The National Science Foundation should seize the opportunity to lead a technological revolution in cyberinfrastructure, according to the final report of the agency’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure, which recommended spending $1 billion annually on the effort.
“This Panel believes that the National Science Foundation has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to lead the revolution in science and engineering through coordinated development and expansive use of cyberinfrastructure,” concluded the report, Revolutionizing Science and Engineering through Cyberinfrastructure.
“The Panel’s overarching recommendation is that the National Science Foundation should establish and lead a large-scale, interagency, and internationally coordinated Advanced Cyberinfrastructure Program to create, deploy, and apply cyberinfrastructure in ways that radically empower all scientific and engineering research and allied education.
We estimate that sustained new NSF funding of $1 billion per year is required to achieve critical mass and to leverage the necessary coordinated co-investment from other federal agencies, universities, industry, and international sources required to empower a revolution.”
The critical needs of science and rapid progress in information technology are converging to provide a unique opportunity to create and apply a sustained cyberinfrastructure that will “radically empower” scientific and engineering research, according to the report.
Like the physical infrastructure of roads, bridges, power grids, telephone lines, and water systems that support modern society, “cyberinfrastructure” refers to the distributed computer, information and communication technologies combined with the personnel and integrating components that provide a long-term platform to empower the modern scientific research endeavor.
A New Threshold
Cyberinfrastructure is “essential, not optional, to the aspirations of research communities,” the report said. For scientists and engineers, cyberinfrastructure has the potential to “revolutionize what they can do, how they do it, and who participates.”
The seeds of this revolution are in community-driven efforts, supported by NSF and other agencies, such as the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulations (NEES), the Grid Physics Network (GriPhyN) and the National Virtual Observatory (NVO), the committee said.
“We’ve clearly documented extensive grass-roots activity in the scientific and engineering research community to create and use cyberinfrastructure to empower the next wave of discovery,” said Dan Atkins, chair of the advisory committee and professor at the University of Michigan School of Information and the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
“NSF has been a catalyst for creating the conditions for a nascent cyberinfrastructure-based revolution. We’re at a new threshold where technology allows people, information, computational tools, and research instruments to be connected on a global scale.”
Other committee members include: Kelvin Droegemeier of the University of Oklahoma; Stuart Feldman of IBM; Hector Garcia-Molina of Stanford University; Michael Klein of the University of Pennsylvania; David Messerschmitt of the University of California at Berkeley; Paul Messina of the California Institute of Technology; Jeremiah Ostriker of Princeton University; and Margaret Wright of New York University.
The committee said the cyberinfrastructure that is needed cannot be created with off-the-shelf technology. As a result, the group called for increased fundamental research in computer science and engineering.
In addition to NSF’s support for projects such as NEES, GriPhyN and NVO, the report cited NSF’s leadership in the Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program, the TeraGrid effort, the NSF Middleware Initiative (NMI), the Digital Libraries Initiative and the Information Technology Research program as providing a solid foundation for the future cyberinfrastructure.
Its unique breadth of scientific scope and prior investments position NSF to lead an interagency program to develop an advanced cyberinfrastructure for the nation, according to the report. To reach critical mass, an advanced cyberinfrastructure activity would require interagency partnerships as well as collaboration between the physical and life sciences, computer science, and the social sciences.
Prompt Action Urged
The report recommends that a cyberinfrastructure program encompass fundamental cyberinfrastructure research, research on science and engineering applications of the cyberinfrastructure, development of production-quality software, and equipment and operations.
The report stressed the importance of acting quickly. The risks of failing to do so include lack of coordination, which could leave key data in irreconcilable formats; long-term failures to archive and curate data collected at great expense; and artificial barriers between disciplines built from incompatible tools and structures.
“On behalf of NSF, I want to extend a strong thanks to the Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure for the excellent job they have done in highlighting the importance of cyberinfrastructure to all of science and engineering research and education,” said Peter Freeman, NSF Assistant Director for Computer and Information Science and Engineering and NSF’s coordinator for cyberinfrastructure.
“The extensive efforts they have made in bringing together in one place the ideas and visions of all segments of the science and engineering community will be extremely useful to NSF as we move forward to exploit the opportunities they have identified.”