Australia government earmarks A$70m to refresh supercomputers

The investment will fund replacements for two supercomputers at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in an effort to bolster Australia’s research capabilities

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The Australian government has earmarked A$70m to refresh the high-performance computing (HPC) systems at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth, western Australia, in a bid to beef up the country’s science and innovation chops.

The investment will be used to fund replacements for Pawsey’s flagship supercomputer, Magnus, as well as the real-time supercomputer, Galaxy. Both systems are close to the end of their operational lives.

Magnus, a Cray XC40 considered as one of the most advanced supercomputers in the southern hemisphere, currently supports the operational requirements of several Australian radio telescopes such as the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder and the Murchison Widefield Array.

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the investment, which is on top of the government’s A$10.3bn investment in research and development in its 2017-18 budget, will “pay national dividends, helping deliver discoveries and advances that will have practical benefits for all Australians”.

“Businesses use Pawsey to create and test new concepts and improve existing processes and products, assisting Australian industry to be more efficient, productive and therefore more globally competitive,” Turnbull said.

“For example, Pawsey’s supercomputers help advance medical research, nanotechnology, mining, construction and urban planning. They improve combustion in supersonic engines and model the physics of extreme waves to capture energy,” he added.

Pawsey chair John Langoulant noted that the new investment, along with last year’s A$70m investment in the National Computational Infrastructure in Canberra, will strengthen Australia’s position in the global research environment and enable Australia to stay globally competitive.

“This is a reflection of the government’s understanding of the value that the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre delivers to the Australian scientific landscape by accelerating innovation and increasing opportunities for engagement between Australian researchers and their peers internationally,” Langoulant said.

The procurement process for the new HPC systems will begin immediately. The configuration of the systems, slated to be operational by 2019, will be determined through engagements with Australia’s researchers.

Read more about high-performance computing in APAC

In 2017, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organisation (CSIRO) also upgraded its Bragg supercomputer in Canberra – effectively doubling its total aggregate performance – to keep pace with global research. CSIRO is part of the joint venture that operates the Pawsey centre.

“We need to provide Australia’s scientists and engineers with high-performance systems that give them efficiencies in their line of scientific inquiry,” said Angus Macoustra, deputy CIO and head of scientific computing at CSIRO. “The quicker they can analyse a dataset, model a system or simulate an experiment, the quicker they can draw a conclusion to their hypothesis.”

Although Australia’s tier-1 HPC facilities are on the Top 500 list of most powerful computers in the world, their positions are slipping. In its 2016 national research infrastructure roadmap, the Australian government called for an immediate need to refresh Australia’s national HPC infrastructure.

“HPC makes internationally competitive, computationally intense research possible in Australia. Scale in HPC drives the simulations that are critical to research in many disciplines, improves the speed of discovery, and unlocks the value that exists in our continuously growing research data holdings,” it said.

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