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NCSA’s Blue Waters Project demonstrates economic importance of HPC

The importance of supercomputing on local and national economic prosperity has been highlighted by a recent study which reported that its Blue Waters project to be worth more than $1.08 billion for the Illinois’ economy. The study wa completed by the published by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

‘My sincerest gratitude goes to the University of Illinois, the State of Illinois, and the National Science Foundation for supporting this critical project which is enabling us to better understand our world, improve quality of life, and develop the nation’s advanced digital workforce,’ said Dr William ‘Bill’ Gropp, NCSA interim director and co-principal investigator for the Blue Waters Project.

The study found that the Blue Waters project—which is a joint investment between the State of Illinois, University of Illinois, National Science Foundation (NSF), and related activities funded by the university, NSF and other federal agencies—has a projected $1.08 billion direct economic impact on Illinois’ economy and will have created 5,772 full-time equivalent employment over the project’s lifespan (October 2007 - June 2019).

‘State and federal support for advanced high-performance computing provides immediate economic impact for our communities and positions the United States to lead the world during a critical era for cyberinfrastructure and at the same time provide unique future contributions from the results Blue Waters enables’ commented Gropp.

The project manages the nation’s most powerful sustained-performance supercomputer for open-science and its related workforce development and education program.

However economic impact is not the only way to measure the success of the Blue Waters project. The system has also enabled researchers to get significantly more 'bang for the buck' in many different research areas that all benefit from using HPC. Over the project’s lifespan (October 2007 - June 2019), Blue Water’s output multiplier is 1.864 (every $1 spent for Blue Waters - related activities leads to an additional $0.864 of production in the state economy) and its employment multiplier is 2.044 (every job created by BW-related activities leads to one additional job created in the state economy).

The study does not include additional economic and societal benefits coming from the significant amount of computer time provided to Illinois researchers, strategic projects, and industry, nor does it account for the workforce development activities of the Blue Waters project—as they are a magnet for recruiting expert talent to Illinois—or the impacts of the science, engineering and research results that can only be accomplished on the Blue Waters.

‘Illinois is proud to have partnered with the National Science Foundation to support this bold endeavour to create leadership-class resources for researchers in Illinois and around the nation,’ said Robert J Jones, chancellor of the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus. ‘NCSA has once again proven its ability to excel at stewarding major infrastructure investments and scientific innovations. We intend to continue leading the nation in high-performance computing.’

Illinois was awarded the $360 million Blue Waters Project through an NSF Request for Proposal process in 2007. The construction of the National Petascale Computing Facility (NPCF), a state-of-the-art computing and data centre housing the system, was made possible by investments of $60 million by the State of Illinois and $87 million by the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus. The construction of the NPCF alone (July 2008-June 2012) generated about $131.7 million in total impact on Illinois’ economy, which includes the creation of 701 direct and indirect jobs, ranging from construction, to technical, to administration. The construction generated $4.3 million in local and state taxes and $9.6 million in federal taxes.

The Blue Waters project, which has just completed its fourth full year of full service operations, is a key resource for recruiting and retaining world-class researchers and academic professionals. Since the project went online in April of 2013 until the study began in June 2016, it has supported 1,892 direct and indirect jobs and $177.9 million in labour income throughout the State of Illinois. The presence of Blue Waters during this period created a total of $20.9 million in local and state taxes and $41.8 million in federal taxes. The full operation and maintenance has generated a total impact of nearly $380.4 million, $227.3 million of which is due to research grants awarded to faculty with Blue Waters computing allocations.

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