Australian supercomputer 'Taingiwilta' comes online this year with [REDACTED] inside

Exec in charge laments that in defence HPC down under, you can pay a veteran expert a mere web dev's salary

Australia's Defence Science Technology Group will bring a supercomputer online in the second half of 2024, but when The Register asked for information on its specs the only response we received was "Next question."

We were warned that such a response was in the offing by Kristina Johnson, director of supercomputing strategic engagement for the group, who opened her talk at Supercomputing Asia 2024 in Sydney yesterday by remarking that her slides had been vetted and marked "Official" – Australia's equivalent of an unclassified document.

But the talk described a classified supercomputer, thus she was unable to address certain questions about Taingiwilta* – Australia's new toy.

Johnson was therefore unable to address our questions about Taingiwilta's processors, GPUs, core count, or any other technical matters.

She did allow that the machine's main task for the foreseeable future will be computational fluid dynamics, and revealed it will run software written as part of the US Department of Defense's Computational Research and Engineering Acquisition Tools and Environments (CREATE) program.

She also spoke of the very complex audit controls needed to run the machine, to ensure that workloads of different sensitivities can coexist in a multi-tenant environment without the wrong data or code ending up in the wrong hands (or eyeballs). Taingiwilta can support unclassified or secret workflows, and Johnson explained that avoiding the overclassification of materials is something her team works hard to achieve.

Vetting open source code is another task her team needs to perform before it runs on defence-owned hardware, but Johnson warned "we can't talk about that." The Register cannot therefore rule out that XKCD 2347 applies.

A question from the audience asked Johnson if researchers can publish research they develop after putting Taingiwilta to work. The director admitted that's probably not going to be possible given the secrecy surrounding the machine – which makes it hard to get staff for defence HPC.

The whole HPC sector, she added, struggles to compete with the rest of the tech industry for people – because high pay and rapid promotions aren't on offer.

Government salaries don't help: Johnson revealed that her wage is comparable to that of a full-stack web developer, yet she has longer experience and works with more complex and esoteric tech.

One thing that might make defence HPC more attractive is the chance to publish research.

Which brought a resigned look, as Johnson realized she'd gone full circle.

Johnson also suggested that early career techies in Australia may not be cut out for work in HPC anyway, based on some of her experiences in job interviews.

"They die when asked for difference between interpreted and compiled languages," she explained. ®

* Means "powerful" in the language of the Kaurna people, an indigenous nation that pre-existed the Australian city of Adelaide and surrounds.

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