Editorial: Quick sale may not be in state's best interest
July 17, 2012
At first blush, it might sound like a good idea to unload the state's supercomputer, Encanto, as a symbol of Gov. Bill Richardson-era excess, a la the state jet.
After all, it supposedly can't pay its bills, and its once lofty ranking of third-fastest in the world has slipped out of the top 100.
But just as Gov. Susana Martinez found an experienced broker with the right connections to get the best possible deal for the jet — $2.5 million six years after it had been purchased for $5.5 million, and saving the state almost $500k annually in operations and maintenance fees — the administration should slow down and figure out how taxpayers can get the most bang for their supercomputing buck.
The state has sunk millions into Encanto. In addition to the $11 million purchase price, the Legislature approved $3 million in 2008 to set up 20 "gateways" at colleges and universities and another $5.9 million in 2009 and 2010 to help the nonprofit Computing Applications Center maintain operations. Yet a 2009 Legislative Finance Committee report pointed out most computing time was being traded for things like rent and just $300,000 had been taken in.
That same LFC report said three research universities, two national laboratories and one nonprofit had already run more than 65,000 jobs on Encanto. It has been used to map oil from the gushing Deep Horizon well and for programs on climate change, nanotechnology and diseases.
Circa 2012, it's not that Encanto isn't a valuable tool; it can do 172 trillion calculations per second. It's just that like any cutting-edge machine, it started depreciating the day it was purchased. That translates into a greatly reduced resale rate, likely less than $400,000 if a buyer can even be found.
Rather than sell it for pennies on the dollar, the administration should crunch the numbers to see if the state's research universities are correct when they say Encanto can be a valuable tool for them, leveraging hundreds of millions in grants.
If they are right, that's the kind of deal that will fly with taxpayers.
— Albuquerque Journal