Pawsey gets $70 million to replace ageing supercomputers

Magnus and Galaxy are fast approaching end-of-life

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre will receive $70 million in government funding to replace its ageing supercomputers which are fast approaching end-of-life.

The centre will procure a replacement for its flagship system Magnus, a Cray XC40, as well as its Cray XC30 called Galaxy. Both are reaching the end of their operational lives, with Magnus' support contract having lapsed in September.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement on Saturday that the investment would "help a world-class facility become a world-leading one".

"This investment in Western Australia will pay national dividends, helping deliver discoveries and advances that will have practical benefits for all Australians," he added.

Pawsey's supercomputers help more than 80 organisations solve a range of ‘big science’ problems; from investigating the genetic compounds of an insect that is destroying African crops; to modelling the physics of extreme waves to capture energy; to making discoveries across medical science, engineering, geoscience, marine science, chemistry, food, agriculture.

Magnus is reaching end-of-life
Magnus is reaching end-of-life

The high-performance computing facility in Kensington near Perth serves more than 1,500 active researchers from across Australia, involved in some 150 supercomputing projects.

Galaxy specifically is dedicated to the operational requirements of the Australian Square Kilometre Array (SKA) pathfinder telescopes, Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP) and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA).

However, ahead of Saturday's announcement, the research run on Pawsey's systems had been at risk.

When it became fully operational in 2014, Pawsey’s petascale system Magnus was the 41st most powerful computer in the world. But by 2015 it had slipped to 58 on the LINPACK Benchmark Top500 ranking. Although it remains among the most advanced supercomputers in the southern hemisphere, the latest list, released in November, placed Magnus at 141.

In May, Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel released the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap. In it, he said the government needed to “urgently address” the HPC situation.

Chair of the centre, John Langoulant said the funding would "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”, he added.

Pawsey Supercomputing Centre
Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

The funding follows the government's December funding boost to the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), based at ANU, to replace its Raijin supercomputer. When it began operating in 2013, Raijin was Australia’s most powerful supercomputer. It is currently placed at 76 most powerful in the world.

The NCI said Raijin's replacement is expected to be ranked in the top 25 internationally, and will be commissioned in early 2019.

Pawsey – which is still without a permanent executive director following a leadership shake-up in November – will continue to consult with the research community to identify their requirements for the new systems.

The procurement process for the capital refresh will commence immediately with the intention of new infrastructure being available from 2019, Pawsey said.

“It is an exciting time to be at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre”, said Ugo Varetto, the centre's acting executive director.

“The investment in Pawsey will have a positive impact on the Australian research community. The Centre has already been accelerating scientific outcomes and will now be able to solve even bigger scientific problems,” he added.