Ashley Chew – HPC & Systems Administrator, Pawsey

Ashley has more than 18 years’ experience in the supercomputing industry, beginning as a system administrator/programmer at The University of Western Australia. He joined iVEC in 2011, when he was drafted into commissioning and looking after the Fornax supercomputer at UWA, as part of the original ‘Pawsey Project’. Fornax was a precursor cluster that preceded the commissioning of Magnus, Galaxy and Zeus, and the development of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre as we know it today.

Ashley is now a supercomputing system administrator at Pawsey, where he uses his years of Linux and Unix experience to look after the high-performance computing (HPC) facilities.

“Working at Pawsey means working in teams – the number of different skills required means people are inherently reliant on others to achieve common goals,” explained Ashley. “It’s amazing to work with the latest technology, but the buzz comes from seeing the researchers trying to solve problems using these HPC systems that just weren’t possible to approach before.”

“It’s really rewarding to get to know our users, meet face-to-face, and see outcomes of research that are beneficial for everyone. It’s unfortunate that as our user base has expanded, many of them are offsite and the interaction is necessarily more remote. I’ve always enjoyed having an open-door policy, but it’s hard for many of our users to just drop in. The door is still open though!”

Looking after the users is obviously Ashley’s first priority. His average day always starts with addressing any user questions or issues that have arisen. Only then does he move to project work aimed at enhancing the supercomputing systems he manages, to make them even more usable for the researchers.

His career highlights centre around providing a first-class computing facility for Australia. “I’m very proud to have been a part of the original Pawsey Project, specifically Pawsey 1B aka Fornax, because we showcased that Western Australia really could deliver a world-class HPC system. And Fornax became the precursor to the main systems in place at Pawsey now. More recently I’m also proud to have been a part of the Australia-wide Nectar Cloud program, helping to provide flexible, scalable computing power and related infrastructure online to researchers across Australia. Users can store, access and run their data any time – from their desktop.”

“I think the technology will eventually converge, where HPC, cloud and data will be provided by one platform, and where resources can be allocated dynamically based on user demand. Given that we consider three-year-old systems ‘old’ here at Pawsey, I can guarantee that the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre will be nothing like it is today within ten years!”

Ashley Chew - Supercomputing Systems Administrator