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Setonix: The fastest supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere


The first phase of what will be the fastest public research supercomputer in the Southern Hemisphere, Setonix, has been unveiled at WA’s Pawsey Centre, resplendent in artwork that reflects the skies it will help researchers to unlock. 

Setonix is a HPE Cray EX supercomputer named after the quokka, and now stands in the white space at the Pawsey Centre next to the Magnus and Galaxy supercomputers. 

When fully operational, the $48 million supercomputer will be 30 times more powerful than the existing two systems combined, with the equivalent power of 150,000 laptops working in parallel. 

Through Setonix, Australia is on the cusp of the biggest computing power advance in the nation’s history, Pawsey Centre executive director Mark Stickells said. 

“This new system will accelerate discovery and enable more universities, scientific institutions and researchers — as well as our partners in industry and business — to access next-generation computing speed and data analysis,” Stickells said. 

“The urgent problems of the 21st century demand analysis and action sooner than can be achieved by traditional computing. Supercomputing is the path to understanding climate change, tracking the growth of a viral pandemic or providing pieces to puzzles we haven’t yet begun to solve.  

“Setonix marks a step change in Pawsey’s supercomputing firepower, and this additional capacity will allow more researchers and industries to access next-generation computing speed and data analysis.”  

Stage one will see a team of early adopter researchers run code to fine tune Setonix before new allocations start in 2022. 

Pawsey’s supercomputer, Setonix, is adorned with Margaret Whitehurst’s painting and the image of a quokka. ©Pawsey Supercomputing Centre

Stage one will increase the centre’s computing power by 45 per cent. When Stage two is installed in mid-2022, Setonix will be able to operate at 50 petaFLOPS – the number of floating-point operations that can be conducted per second. It is the equivalent of three times the combined power of Australia’s current Tier 1 public research supercomputing facilities. 

To match what one petaFLOPS computer system can do in just one second, you would have to perform one calculation every second for 31,688,765 years.  

“Supercomputers divide big problems into smaller problems that can be solved at the same time — known as parallel processing,” Stickells said.  

“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.” 

Wajarri Yamatji visual artist Margaret Whitehurst produced the artwork for Setonix’s casing, inspired by the stars that shine over Wajarri country in Western Australia’s Mid-West.  

“Margaret’s design is a beautiful representation of a tradition of Aboriginal astronomy that dates back thousands of years,” Stickells said.  

“Margaret and the Wajarri people are the traditional owners of CSIRO’s Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory in Western Australia, where one part of the world’s largest radio astronomy observatory, the Square Kilometre Array, will be built.  

“Setonix will process vast amounts of radio telescope data from SKA-related projects, and many other projects of national and international significance that we are proud to support. Setonix is a dramatic leap forward for Australian science.”  

For more information, click here. 

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