External Use Scheme for Australian Universities

Following the acquisition of the VP-100 in 1987, the University decided to provide ten per cent of the capacity of the vector supercomputers free of charge to researchers at other Australian universities. This amounts to around 750 hours per year, which at commercial rates (which some universities have paid in the past to bureaux for supercomputer time) would cost approximately $1 million per year at times during the period since 1987.

Until 1993, the ANU did not involve itself in deciding the relative merits of projects from external universities. Over the first five years of this External Use Scheme, a formula provided by the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee was used to allocate time in bulk to each participating university which then informed the ANU of its own sub-allocations to individual projects.

By the end of 1992, it was clear that the system needed modification. The number of projects grew to be too large, with the result that each project received an inadequate grant. For example, in 1992, there were 81 projects registered with over 109 users at 24 universities (not counting a further 35 course-work accounts). This is an average of only 10 hours per project. This is grossly inadequate for serious production work and was perceived as such by users and potential users.

Therefore, after discussions with a number of external users and coordinators, the scheme was altered in 1993 with the aim of encouraging a small number of larger-scale projects. Smaller projects that made use of special features on the VP such as software packages, large memory and rapid turnaround of urgent work continue to be encouraged, and resources for educational activities are still provided.

The Supercomputer Time Allocation Committee, chaired by Professor W Levick continued to allocate the ten percent of the VP resources reserved for external users guided by the same principles used for internal users.

At the two meetings of the Supercomputer Time Allocation Committee 19 and 20 external projects requested three times the resources available. Guided by international and national referees, the Committee determined that almost all of the proposals were of an exceptionally high standard and found it very difficult to reduce the number of supported projects. Sixteen of the external projects independently supported by the Australian Research Council.

Table 1 lists the external projects which were supported (it includes usage by projects allocated resources in October 1993 to be used in the first three months of 1994). Twenty Five projects involving 57 researchers are listed. By over allocating resources the committee has found that the target of 10 per cent reserved for the External Scheme can be met. Omitted from the table are several projects which were given small provisional grants and which, not surprisingly, made little or no use of the grant. Detailed descriptions of the projects can be found in Appendix B.