Supercomputing is WA’s secret superpower

20/04/2022 - 15:29


Save articles for future reference.

When it comes to predicting the industries that will drive the global economy in the next decade and beyond, there is one simple rule.

Supercomputing is WA’s secret superpower
Pawsey executive director Mark Stickells.

When it comes to predicting the industries that will drive the global economy in the next decade and beyond, there is one simple rule: to out-compute is to out-compete.

Industries that are data-rich, that make decisions quickly, and can use data to create value, will be the employers and economic drivers of the future.

Those with capacity will flourish, and that’s why investment in high performance supercomputing matters. 

High performance computing — or HPC — is the secret weapon needed to transform industry. 

A supercomputer contains hundreds of thousands of computer processors that work simultaneously to solve data-intensive problems. Whether it is accelerating the science on climate change, optimising the generation of renewable energy, mapping the genome of a virus that threatens our species, or enabling new advances in astronomy, HPC sits at the heart of each discovery.

And while the focus of HPC is often on the new industries and innovation it enables, the same infrastructure is transforming more traditional sectors. HPC has already made significant contributions to the everyday activities of industries like healthcare; for example, translating a mammogram 30 times faster than ever before, as well as in the astronomy field, searching for stars over 13 billion years old.

In fact, CSIRO’s Data61 and Alpha Beta have found that half the economic benefit from digital innovation comes from the adoption of new technology across existing industries.

To understand the value that HPC delivers to WA, it’s worth looking at how our major industries are poised to transform.

We have always been a state blessed with natural resources, resources that have powered an export-led economy and lifted the wealth of our nation. 

However, it is vital that we capitalise on the talent and investment our major industries attract and find new ways to create value via downstream processing and leverage expertise that is often second to none.

In mining, for example, Western Australia leads the way in exploring and identifying minerals, managing remote operations over vast distances, and using new data-intensive technologies like automation and robotics.

Those same skills will soon give us the capacity to support industries operating well beyond our terrestrial boundaries, and into the frontier of space.

In energy, our reserves of oil and gas have seen the development of offshore and onshore infrastructure, and a thriving export market accounting for around 21 per cent of the world’s liquid natural gas exports.

That infrastructure and industry expertise will now be used to develop WA as a renewable energy hub, supporting the global transition towards a net-zero carbon economy.

In agriculture, our ability to coax crops from dry and depleted soils has been a remarkable success story.

That science, and ongoing discoveries in genomics and climate adaptation, will help us feed the world in the future.

Any one of these industry transitions would be revolutionary. To undertake all three — in food production, renewable energy and remote operations and similar changes right across the industry landscape — infrastructure and data expertise that can support this kind of advance is needed.

That’s where HPC comes in.

HPC helps optimise the use of scarce resources and minimise wastage by testing multiple scenarios and analysing data at scale.

Through our facilities at Pawsey, for example, we have helped accelerate the introduction of better gas turbines and more efficient use of solar.

We have modelled ocean waves for future energy sources and analysed the DNA of drought-resistant crops.

We are part of the world’s most exciting space exploration and astronomy discoveries and play a vital role in the investigation of diseases that threaten humankind.

We also act as a magnet for the scientists, researchers, innovators and digital technicians, software and system engineers WA will need to continue to adapt and benefit from HPC into the future.

Scientific research has driven advances in computing from the earliest days of silicon chip design in the middle of the 20th Century through to the present day. Supercomputing is at the leading edge of computing architecture, network infrastructure and data science.

As WA’s supercomputing capacity grows, so does the economic and social benefit for industry of having talented technical, strategic and research experts close to home.

Pawsey is vital infrastructure and expertise that supports WA’s brighter, supercomputer-powered future. The ‘secret’ power of our supercomputer and the impact of our team of experts is one I’m proud to share.


Subscription Options