ACCESS Plays Substantial Role in NAIRR Pilot

By Megan Johnson, NCSA
An image of a futuristic motherboard with a computer chip lit up in the middle. The computer chip has circuitry in the shape of a brain and the letters AI in the middle.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced the first round of awarded projects in the National Artificial Intelligence Research Resource (NAIRR) Pilot. The NAIRR Pilot – a result of President Joe Biden’s landmark Executive Order on the Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Development and Use of AI – will provide AI researchers and students access to key AI resources and data.

“Today marks a pivotal moment in the advancement of AI research as we announce the first round of NAIRR Pilot projects. The NAIRR Pilot, fueled by the need to advance responsible AI research and broaden access to cutting-edge resources needed for AI research, symbolizes a firm stride towards democratizing access to vital AI tools across the talented communities in all corners of our country,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “While this is only the first step in our NAIRR efforts, we plan to rapidly expand our partnerships and secure the level of investments needed to realize the NAIRR vision and unlock the full potential of AI for the benefit of humanity and society.”

The ACCESS program is committed to helping this important initiative succeed and has been heavily involved with the NAIRR Pilot from the beginning. A majority of the announced projects, 27 of 35, are supported by ACCESS Resource Providers (RPs). The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is providing time on Delta, the most performant GPU-based supercomputer in the NSF portfolio. The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), an ACCESS RP that allocates time on Stampede2 and, soon, Stampede3, is providing NAIRR Pilot with the use of two of its non-ACCESS affiliated machines, Frontera and Lonestar. These two RPs are providing resources to the majority of the initial NAIRR Pilot projects. The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) is providing access to its Neocortex system to one of the projects as well, and going forward, Bridges-2 will be available to future projects. Several other ACCESS RPs will be adding resources to the NAIRR Pilot for the second round, including San Diego Supercomputing Center’s (SDSC) Expanse, Rosen Center for Advanced Computing (RCAC) at Purdue’s Anvil, Indiana University’s Jetstream2 and Texas A&M University’s ACES.

As with the ACCESS program itself, the services provided to NAIRR Pilot researchers don’t stop with the hardware. ACCESS staff are offering support to the NAIRR Pilot in other impactful ways. ACCESS team members have extensive experience in managing cyberinfrastructure resources and the programs that allow researchers to access them. This experience has allowed ACCESS to participate meaningfully in the NAIRR Pilot by providing key knowledge, guidance and personnel to the project. 

Participants in the ACCESS program have been tapped by NSF to contribute to the development and operation of the NAIRR Pilot with key contributions being made to the allocation process, operational support, coordination with NAIRR Pilot Resource Providers and collection of usage accounting data.

John Towns, speaking on behalf of the ACCESS Executive Council (EC), expressed the EC’s recognition of the talents being drawn from ACCESS to support this important initiative. “The ACCESS team is honored to be asked to provide considerable experience, expertise and leadership in developing and executing on the NAIRR Pilot,” said Towns. “As a multi-agency, collaborative endeavor, we are creating policies and procedures that span separate administrative domains that make for a very complex environment. Drawing on considerable experience from participating in ACCESS, XSEDE and the COVID-19 HPC Consortium, members of the ACCESS team are able to make meaningful contributions to the NIARR Pilot.”

A second round of allocation opportunities is now open. In this round, significant additional resources are available via the pilot. A new opportunity has been released to connect educators and university instructors to computing, data, and software resources that will enable them to train their students through hands-on projects and exercises. To apply or learn more about the NAIRR Pilot, visit their website at

A fundamental tenet of the NAIRR Pilot is democratizing access to the resources and services, recognizing that the strength of the U.S. AI ecosystem depends on having a research and education community that reflects the diversity of our nation. By fostering a strong and responsible AI research ecosystem, the pilot aims to empower a wide range of perspectives and technical directions from researchers and educators from U.S. institutions, including those from underrepresented groups, nonprofits and small businesses.

You can read more about the NSF on NAIRR Pilot and the initial projects here: NSF-led National AI Research Resource Pilot awards first-round access to 35 projects in partnership with DOE.

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