Rutgers University’s public information officials are refusing to answer basic questions about how its new $10 million supercomputer had to be shut down more than a month ago because of overheating–questions as simple as what contractor built the malfunctioning cooling system.
For the last week, this site has asked repeatedly for basic information about how the university–using $10 million in higher education bond issue funds–awarded bids for the construction of the so-called “Caliburn” supercomputer.
And the university has repeatedly refused to provide that information. Worse, in some cases, the institution’s public information office has provided contradictory information. For example, it has said the bids to construct the final phase of the computer were awarded both “in the fall of 2016” and then no later than January, 2016.
The university has claimed the $10 million Caliburn was built after “a very competitive bidding process”–yet it refused several times to identify the bidders, the nature and costs of the contracts available, and whether the lowest qualified bidder was awarded the contract.
So, while a competitive bidding process may have occurred, no one outside the university now knows whether that process achieved what competitive bidding processes are supposed to do–hire the least expensive qualified bidder.
The information is important in determining whether the university acted in the public’s best interest–or even appropriately–in its choice of contractors, some of whom the university won’t even identify.
A university spokesperson will only say that the total cost was $10 million and the “lead contractor”–described as a “computer reseller”–was HighPoint Solutions, Inc. HighPoint apparently subcontracted out the construction of Caliburn to Supermicro Computer, Inc.., a firm based in San Jose and Taipei.
HighPoint Solutions in 2011 agreed to a 10-year, $6.5 million contract to purchase the naming rights to Rutgers stadium. It is now HighPoint Solutions Stadium. In comments following that deal, leaders of HighPoint Solutions expressed the hope its purchase of naming rights would lead to business with the university.
Rutgers has made much of how Caliburn has placed it in the top 500 of supercomputer owners in the world. But the manufacturers on the latest list of top 500 are dominated by familiar giants of the field–IBM, Cray, Lenovo, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Fujitsu, NEC and the Chinese firms Huawei and Sugon.
Only one academic supercomputer in the world built by Supermicro is on that list–Rutgers’ Caliburn.
Supermicro’s only other mention on the list of 500 is a joint venture with the Israeli firm Mellanox in the construction of a computer for Russia’s Kurchatov Institute. It is not a college and is ranked 462 out of 500.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the HighPoints/Supermicro venture wasn’t a good idea–maybe it was. But given the $10 million cost–Michigan State’s supercomputer, for example, cost less than $4 million–and the need to shut Caliburn down just weeks after it became fully operation, questions are appropriate.
Who built the modular data center that malfunctioned and overheated Caliburn?
What is the full list of contractors involved in building Caliburn?
What other companies submitted bids to build Caliburn?
When were bids solicited, received, and opened?
If it was not the lowest bidder, why was the HighPoints/Supermicro bid accepted?
Rutgers University officials have told Bob Braun’s Ledger it must file under the state’s Open Public Record Act (OPRA) if it wants any further information about Caliburn. That’s already been done.
But OPRA is a cumbersome process and could take weeks or more. Rutgers’ approach to the law is even more cumbersome than most, limiting individual requests to single categories and, in some cases, single documents.
The Rutgers University public information office is staffed by fine professionals, many of whom have had years of media experience.
It’s too bad they won’t respond as, in this reporter’s history, they always have in the past. With what they know.
Makes you wonder whether they’re hiding something.