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1996-12 -- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 20, 1996

UCAR Computer Acquisition Negotiations Announcement

May 20, 1996

BOULDER-The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) with sponsorship of the National Science Foundation (NSF), announces that as a result of a competitive procurement for high performance computing equipment it is entering into contract negotiations with Federal Computing Corporation (FCC). FCC is a U. S. company that integrates systems of computers and related equipment. UCAR's decision is based on objective evaluation of vendor responses to all criteria in the procurement proposal. The FCC bid includes four NEC SX- 4/32 supercomputers and U.S.-made peripheral equipment from Maximum Strategy and Netstar. The systems will be installed at NCAR, in Boulder, Colorado, over a five-year period. The FCC offer will increase the computing capability available to the scientific community served by NCAR by more than a factor of ten by 1998.

UCAR sought proposals to install and periodically upgrade high- performance computing equipment for the dedicated execution of large, long-running climate models and other complex models. UCAR sought proposals from 14 vendors to provide the best possible computing system(s) for a specified price. Further, this equipment must enhance and facilitate the development of improved models and analysis tools to advance the atmospheric sciences over the next decade. Vendors who could provide productive, stable computing environments with the highest levels of performance and with attractive cost/performance ratios were encouraged to respond to the request for proposal (RFP) regardless of whether the system they were proposing was vector parallel, massively parallel, or clustered.

Additional information is provided on the attached background sheet and is also available from Dr. Richard A. Anthes, president of UCAR.
End of statement

Background Information
UCAR Computer Acquisition Negotiations Announcement

    A team of approximately 20 computer experts began drafting the RFP in October 1994. As part of this process, UCAR obtained copies of three recent supercomputer RFPs from two U.S. government laboratories and one international climate center for comparison. The RFP provided for full and open competition following the requirements of the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR).

    Included as part of the RFP was a benchmark suite of computer programs, including climate models, developed to measure the capability of the vendor's equipment. The benchmarks were designed to test those properties that are common to the broad research community that NCAR serves. The benchmark suite was provided to 14 supercomputer vendors for their critique prior to the release of the RFP. This was done to assure UCAR that the benchmark suite could be readily executed on various computer platforms.

    In March 1995, the RFP, including the benchmark suite, was formally released to the 14 vendors: 12 American manufacturers and two foreign manufacturers. All vendors were given two opportunities to ask questions and request clarifications to the RFP. All vendors were also given the opportunity to visit the NCAR facility in Boulder, Colorado, where the proposed equipment would be housed.

    Four of the 14 vendors responded; three offers were within the competitive range. UCAR required each vendor to perform an on-site Live Test Demonstration (LTD) of the benchmark suite. In August and September 1995, a UCAR Benchmark Team of seven people visited the three vendor locations.

    In October 1995, UCAR issued guidelines for Best and Final Offers (BAFOs) to the three vendors. The BAFO guidelines suggested that the vendors focus on the five-year, $35 million funding scenario set out in the RFP. UCAR required that each vendor perform a second LTD on equipment identified by the vendors as meeting the base system requirement of the RFP. These LTDs were undertaken in February 1996.

    Consistent with the RFP, the guidelines for the BAFO focused on the highest demonstrated performance, cost-performance, and usability for a specified price. With respect to demonstrated performance, the BAFO guidelines requested installation by October 1996 of at least one machine that can sustain a minimum of 5 billion arithmetic operations per second (5 gigaflops) while executing a version of the widely- used NCAR Community Climate Model (a component of the benchmark suite). All the competitors were able to meet the 5-gigaflop requirement. The equipment offered by FCC provided a distinct advantage in that it was able to demonstrate 15 to 25 gigaflops per second on this model during the LTD in February 1996.

    With respect to cost-performance, the BAFO guidelines requested an aggregate computing capacity of at least 45 gigaflops by October 1998. Again, all of the competitors met this requirement. The ensemble of equipment offered by FCC by 1998 provided a distinct advantage in that it will surpass the request by a factor of about two.

    With respect to usability, for many years NCAR has used high-speed computers that have several vector processors sharing a common memory. The equipment offered by FCC is of this type. Also, the NCAR LTD showed that there is a high degree of software compatibility between the programming environment offered by FCC and the programming environment currently in use at NCAR. Thus, NCAR users will be able to quickly convert their programs to this equipment and realize in a timely manner the benefits of its high performance.

    In summary, the demonstrated performance, cost-performance and usability of the systems offered by FCC provide a distinct advantage compared to the systems offered by the other vendors and substantially exceed the guidelines in the RFP and BAFO. The data from NCAR's LTD and evaluation of the equipment offered by the three vendors has been reviewed by several experts outside of UCAR and NCAR and has stood up to close scrutiny by them.

    Copies of the RFP (Request for Proposal B95-10P), including the benchmark requirements, are available from UCAR Communications, 303-497-8611 or -8601.

    The computing equipment will support NCAR's nationwide research user community, and NCAR's own scientists, in basic research studies of the processes important to understanding climate and the complex systems that interact with the atmosphere, such as the sun, the oceans, and the land surface. Large, long-running models of such coupled processes require computing capabilities beyond those currently available to the U.S. atmospheric sciences community. The equipment will be dedicated to support computer model simulations that require hundreds to thousands of processor hours for completion and will contribute to the nation's atmospheric research efforts.

    The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is a not-for-profit consortium of 61 North American institutions that grant Ph.D.s in the atmospheric or related sciences. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, UCAR manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other programs that enhance the conduct and applications of atmospheric research at universities and elsewhere.

    The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) provides state-of-the-art instrumentation, research aircraft, and computer technology to advance the study of the earth's atmosphere. It conducts a wide-ranging research program in the areas of climate, weather, atmospheric chemistry, and solar processes, and facilitates collaborations with scientists from around the world. NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.

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    The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is a not-for-profit university membership consortium which carries out programs to benefit the atmospheric, oceanic, and related sciences. Among other activites, UCAR operates the National Center for Atmospheric Research with National Science Foundation sponsorship.

    Jacque Marshall <jacque@ucar.edu>
    Last modified: Mon 22 July 1996