develop, each new generation of scalable computing systems emerging from the program enables users to address more complex and realistic problems. Examples include improved modeling of the Earth and its atmosphere; high performance computations supporting DoD missions and capabilities; new air and water quality models; improved design and manufacturing capabilities; and numerous medical applications which are leading to better diagnosis and treatment of disease.

The thousands of researchers who develop fundamental HPCC and NII technologies and applications form the vanguard of technical expertise that will enable the incorporation of these technologies into the U.S. economy. Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students access HPCC resources, and the program conducts hundreds of training events for thousands of trainees. The movement of students trained in HPCC programs in university laboratories to industry is a key aspect of HPCC technology transfer benefiting the Nation's economic effectiveness. As high performance systems have been scaled down, dozens of small systems have been installed at colleges and universities, and more will follow.

These and other examples of the continuing successes of the HPCC Program can be found in the document entered into the Congressional Record as a supplement to the May 10, 1994 testimony of HPCC Program representatives before the Science Subcommittee of the House, Science, Space and Technology Committee [OSTP 94b]. The still evolving HPCC Program should remain the core of CIC' s strategically managed interagency programs.

4.3 The Future

The addition of the IITA component has made it possible for the HPCC Program to begin to support some aspects of the CIC Strategic Focus Areas. By addressing National Challenge applications and technologies in the IITA component, the Program has been directed toward meeting a broader set of requirements. However, much remains to be done in further developing the CIC' s technical agenda and its management of this area. CIC's larger research agenda defined by the Strategic Focus Areas, will enable the committee to focus on these larger societal and national goals. Many details may be found in Appendix A and the documents listed in the bibliography.

The CIC is following three principles to achieve success: streamlined collaboration with industry and academia; cooperative program management across agency bounds; and collective support of agency programs. During the coming year, the vision, strategy, and projects described in this document will be brought to CIC's stakeholder communities (e.g., industry, academia, etc.) and will be refined through symposia, meetings, and on- line public documents fostering additional collaboration. The CIC technical agenda will evolve rapidly, supported by long term, sustained commitment from the agencies. By focusing interagency cooperation, the Strategic Focus Areas will dramatically aid cooperative management when coupled to the baseline and complementary investments unique to each agency. The proven HPCC coordination structure will evolve to support the enhanced CIC coordination processes. Finally, each agency's mission will be supported collectively through the CIC process, and success will be measured in part by how well each agency adapts the new research and resulting technologies to their own missions. Appendix E elaborates on this process.

The fundamental activities that underlie CIC research and development can be characterized into seven broad areas. The Strategic Focus Areas will provide important cross-cutting direction while key technologies are being developed and tested. These seven R&D areas, which are described in detail in Appendix A, can be summarized as follows:

The diversity of applications across agencies, coupled with the commonality in basic information and communications research, highlights the critical importance of this strategic research agenda. During the coming year, the CIC will work with industry, academia, and the Federal agencies to develop the detailed implementation plans necessary to complement critical on-going efforts. These critical investments, integrated into the strategic planning process described here, will help ensure that America will continue to lead the world in the technologies essential to the Nation' s success as we enter the age of information.