The world’s friendliest animal will lend its name to Australia’s fastest new research supercomputer, with the Pawsey Centre confirming its new system will be named Setonix – the scientific name for the quokka.
The HPE Cray EX supercomputer will be 30 times more powerful than Pawsey’s existing systems, Magnus and Galaxy, and will be used to help accelerate research projects such as the Square Kilometre Array.
Pawsey Centre Executive Director Mark Stickells says the name Setonix was chosen as a nod to the unique marsupial, which has become both a WA icon and a global tourist attraction.
“Pawsey has long had an affinity with the quokka — one of our existing systems was used by UWA Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur to map the quokka genome as part of an international conservation effort,” Mr Stickells said.
“The quokka is an iconic Western Australian animal that has helped promote our State to the world, just as our work at Pawsey helps raise the profile of Western Australian and Australian researchers on the world stage.
“We also have a close connection with Rottnest Island, with our systems used to model ocean surface currents and sea temperature around the island — important work for oceanographers as well as for events such as the Rottnest Island Swim.
“Selecting Setonix as the name for our new supercomputer recognises our pride in being a national supercomputing facility located in WA, and the work we do in enabling science and accelerating discovery.”
Setonix marks a step change in Pawsey’s supercomputing firepower, which currently supports the work of more than 1600 researchers from its Kensington facility.
From discovering new galaxies to developing improved diagnostic tests for coronaviruses, Pawsey’s high-performance facilities are already being used to solve some of the most important research questions in the world.
Setonix is so powerful its computing power is described in petaFLOPS, representing the number of floating point operations that can be conducted per second.
To match what a one petaFLOPS computer system can do in just one second, you would have to perform one calculation every second for 31,688,765 years.
The existing supercomputers at the Pawsey Centre, Magnus and Galaxy together have 1.83 petaFLOPS of raw compute power.
Setonix will deliver 50 petaFLOPS of power, enough to keep you busy calculating for 1.5 billion years just to match what it can do in an instant.
“Supercomputers divide big problems into smaller problems that can be solved at the same time — known as parallel processing,” Mr Stickells explained.
“Our existing flagship system capacity is equivalent to about 33,000 PCs working in parallel, so a problem that would take almost a year for a single computer to solve working step by step takes our current system about 12 minutes.
“Setonix will be 30 times more powerful than that.”
Setonix will be delivered in two stages, with the first stage, due later this year, immediately increasing the computing power of the centre by 45 per cent. Phase two will be available by the middle of next year.
The system has been designed to give Australian researchers an edge in emerging research fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“On delivery, this will be the fastest public research supercomputer in Australia, potentially the Southern Hemisphere, and it is an enormous leap forward for Australian research,” Mr Stickells said.
“Setonix will help researchers around the world manage the data collected through the Square Kilometre Array. It will support our role as part of the international consortia helping advance COVID research.
“It will help us better understand climate change, the warming of oceans, the genomics of plants that can tolerate drought — or, the genome of a furry little marsupial on a remote island in WA.
“It is a project that underscores WA’s importance to international scientific collaboration.”