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More staff, space and AI all part of Supercomputer Authority’s $38 million budget request

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Members of the Alabama Supercomputer Authority unanimously approved a $37.7 million budget request for fiscal year 2025 Wednesday, up 7.7% from the previous year’s budget. The increase, leadership said, was due in large part to the unprecedented growth of the entity’s operations.

A state-funded corporation, ASA provides network and technology resources and services for education, research and economic purposes. The bulk of ASA’s workload comes from managing the Alabama Research and Education Network, which provides education institutions, public schools and government agencies with internet connections via a 10g Ethernet-based network.

As of July, ASA was serving 975 sites, which included 683 public K-12 school sites and 84 community college sites.

During Wednesday’s meeting, ASA CEO Debra Wallace said the corporation was now serving around 1,200 sites, with every new site added since July being a K-12 school site.

“It looks like we’re going to have at least a 20% growth; that’s very good news for us, but man, it’s a lot of growth, and it may continue to get bigger,” Wallace said. “Growing pains is good.”

Salaries and benefits represented the largest budget-line increase at roughly $2 million, a 22.2% increase over the previous year.

“I need additional staff in the business staff because of the growth we’ve had with all these new sites,” Wallace said. “There’s so much contract exchange between the school systems that we have to track, it makes our E-Rate application larger… there’s just a lot that goes into it.”

In addition, Wallace said the ASA will seek to hire a chief technology officer, who would oversee ASA’s data centers, as well as be responsible for contract performance, such as ASA’s recently approved $152-million contract with General Dynamics.

Work space was another factor in the increased budget, with ASA’s Montgomery office space in the RSA building on Adams Avenue getting close to outliving its usefulness.

Research into and potential launching a pilot program for the use of AI in managing ASA’s networks was another goal board members discussed during the meeting, with ASA Board Chair Walter Overby suggesting that AI could be used to “learn and predict” how to react to cyber security threats.

ASA operations grew by 26% over the previous fiscal year, and by 56% over the past five years. It’s that growth, Overby told Alabama Daily News, that made the board confident that the governor and state Legislature would be agreeable to the budget increase request of 7.7%.

“As we grow our network, and as more people and schools are put on the network, it puts an increased layer of activity on our operations staff, and we are just trying to grow to handle that increase,” Overby said. “I believe if (the Legislature) understands what we’re trying to do and how it’s going to benefit the K-12, state colleges, universities and state libraries, I think they will support it.”

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