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Home > iSGTW - 24 September 2008 > iSGTW Feature - First two years of NSF's office of CI

Feature - Office of Cyberinfrastructure at NSF: the first two years


Daniel Atkins is a professor in the School of Information and the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan and Associate Vice President for Research Cyberinfrastructure.

Image courtesy of Daniel Atkins.

Cyberinfrastructure (CI) has become a vital tool for scientific research and discovery.  A system of distributed computing, storage, software and management using the network as its backplane, and for which the complexity is largely hidden from the user, CI has the potential for revolutionizing the way science and engineering research is conducted, says Daniel Atkins, former and initial director of the National Science Foundation’s  Office of Cyberinfrastructure.

With an initial annual budget of $185 million, the office coordinates and supports the development of CI resources, tools, and services. In its conception, the office focused almost exclusively on high performance computing. Over the course of Atkins’ tenure, its vision broadened to include data storage and preservation, virtual organizations, and learning and workforce issues, as well

High performance computing is vital for today’s compute-intensive scientific simulations, but alone it is not adequate, explains Atkins.  As scientists and resources  spread around the world, they must form virtual organizations to bring resources together.  Scientists must learn to work in these cyber environments and to utilize them to further learning and education.

During his tenure, Atkins and his team completed a major assessment of TeraGrid and raised the computing power it makes available to the open science community by a factor of about 10 to 1.6 petaflops (quadrillion floating point operations per second).

Image courtesy of Daniel Atkins.  

His office awarded the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign $208 million to acquire and operate an IBM petascale computer called “Blue Waters.” Expected to come online in 2011, it will be 500 times more powerful than today’s supercomputers.

Atkins’ office started several programs.  The Accelerating Discovery in Science and Engineering through Petascale Simulations and Analysis (PetaApps) program seeks proposals to develop tools that use petascale computing to advance research.  Sustainable Digital Data Preservation and Access Network Partners (DataNet) addresses the need for long-term data stewardship. To support scientists interested in applying CI to their research, the office helped establish the Computational Discovery and Innovation (CDI) initiative. The office also laid groundwork for understanding how to design effective virtual organizations.

“I am passionate about the opportunities that cyberinfrastructure can provide for discovery and learning, and I gladly accepted the challenge of establishing the Office of Cyberinfrastructure and its agenda,” Atkins says.

Amelia Williamson, iSGTW


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