Supercomputing centre shake-up sees executive director vacate role

Pawsey board announces change of focus for role, commences search for replacement

The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre has confirmed it is searching for a new executive director, with current chief Neil Stringfellow vacating the role.

The announcement was made to staff earlier this week at the high-performance computing facility in Kensington near Perth.

Stringfellow has served four years in the position, joining Pawsey (rebranded from iVEC in 2014) from the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre.

“The Chairman of the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre Board, John Langoulant said following an internal review and feedback from various stakeholders the Pawsey Board has decided to change the focus of the Executive Director role and will commence a global search for a new leader of the Pawsey Centre,” a Pawsey spokesperson told Computerworld.

An acting executive director will be appointed until the new leader is on board.

"On behalf of the Pawsey Board the Chair expressed his thanks to Dr Stringfellow for his work in establishing Pawsey and developing a firm foundation for its future success," the spokesperson said in a statement. “CSIRO as centre agent is working with Dr Stringfellow to identify an appropriate future role.”

Pawsey is an unincorporated joint venture between the Australian Government represented by CSIRO, the Western Australian Government, and university partners Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia.

This year, its supercomputers have helped more than 80 organisations solve a range of ‘big science’ problems, from investigating the genetic compounds of an insect that is destroying African crops, to supporting the Australian radio telescope precursors to the Square Kilometre Array.

Not so supercomputer

When it became fully operational in 2014, Pawsey’s petascale system Magnus was the 41st most powerful computer in the world.

By 2015 it had slipped to 58 on the LINPACK Benchmark Top500 ranking. The latest list, released in June, placed Magnus at 111. Magnus is due to reach the end of its operational life in 2020.

In May, the government released the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap. The roadmap, authored by Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, said the government needed to “urgently address” the HPC situation.

“An immediate priority is the need to refresh Australia’s national HPC,” the report states. “[It] underpins the most advanced analysis and simulations in research fields, such as medical science, environmental modelling, physics and astronomy and is vital to maintaining a globally competitive research system.”

Pawsey “is eager to see this implemented” the group said at the time.

In the 2017-18 Budget, the government announced the development of a Research Infrastructure Investment Plan which will “inform its consideration of the 2016 Roadmap”.

The plan is being developed by the Department of Education and Training and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science in consultation with the Commonwealth Science Council, Innovation and Science Australia and key stakeholders.

It is understood the investment plan will be released in mid-2018.

Read more: How can you improve HPC cluster utilisation?

Raijin slip

Home of Australia’s most powerful supercomputer, the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) based at the Australian National University, named its new director in July.

World renowned computational chemist and nanomaterials scientist Professor Sean Smith will replace Dr Chris Pigram, former CEO of Geoscience Australia, who has been acting interim director since June following the retirement of Professor Lindsay Botten. Smith will take up the role in January.

NCI’s supercomputer Raijin currently comes in at number 70 in the world ranking, with a performance of 1.67 Petaflops – comparable to about 40,000 desktop computers working simultaneously. When it debuted in 2012, Raijin was placed at 24.

Raijin will reach the end of its operational life next year.

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