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    Envisioning the Computational Infrastructure
    for Tomorrow's Scientific Discovery

    BY
    Sid Karin, NPACI Director

    elcome to NPACI and ENVISION. NPACI has begun an ambitious experiment in scientific collaboration–a "distributed national laboratory" of nearly 40 partners in 18 states–that evolved out of the National Science Foundation's Supercomputer Centers program. Led by UC San Diego, NPACI builds on the strengths of SDSC and the other partners.

    These nationally recognized experts in computational and computer science are guiding the development of the technologies and applications on which tomorrow's infrastructure will be based: teraflops computers, petabyte storage and database systems, and gigabit networks.

    Through ENVISION, NPACI will present its plans and accomplishments along the path to our ultimate goal of advancing and contributing to scientific research with the largest-scale, highest-performance computational infrastructure.

    A DISTRIBUTED LABORATORY
    PROGRESS BY PUSH AND PULL
    ENVISION


    NPACI All-hands Meeting

    In January 1998, the first NPACI All-hands meeting brought together nearly 200 participants from all of the thrust areas. This extraordinarily successful meeting helped refine plans for projects within and between thrust areas, focus efforts on milestones and deliverables for Year 1, and begin charting the course for Year 2.


    A DISTRIBUTED LABORATORY

    The distributed nature of NPACI is reflected in the hardware available for computational science researchers, including parallel vector computers, scalable parallel systems, and experimental architectures at five partner sites. A specific focus of NPACI's Metasystems thrust area is to integrate these systems, along with data resources and instrumentation, into a seamless whole.

    To enable new types of scientific inquiry, the Partnership is expanding on SDSC's efforts over the past several years in data-intensive computing. Data caches at 11 NPACI sites--initially with four terabytes of combined data capacity--will hold, among other things, a federated collection of brain mapping images and the Digital Sky project's integrated data from several astronomy surveys. Tools developed by NPACI teams will help researchers from neuroscience, astronomy, and other disciplines discover new information from their data and develop new ways to publish discipline-specific data.

    NPACI's development work also leverages many ongoing collaborations independently funded by various federal agencies. For example, NPACI has teamed with four NSF/DARPA/NASA Digital Library projects to integrate those efforts with the infrastructure, provide wider access to the data through mirror sites, and enable greater interoperability and discovery capabilities across the combined collections.

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    PROGRESS BY PUSH AND PULL

    NPACI has grouped its partners into technology thrust areas and applications thrust areas, and each NPACI project joins technology and applications developers from multiple partner sites. With this arrangement, we have initiated a push-pull scenario. Technology advances push the infrastructure to new levels, while specific applications pull the infrastructure toward valuable scientific insights.

    Key components of the computing infrastructure will be pushed by four technology thrust areas: Metasystems, Programming Tools and Environments, Data-intensive Computing, and Interaction Environments. The technology efforts will be pulled by four applications thrust areas: Molecular Science, Neuroscience, Earth Systems Science, and Engineering. In addition, NPACI's Education and Outreach thrust area is working with the National Computational Science Alliance on a joint outreach effort that pulls from all the thrust areas.

    The push-pull is reflected in several projects, including a brain-mapping project that joins the Neuroscience and Data-intensive Computing thrust areas. NPACI's data-handling environment is pushing upward the size of data sets that researchers can move and analyze, while the neuroscientists are pulling these capabilities toward enabling new discoveries and collaborations in their field.

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    ENVISION

    To cover the many facets of the NPACI endeavor, we have created ENVISION, a new quarterly magazine that succeeds SDSC's Gather/ Scatter. Each issue will feature results and plans from an application thrust and a technology thrust, as this issue describes work from Molecular Science and Data-intensive Computing.

    In addition, ENVISION will report on results made possible by the high-performance computers that NPACI provides to the user community; this issue describes three computational explorations of our solar system. Finally, ENVISION will include SDSC research, education and outreach activities, and other NPACI news.

    To suggest story ideas for ENVISION, contact the editor, David Hart, at dhart@sdsc.ucsd.edu or 619-534-8314. We encourage all NPACI partners and researchers benefitting from the NPACI infrastructure to contribute their scientific accomplishments to ENVISION.

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