Supercomputer proposal sparks debate

OPINIONS are divided on whether WA has a need for its own super-computer.

The WA Government is considering a proposal from a number of information technology companies, including IBM, to purchase a supercomputer for the State.

The consortium is understood to be proposing a computer capable of carrying out up to one trillion calcu-lations per second.

Some estimates put the cost of the supercomputer as high as $100 million, although some Government sources suggest $30 million is a more accurate figure.

One suggestion is that the Government rents out excess time on the computer to recoup its costs.

However, the market for supercomputers is very limited.

University of WA information management and marketing department head Dick Mizerski said it was very hard to make supercomputers pay for themselves.

“They are very expensive things to keep. The programming and maintenance costs are very high,” Professor Mizerski said.

“There wouldn’t be that many clients that would make use of this.”

However, Professor Mizerski said WA’s resources industry might be able to make use of such computing power.

Association of Minerals and Exploration Companies chief executive George Savell said he had seen the proposal put to Government and believed it would be of benefit to the exploration industry.

“The proposal has a plus as long as the costs aren’t too high,” he said.

“At the high-tech end of our industry we need big computer capacity for problem solving.

“If we were able to establish a computer of that type in WA we would be able to draw clientele from around Australia.”

However, it is understood that most of the high-end processing required by WA’s exploration industry is already done on supercomputers based in other countries.

Institute of Public Affairs executive director, and former WA Government department of economic development policy director, Mike Nahan said the super-computer proposal was flawed.

“You can rent access to a number of supercomputers around the world via the Internet – you don’t need to own one,” he said.

“There are firms that specialise in renting out space on supercomputers, so locating one in WA will bring no advantage whatsoever.

“When I worked with the Government in the 1980s we always had the problems of computer people trying to sell us computers as economic development tools.”

A spokeswoman for State Development Minister Clive Brown said the Minister had been involved with the supercomputer project.

“The Government has said it will consult with industry and the IT sectors and put the proposal through due diligence,” she said.

“The Government will make a decision when it feels it has sufficient information to make a decision.”

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