Directions for scientific computing centers for the future

Colston Chandler PHYSICS prentice at
Thu Dec 13 04:02:45 EST 1990

In article <1990Dec13.011756.22888 at> roy at (Roy Smith) writes:
>	We're thinking about future directions of scientific computing here
>at the PHRI...
>Is the whole concept of a "central computing facility" outdated?  If such a
>facility should exist, what form should it take?  If not, should there still
>be some sort of central service department that supports individual personal
>machines, and provides a network to connect them to each other and the
>outside world?  Provide shared peripherals like printers?  Centralized
>backups?  File servers?  User consulting?

Well, I am always willing to give my unqualified opinion!

My background is probably different from a public health group, so
take this with that in mind (my background is in large scale
scientific computing - - i.e., thousands of hours of Cray time).
However, the thing that strikes me is that with the power of 
workstations and the low cost, it makes little sense to have
central computing facilities unless there is some unusual justifying
factor (need for enormous memory computers for example).  At
Sandia National Laboratory for example, where I have worked for
years on and off as a consultant, they are now moving away from
VAX's to workstations (mostly Sun's).  Each workstation is
more powerful than their VAX's and alot cheaper.  Also, it is
hard to beat the productivity one can achieve on a workstation,
UNIX notwithstanding.  However, what appears to be happening there
is that they still need a group of support people for each
department to keep the systems up.  UNIX is a real pain if you
aren't a guru and few users are.  It sure helps to have a few
around to help.  Also, these systems fail occasionally and when
they do it is nice to have someone knowledgeable.  Finally,
as to central printers, etc..., I think it probably depends
on the circumstances.  One can buy laser printers real cheap
nowadays, so you probably can hang them on every workstation
(or at enough to handle your needs on a network).  On the
other hand, if you need high speed laser printers or other
specialized equipment, then economics dictates having them
centralized (at the level of a group of 15 - 20 people).  But
you can drive these with workstations or servers just fine.
In general however, it is sure hard to beat having things at
your fingertips (this from someone who historically had to'
use mainframes and other centralized resources).

John Prentice
john at

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