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Published May 10, 2023 | In Press
Journal Article Open

Use of accounting concepts to study research: return on investment in XSEDE, a US cyberinfrastructure service


This paper uses accounting concepts—particularly the concept of Return on Investment (ROI)—to reveal the quantitative value of scientific research pertaining to a major US cyberinfrastructure project (XSEDE—the eXtreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment). XSEDE provides operational and support services for advanced information technology systems, cloud systems, and supercomputers supporting non-classified US research, with an average budget for XSEDE of US$20M+ per year over the period studied (2014–2021). To assess the financial effectiveness of these services, we calculated a proxy for ROI, and converted quantitative measures of XSEDE service delivery into financial values using costs for service from the US marketplace. We calculated two estimates of ROI: a Conservative Estimate, functioning as a lower bound and using publicly available data for a lower valuation of XSEDE services; and a Best Available Estimate, functioning as a more accurate estimate, but using some unpublished valuation data. Using the largest dataset assembled for analysis of ROI for a cyberinfrastructure project, we found a Conservative Estimate of ROI of 1.87, and a Best Available Estimate of ROI of 3.24. Through accounting methods, we show that XSEDE services offer excellent value to the US government, that the services offered uniquely by XSEDE (that is, not otherwise available for purchase) were the most valuable to the facilitation of US research activities, and that accounting-based concepts hold great value for understanding the mechanisms of scientific research generally.

Additional Information

© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. Thanks to Leslie Froeschl, Noni Ledford, Ron Payne, and Burt Cubbison for XSEDE data. Thanks to Praneeth Chityala extrapolations from data he collected. Thanks to Lee Liming for background on data transfer. Thanks to Brian Voss for suggestions that improved this paper. Thanks to Kristol Hancock, Marie Deer, Marion Krefeldt, Shawn Slavin, Tony Walker, and Hannah Naughton for editing. Thanks to Tonya Miles and Kristol Hancock for graphics. Thanks to the SP representatives and PIs over the years who have helped assess the value of XSEDE. Thanks to the hundreds of XSEDE staff who have made it such a valuable project. Funding: NSF awards #1053575 & #1548562 (XSEDE & XSEDE2, J. Towns, PI), #1445604 & #2005506 (Jetstream & Jetstream2, D. Y. Hancock, PI), #1700765 (LIGO, P. Couvares, Co-PI); IU Pervasive Technology Institute. Craig A. Stewart, Claudia M. Costa, Julie A. Wernert, and Winona Snapp-Childs have contributed equally to this work. Contributions. Conceptualization: TC, CMC, DYH, HJ, RK, DFM, WS-C, CAS, JAW. Data curation: MB, PB, CMC, PC, JF, DYH, DLH, SM, MP, GR, RSS, JAW. Formal analysis: TC, CMC, DYH, DLH, MP, CAS, JAW. TC and CMC are PhD-level business experts. TC is a professor of accounting. Funding acquisition: DYH, WS-C, CAS, JT, JAW. Investigation: all authors. Methodology: CMC, DYH, MP, WS-C, CAS, JAW. Project administration: WS-C, CAS, JAW. Resources: Not applicable. Supervision: WS-C, CAS, JT, JAW. Validation: CMC, DYH, DLH, MP, WS-C. Writing: original draft: PC, DYH, CAS; review and editing: all. M. Bland, P. Blood, C. M. Costa, Hart, H. Jankowski, R. Knepper, D. F. McMullen, S. Mehringer, M. Pierce, G. Rogers, R. S. Sinkovits, W. Snapp-Childs, C. A. Stewart, J. Towns, and J. A. Wernert were funded in part by NSF awards in support of XSEDE and XSEDE2. J. Fischer, D. Y. Hancock, and M. Pierce were funded in part by NSF grant awards in support of Jetstream and Jetstream2. P. Couvares was funded in part by an NSF award in support of the LIGO project. Ethical approval: Surveys employed in the course of this research were approved by the Indiana University Institutional Review Board. Consent to participate: Not applicable. Consent for publication: Not applicable.

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August 22, 2023
October 25, 2023