4 mins read 16 Feb 2022

Swinburne’s $18.5 million supercomputer gets the green light

Swinburne University of Technology has been given the green light to design and install an $18.5 million supercomputer capable of processing over a million times that of a regular computer.

The supercomputer will have a processing capacity that is millions of times beyond that of a regular computer. Image: Carl Knox, OzGrav/Swinburne.

Swinburne’s supercomputing capabilities are about to get a super-charged upgrade. A new, space-focused supercomputer will be the largest available to Victorian researchers and comes with an \$18.5 million price tag. Funding for the design and installation of the supercomputer includes the Victoria Government chipping in \$5.2 million along with funding and expertise from Commonwealth Government, Swinburne University, and its partners. 

The new supercomputer will be an upgrade to the existing OzSTAR supercomputer, one of Australia's fastest supercomputers when it was installed in 2017. 

Professor Jarrod Hurley from Swinburne’s Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing said that the exact specifications of the supercomputer will depend on what emerges from the tender process.

“We expect to have the new supercomputer installed and operational by the end of 2022, providing all goes smoothly with hardware availability and shipping," he said. “We are keen to at least double the current performance and expect that might land us around the top 200 of comparable facilities around the world.”

The new supercomputer will have a processing capacity that is millions of times beyond that of a regular computer, supporting the massive amounts of data generated in fields such as astronomy, medical technology, economics and environmental modelling. It will allow astronomers to monitor space in unprecedented detail, supporting the development of new space technologies and improving understanding of gravitational waves, black holes and galaxy formation.

The supercomputer will also be used for understanding how the brain operates through analysis of brain data by neuroscientists and neuroimaging experts, as well as environmental research such as bushfire detection, and natural disaster planning and response.

Swinburne’s Chief Scientist, Professor Virginia Kilborn said that Swinburne was delighted to be building the new supercomputer acknowledging the Victorian Government’s support.

“This supercomputer will allow Victoria to remain at the forefront of Swinburne’s world-leading research areas, including space, sustainability, medical technology and more.”

“By bringing researchers and industry together with cutting-edge technology, the supercomputer will support new discoveries and ways of thinking that can help create a better world,” said Professor Kilborn.

“Supercomputers are at the heart of modern science and engineering challenges’, explains project leader Professor Matthew Bailes, who leads both the Swinburne Data Science Institute and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav).

“This crucial investment will enable Swinburne and Victoria to compete both nationally and internationally until the end of the decade.”

The Victorian Government’s \$5.2 million funding comes from their Higher Education State Investment Fund, \$350 million funding available to support universities recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The project is expected to create 65 jobs across data, research and software and 20 PhD positions. There will also be opportunities for 250 students from primary to university level through STEM outreach programs as well as partnership opportunities with industry and start-ups.

Victorian Minister for Training and Skills, Ms Gayle Tierney, toured the campus where the supercomputer will be housed. 

“We’re continuing to back our local universities to ensure Victoria remains at the forefront of innovation and to help the sector emerge strongly from the pandemic,” she said.

Woi Wurrung name and design

The new supercomputer will feature Woi Wurrung name and design on its façade to reflect the local Aboriginal connection and knowledge of the Southern night sky. In partnership with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, Swinburne’s supercomputer will also develop new educational partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth and communities in Victoria and beyond.

Dr Sadie Heckenberg, Academic Director (Indigenous Research) and a Senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Fellow within Swinburne’s Moondani Toombadool Centre, said the supercomputer’s Woi Wurrung name and design was an important way to connect the new supercomputer with the local Wurundjeri community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges.  

“At Swinburne, we strive to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges into every element of what we do and work to ensure that our partnerships with Indigenous communities are co-designed and create long-lasting, beneficial outcomes.

“I’m excited that, through the leadership of the Moondani Toombadool Centre and close consultation with the Wurundjeri Elders and community, the new supercomputer will clearly demonstrate this ongoing commitment.”