MIT to lease Cray computer
By Miguel Cantillo
MIT and Cray Research, Inc. have agreed to a five-year joint effort in supercomputer research, the MIT News Office announced yesterday. The announcement comes soon after the Institute joined a new regional computer network, and began efforts to win a spot for New England on the National Science Foundation's national high-speed supercomputer network.
As part of the agreement with Cray Research, MIT will lease a $7.5 million Cray-2/4/256 supercomputer, which will be installed in July. The system, which will be used for scientific and engineering research, has four central processors and more than 2000 megabytes of memory.
"The Cray supercomputer will bring new computer power to faculty members, staff, graduate and undergraduate students at a large number of easily accessible workstations," Kenneth A. Smith '58, MIT's vice president for research, said in a press release.
The MIT-Cray agreement also provides for Cray to give MIT grants over the next five years for research on the computer. Cray is particularly interested in work in the area of networking protocols and in the development of educational materials for supercomputers, according to the News Office.
MIT had originally sought a high-powered system two years ago. At that time, it agreed to buy a SX-2 supercomputer from Nippon Electric Company, a Japanese firm. But the US Commerce Department complained to MIT about its decision to buy a Japanese computer. The government argued that Japan was selling its supercomputers at unfairly low prices on the US market while blocking US access to the Japanese market. MIT yielded to government pressure and dropped its plans to buy the NEC machine in October 1987.
MIT, Harvard University, and Boston University announced two weeks ago the formation of the New England Academic and Research Network (NEARnet), which will be soon be expanded to include other universities and colleges, government laboratories, and private companies. Lincoln Laboratory, Digital Equipment Corp., and Thinking Machines Corp. are among those scheduled to join the network.
NEARnet is one of the first networks in the country to use digital microwave technology to link independent organizations, and is several times faster than any of the nation's other regional networks.
MIT and other area schools hope that the formation of NEARnet might persuade the NSF network to set up a Boston node next year. Neither MIT nor any other school in Massachusetts is currently even part of the NSF high-speed supercomputer network, which includes centers at Stanford University, Carnegie-Mellon University, and Princeton University.
The reason is that none of New England's major universities applied for inclusion. "We were asleep at the switch," MIT Vice President for Information Systems James D. Bruce SM '60 admitted to The Boston Globe.
Bruce, who spearheaded the effort to create NEARnet, pledged that MIT and other schools would try to persuade NSF to give Massachusetts one of the two new network nodes that it plans to set up next year. "I'll make it so attractive that if they say no to Massachusetts it will be embarrassing," Bruce told the Globe.
The formation of NEARnet and MIT's acquisition of the Cray supercomputer strengthen New England's case, but there is no guarantee the region will be added to the NSF network.