Evolving the High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative to Support the Nation’s Information Infrastructure: Executive Summary

Fred Brooks and Ivan Sutherland, Chairs


Citation: National Academy Press, Washington, 1995, pp 1-12.

Links: Abstract, Acrobat.

The 2002 version of the tiretracks diagram that shows how computing research has spawned multi-billion dollar industries is here in Acrobat format, here in Word. Here is an HTML version created by OCR for the benefit of search engines; it is not meant for human consumption.

The 2012 version of the tiretracks diagram that shows how computing research has spawned multi-billion dollar industries is here in Acrobat format. It has much less detail, but includes major companies that grew out of computing research, and of course is more up to date.

Email: blampson@microsoft.com. This paper is at http://research.microsoft.com.



Information technology drives many of today’s innovations and offers still greater potential for further innovation in the next decade. It is also the basis for a domestic industry of about $500 billion,1 an industry that is critical to our nation’s international competitiveness. Our domestic information technology industry is thriving now, based to a large extent on an extraordinary 50-year track record of public research funded by the federal government, creating the ideas and people that have let industry flourish. This record shows that for a dozen major innovations, 10 to 15 years have passed between research and commercial application. Despite many efforts, commercialization has seldom been achieved more quickly.

Publicly funded research in information technology will continue to create important new technologies and industries, some of them unimagined today, and the process will continue to take 10 to 15 years. Without such research there will still be innovation, but the quantity and range of new ideas for U.S. industry to draw from will be greatly diminished. Public research, which creates new opportunities for private industry to use. should not be confused with industrial policy, which chooses firms or industries to support. Industry, with its focus mostly on the near term, cannot take the place of government in supporting the research that will lead to the next decade’s advances.

The High Performance Computing and Communications Initiative (HPCCI) is the main vehicle for public research in information technology today and the subject of this report. By the early 1980s, several federal agencies had developed independent programs to advance many of the objectives of what was to become the HPCCI. The program received added impetus and more formal status when Congress passed the High Performance Computing Act of 1991 (Public Law 102-194) authorizing a 5-year program in high-performance computing and communications. The initiative began with a focus on high-speed parallel computing and networking and is now evolving to meet the needs of the nation for widespread use on a large scale as well as for high speed in computation and communications. To advance the nation’s information infrastructure there is much that needs to be discovered or invented, because a useful “information highway” is much more than wires to every house.

As a prelude to examining the current status of the HPCCI, this report first describes the rationale for the initiative as an engine of U.S. leadership in information technology and outlines the contributions of ongoing publicly funded research to past and current progress in developing computing and communications technologies (Chapter 1). It then describes and evaluates the HPCCI’s goals, accomplishments, management, and planning (Chapter 2). Finally, it makes recommendations aimed at ensuring continuing U.S. leadership in information technology through wise evolution and use of the HPCCI as an important lever (Chapter 3). Appendixes A through F of the report provide additional details on and documentation for points made in the main text.