Pinnacle blue not the IT spirit

IN the fast-paced world of information communication technology there were two issues that dominated the local industry this year – the State Government’s SPIRIT and WA-MAID initiatives and the Pinnacle Blue super computer.

By all accounts the SPIRIT (Strategic Partnering in Resourcing Information Technology) project and its shadow, WA-MAID (Western Australian Major Alliances for Industry Development), had a significant impact on the technology sector.

While officially launched in October, SPIRIT actually came into effect on July 1, when it replaced the Government’s two primary ICT contracts with Computer Sciences Corporations, the BDMW and BIPAC.

The program essentially created an even playing field for ICT suppliers and the offered potential for government departments to procure goods and services in ICT from just about any business in the State.

A spokeswoman for SPIRIT said that, since the system started operating in July, 154 small businesses, 41 medium businesses and 66 large organisations had qualified for more than 207 services defined in the SPIRIT Services Matrix.

She said a further 52 suppliers had sought qualification under the latest tender round that closed in October.

While the SPIRIT program was welcomed by much of the ICT community, its by-product WA-MAID was seen as an industry burden by the majority of sector players. The initiative aimed to provide funding for industry development by securing commitment from local contractors to industry development. If a business’ ICT sales, not profits, to government agencies amounted to $5 million over three years, it was required under WA-MAID to undertake a range of industry development activities.

For several reasons, however, the initiative has caused concern.

Criticism of WA-MAID by industry sources spoken to by WA Business News in September centred on the lack of industry consultation and unworkable nature of the program.

The State Government withdrew WA-MAID in September, before the launch of SPIRIT, calling for ICT input into the draft plan.

A Government spokeswoman said State Development Minister Clive Brown had received a range of submissions from the industry. The submission period had now closed and the Government was in a consulting and review stage.

A revised program is expected early next year.

In another headline maker, the Pinnacle Blue supercomputer project, while welcomed by the Government, failed to secure the $30 million funding required. The project has since gone back to the Government, in a revised format, seeking an additional $10 million funding. According to Pinnacle Blue spokesman Bill Marmion, the original proposal would have produced the world’s biggest computer.

“It would have, 12 months ago, been the largest computer. We were building it to start at two teraflops but with the capacity for 15 teraflops,” Mr Marmion said.

“Pinnacle Blue were a bit disappointed that, in the last 12 months, while the State Government thought it was a good idea, it didn’t come to the party. But we are optimistic that after a review of operations the Government will revisit the project.” 

The new plan has the computer sitting at o.5 teraflops, 1.5 teraflops short of the consortium’s desired outcome, which came about through private backing.

“We are finalising an agreement with a national research organisation that requires a lot of computer capacity. On the back of that agreement we will be able to kick-start the project,” Mr Marmion said.

“It will be the second biggest computer in Australia and 117th [biggest] in the world.”

But while that sounds impressive, it falls short of being able to lure researchers he said.

“Once it reaches a certain size [two teraflops] it will bring researchers,” Mr Marmion said.

He said that, of the $10 million the group was seeking from the Government, $5 million would be for infrastructure and $5 million for research use.

“That gives us the ability to go to two teraflops. We will go ahead anyway, even if it doesn’t reach two teraflops,” Mr Marmion said.

Provided current negotiations went to plan, the super computer would open in the New Year at Technology Park,” Mr Marmion said.

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