Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.

― John F. Kennedy

Mainframe_fullwidthIn watching the ongoing discussions regarding the National Exascale initiative many observations can be made. I happen to think the program is woefully out of balance, and focused on the wrong side of the value proposition for computing. In a nutshell it is stuck in the past.

All the heroes of tomorrow are the heretics of today.

― E.Y. Harburg

The program is obsessively focused on hardware and the software most closely relatedIBM_704_mainframeto hardware. As the software gets closer to the application, the focus starts to drift. As the application gets closer and modeling is approached, the focus is non-existent. It is simply assumed that the modeling just needs a really huge computer and the waters will magically part and the path the promised land of predictive simulation will just appear. Science doesn’t work this way, or more correctly well functioning science doesn’t work like this. Science works with a push-pull relationship between theory, experiment and tools. Sometimes theory is pushing experiments to catch up. Sometimes tools are finding new things for theory to answer. Computing is such a tool, but it isn’t be allowed to push theory, or more properly theory should be changing to accommodate what the tools show us.

The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it’s conformity.

― Rollo May

I’ve written a lot about all of these problems.

One of the other observations I haven’t written about is how antiquated this entire point of view is. The supercomputers are run in a manner consistent with the old fashioned “mainframes” that IBM used to produce. Mainframes have faded from prominence, but still exist. They are no longer the central part of computing, and this change has been good for everyone. The overly corporate and centralized computing model associated with mainframes is still in place. It is orthogonal to the nature of computing in most places. The decentralized computing associated with phones, and laptops, and tablets and the cloud all democratized computing. That democratization led the way for everyone using computing, and often not realizing they were. It was one of the keys to value and the explosion of information, data and computing. It is completely opposite of supercomputing.computers

 The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking.

― John Kenneth Galbraith

800px-Cray_Y-MP_GSFCThe question is whether there is some way to learn from everyone else. How can this centralized supercomputing be broken down in a way to help the productivity of the scientist. One of the things that happened when mainframes went away was an explosion of productivity. The centralized computing is quite unproductive and constrained. Computing today is the opposite, unconstrained and completely productive. It is completely integrated into the very fabric of our lives. Work and play are integrated too. Everything happens all the time at the same time. Instead of maintaining the old-fashioned model we should be looking into harvesting the best of modern computing to overthrow the old model.Mainframe Computer

Mainframes represent the old way and conformity; freedom from them represents the new way and freedom. To succeed at supercomputing freedom is the path to success

Great people have one thing in common: they do not conform.

― P.K. Shaw