Debate rages over supercomputer UM officials say they're a step closer, but Census isn't so sure.

December 12, 1991|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Evening Sun Staff

WASHINGTON -- University of Maryland officials say they have moved a step closer to their goal of sharing a new supercomputer with the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

A Census spokeswoman, however, isn't so sure. She says the supercomputer remains something of a "dream."

University officials got their hopes up when the state Board of Public Works approved a $1.5 million grant yesterday toward the development of what they envision as a federal-state supercomputer center in Bowie.

University officials predicted in a news release that the "Census building should be ready and the supercomputer installed by early 1994."

But Karen Wheeless, chief of the Census Bureau's public information office, said the bureau is a long way from having the federal money -- or the need -- for a supercomputer, which can perform a greater variety of functions much faster than can standard mainframe computers.

"There's a whole lot of issues, which come down to funding, which are not resolved and still are being discussed," she said. "What the state did today was take a step to give some indication of governmental support for this. But, for Congress, there would have to be supportive funding that is not now there."

She said Census officials want to move out of their antiquated facilities in Suitland into a center in Bowie that has more sophisticated computers and the capacity to house a supercomputer -- if one is needed.

"We're not just talking about supercomputers" with the university, Wheeless said. "Our discussions to this point are still that, discussions. . . . We're talking about high performance computing, which can mean anything from a very sophisticated personal computer all the way up to and including supercomputers.

"Reality is, at this point we would probably not be including a supercomputer. . . . At least we are not now talking about #F supercomputers. That may be a dream for the future."

A key university official involved in planning the Bowie project, Glenn Ricart, was at a loss to explain Wheeless' statements.

Ricart, director of the university's Computer Science Center, said he has spoken with the Census' top data processing division official about obtaining a supercomputer for the Bowie center.

Ricart noted that the office of Gov. William Donald Schaefer yesterday issued a news release reporting that Congress has LTC appropriated $2.7 million for the planning and engineering of a supercomputer center.

In that release, Schaefer praised Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, for his role in obtaining congressional funding "for a project that will be of enormous benefit to the state's economy, to the University of Maryland System, to the business community and to the federal government."

Schaefer chairs the Board of Public Works.

The university's goal is to develop in Bowie a 466-acre, $750 million Science and Technology Center, with the Census' supercomputer playing a key role. The supercomputer would be connected to the College Park campus by a high-speed, fiber optic link.

"The supercomputer will be of immense help to researchers and students at College Park where researchers and students now have to find time on out-of-state supercomputers to do most of their state-of-the-art computational science," the university news release states. "Maryland businesses also will be able to compress their research and development cycles by using supercomputer modeling."

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