NCAR supercomputer moves forward
By Dennis E. Curran
April 10, 2009 --
CHEYENNE - After nearly a year's delay, the National Center for Atmospheric Research's proposed supercomputer project in Cheyenne is moving forward again with a name that reflects its partnership with Wyoming.
The project now is officially called the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC), and NCAR officials have picked an architectural and design team to design the facility.
NCAR Director Eric Barron said the design phase puts NCAR "on target" to formally seek project funding from the National Science Foundation in June and possibly put "a shovel in the ground this fall."
If all goes according to plan, construction could start this December, and the NWSC center could open in the summer of 2011.
"NCAR is at long last in full design mode," Cheyenne LEADS president Randy Bruns said. "That's going to be a huge boon for our community."
Representatives of NCAR and its parent, University Corp. for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), were in Cheyenne March 3 to announce the selection of Denver-based H+L Architecture and California Data Center Design Group as design team leaders. Other design team partners will include RMH Group, Rumsey Engineers and Martin/Martin.
NCAR, a federal research laboratory, has proposed locating its next generation supercomputer complex in the North Range Business Park just west of Cheyenne.
$500 million plus venture
The $500-million-plus project would include a $60 million building to house research supercomputers that would be among the world's largest. NCAR says it will be a computing complex that will help scientists unlock the secrets of weather, climate and a host of atmospheric and geoscience questions.
NCAR originally estimated a total project cost of around $530 million, including the cost of the computers and upgrades and maintenance over a 20-year-span. Most of the funding will be sought from NSF.
Wyoming is putting approximately $40 million into the project over a 20-year life-span. The state and UW two years ago committed $10 million each toward the cost of the building and authorized NCAR to use state bonding authority for its share of the building cost. In addition, UW committed $1 million a year for data center operations over the 20-year course of the project, and Cheyenne LEADS donated the land, estimated at $3.4 million.
UW is using up to $3.5 million from its share of the building cost to help pay for the architectural and design work. NSF also is paying for part of the design work, but it cannot fully fund projects until the design work is about two-thirds complete, according to people involved in the project.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal told participants in the announcement ceremony that he had signed legislation that completes the funding for the state's and university's share of the project and said he is excited to see to project moving forward again after a year of uncertainty.
Project announced in 2007
The NWSC project was announced in January 2007, but the timetable for starting construction by the end of 2007 was always iffy and dependent on a series of approvals from NSF, as the primary source of project funding.
The governor credited the Legislature for its "steadfast and resolute support" through delays in the project, ensuring that Wyoming's commitment as a partner and a host for the project was always clear.
He noted that Wyoming has seen many projects come and go over the years, "this is one of the best that we've been able to participate in and one that holds great promise for the future of the state and hopefully for the country."
UW President Tom Buchanan said selection of a design team is "really a significant milestone in this project, as was the governor's signing yesterday of the bill that puts the last piece of state and university funding together to make this project happen."
"This facility will give us the tools to strengthen these areas (of UW's expertise) and to compete internationally in critical science and research," he said. "Most importantly, our students will have the opportunity to experience 21st Century science and the world-class faculty and researchers that this partnership will bring together."
Barron said the NWSC project will help NCAR continue its leadership role in the state of science in weather forecasting and start a "revolution" in weather forecasting. He also said it would be a "magnet" that attracts talent to the region and could lead to new partnership opportunities for NCAR, USAR and Wyoming.
Working with UW and Wyoming has been a "pure pleasure," he said.
UCAR President Rick Anthes echoed Barron's praise of the Wyoming partnership, noting that he has worked in many partnerships over his career, but "I've never seen a relationship that was so easy as this one."
NCAR has posted a new Web site for the NWSC project. Visit: www.cisl.ucar.edu/nwsc.
"Our goal is to build a world-class scientific supercomputing facility that does not compromise on energy efficiency or sustainability, and that is adaptable to the ever-changing landscape of high-performance computing," NCAR says on the new Web site.
Wyoming Business Report Editor and Publisher Dennis E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Cheyenne office, 307 638-3200.