Partner and Affiliate Access
Access to NCI facilities (particularly the National Facility), other than through the Merit Allocation Scheme, is facilitated by the Partner and Affiliate Access schemes and through the NCI Resource Allocation Model. Under these, organisations may acquire dedicated access to the facilities at full operating cost (which includes the cost of the system and any upgrades, necessary ancillary infrastructure (e.g., power and cooling), facilities management costs, and costs associated with software, network, and system and user support).
The current partnership model, adopted by the Steering Committee in 2008, is underpinned by the importance of long-term mutual commitments between NCI and its partners. These key ideas are embedded in the NCI Partner Service Agreement, a formal contract (over the three calendar years 2009-11), which specifies the obligations between NCI and its partners.
This was first signed on 24 December 2008 by the initial two partners, ANU and NCI, which together with the Commonwealth underpin and sustain the operations of NCI. Presently, the annual partner investment (about $6.8M p.a.) just exceeds the annualised income from the Commonwealth ($6.5M p.a.).
There are two classes of co-investment:
Organisations make long-term commitments to NCI over the term of the Partner Service Agreement (PSA) and, in return, receive access to a share of the facilities (determined using the NCI Resource Allocation Model), the value of which increases with time as the system infrastructure is incremented.
Organisations acquire access to a fixed quota of resources for a fixed period under conditions and access pricing.
Underpinning the concept of partnership is NCI’s mission to drive and extend Australia’s uptake of high-end computing, and to provide a service that increases the scope and impact of Australian science.
To do so, NCI seeks to build mutually beneficial partnerships that increase the resources and services available to the Australian research community. From a base of Commonwealth (NCRIS) funding, NCI seeks to leverage additional investment from partner organisations which, through their commitment to NCI over the term of this agreement, provides them with a share of the computational resources that grow in absolute terms (i.e., in core hours) as the facilities are developed and incremented in capacity.
Since the cost structure of high-end computing facilities is not linear (due to the substantial fixed and quasi-fixed costs in both services and infrastructure), additional investments by partners not only increment the facilities and services but also reduce the cost of access to the benefit of all. In order to promote investment by partner organisations, partner contributions are weighted by a partner multiplier factor (the present value of which is 1.1), thus leveraging Commonwealth funds in a mutually beneficial way.
Partnership membership requires a minimum annual investment, as determined by the NCI Steering Committee, that is to be sustained over the lifetime of this agreement, At this time, the minimum amount has been determined to be $50,000 annually, over the lifetime of the PSA. While the threshold is modest, it provides an appropriate entry platform that allows research organisations and consortia to acquire resources with which to supplement grants under the MAS, and, most importantly, from which to build their reliance on, and subsequent increased investment in, NCI. It is the latter that is seen as most significant, as is the certainty in cash flow that it provides NCI.
The present partners of NCI are ANU, CSIRO, QCIF, iVEC, Monash University, Intersect Australia and Geoscience Australia.
Organisations which do not invest at least the threshold amount required for partner membership, or which do not invest for a sustained period, are termed Affiliates of NCI and pay the Partner access rate for the period factored by a premium that is determined by the NCI Steering Committee. At the time of signing by the initial partners, the Affiliate access rate was set at 1.25 times the Partner access rate.
This premium, together with the modest partner threshold, is intended to encourage partnership with NCI. Accordingly, it is anticipated that, with the exception of special circumstances or needs, organisations will choose to commit to long-term partnership with NCI.