Hyperion Research: Special Study: The Economic and Societal Benefits of Linux Supercomputers


Hyperion Research Opinion. Since its introduction in the 1960’s, high performance computing (also called supercomputing) has made many contributions to significant scientific, engineering, and industrial advances around the world, as well as to homeland security and other critical government missions. In the 1990’s, the first commodity-based supercomputers using the Linux operation system were developed through the work of key early adopters, including David Bader. By the 2000’s, the revolutionary change provided by commodity Linux supercomputers redefined supercomputing and made them available and usable to a dramatically larger number of organizations around the world. Supercomputers have played crucial roles in government agencies and departments. But that’s just part of the story. Supercomputers have made cars and planes much safer, more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly. They are crucial aids in discovering and extracting new sources of oil and gas, and for developing alternative energy sources. They have enabled the weather community to create more accurate predictions of severe storms that can devastate lives and property. They are heavily relied on by industries ranging from financial services to medicine and health care, entertainment, consumer products, and more recently by Internet companies. And most recently, supercomputers were instrumental in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. In short, high performance computing has become indispensable for maintaining national security and economic competitiveness. That’s why other nations and global regions including China, Europe, Japan, and Russia, to name a few, are racing ahead and have created national programs that are investing large sums of money to develop exascale supercomputers for use later in this decade or early in the next decade. This special study explores the early history of how Linux supercomputers were developed and the overall returns from supercomputing in both: 1) the economic value from building and supporting supercomputers; and 2) the value from using supercomputers. Additionally, this report presents some interesting examples of how supercomputers provide returns. Over $300 billion in revenue has been generated from selling supercomputers. This represents a sizable economic gain, especially since the use of these systems generated research valued at least ten times over the purchase price. While it is difficult to fully measure the value that supercomputers have generated, even looking at just automotives, aircraft, and pharmaceuticals supercomputers have contributed to products valued at more than $100 trillion over the last 25 years. And this doesn’t count the tremendous value to new scientific discoveries in almost all disciplines. The return-on-investment (ROI) and return-on-research (ROR) examples in this report underscore the benefits of supercomputers in enabling scientific and industrial research around the world.