4 mins read 04 Mar 2021

Quicker, Quokka! New Pawsey Centre Supercomputer

A new supercomputer is coming to the Pawsey Centre in Western Australia, named after a national icon - the Quokka. The new supercomputer will be 30 times more powerful than its predecessors.

The Galaxy supercomputer at the Pawsey Centre, one of the predecessors to Setonix. Credit: Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Western Australia (WA) has unveiled a new supercomputer named after the friendliest marsupial - the Quokka. In a massive upgrade from their previous system, the Pawsey Centre will house Australia’s - and possibly the southern hemisphere’s - fastest public research supercomputer.

“It is a project that underscores WA’s importance to international scientific collaboration,” said Pawsey Centre Executive Director Mark Stickells.

The supercomputer will be built using the Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE) Cray Ex supercomputer, and will be 30 times more powerful than Pawsey’s previous system, the supercomputers Magnus and Galaxy. 

The Happiest Marsupial

Quokkas are known as the happiest animals in the world. Credit: Ena Music, CC BY-SA 4.0., via Wikimedia Commons.

The new Pawsey supercomputer is named Setonix, the scientific name of the Quokka, which is known as the world’s happiest animal due to its cheeky grin. Located only in a very small region on the south west coast of the state, including Rottnest Island, these rare creatures have become an icon of Western Australia. 

“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,” said Mr Stickells. 

“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.”

“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,” Mr Stickells continued.

A New Standard of Supercomputer

One of the predecessors to the Setonix supercomputer - Magnus. Credit: Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.

The power of the Pawsey Centre’s new supercomputer is measured in petaFLOPS - the number of floating point operations that can be conducted per second. Setonix is so powerful that at 50 petaFLOPS of power, you would have to do one calculation every second for 1.5 billion years to match it. 

“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.”

With that kind of power, Setonix is set to tackle some big tasks. One of these is managing data collected by existing instruments such as the CSIRO ASKAP or MWA telescope, and eventually, working towards supporting the Square Kilometre Array, Australia’s first mega-science project

Last year the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre was one of the recipients of a multi-million dollar funding package from the Australian Federal Government and the Western Australian State Government. Pawsey also hosted an event early last year called “Pawsey After Hours: Making Data Accessible to Students” for teachers to explore how students can use real-life data from places such as Pawsey to support science and technology education. Data from the Setonix supercomputer could also contribute to similar endeavours. 

“It will [also] 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,” said Mr Stickells. 

The first stage of the Setonix supercomputer will be delivered later this year. 

We acknowledge the Wajarri Yamaji peoples as the traditional owners of the Square Kilometre Array site, and the Whadjuk Nyoongar peoples as the traditional owners of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre site.