The free time on the center's Cray II and Cyber 205 supercomputers was made available after NSF gave center president John Sell two days' notice in mid-February that his facility would receive no more funding. Sell hopes that the state's congressmen, led by Rep. Martin Sabo (DMinn.), will somehow find federal money to support the center and its clients, but he admits the outlook is "gloomy."
Minnesota was one of three university sites chosen in 1984 in the first phase of NSF's effort to establish a national supercomputing network. In 1985 NSF selected five other sites for the second phase of its program, and notified Minnesota, Purdue and Colorado State universities that NSF support would end when their two-year grants expired. Minnesota obtained an extension into 1987, but the $1 million it was given (out of a request for $6.5 million) was used up quickly because of the heavy demand for the Cray II.
The budget for the advanced computing program at NSF was cut from $58 million to $52 million this year, said John Connolly, director of the program. An equally lean proposed budget for 1988 leaves NSF with barely enough money to meet its commitment to the five Phase II centers, he added, which are located at Princeton University, the University of California at San Diego, the University of Illinois, Cornell University, and the University of Pittsburgh.
"I understand their disappointment, and I don't blame them," said Connolly. "But our goal is to create a network of high-quality, adequately-funded centers to support science rather than a large number of poorly-funded centers. I wish I had twice the budget, but I don't."
The Minnesota center is a joint venture between the University of Minnesota, the state, the city of Minneapolis and private industry. If federal money is not forthcoming, Sell said, the center will seek additional funds from the state and the university to support its annual operating budget of $15 million.