Sidney, AUSTRALIA — Sue Lowe reports that the Australian Centre for Advanced Computing and Communications (ac3) opened its doors this month in Redfern seeking paying tenants.
Ac3 is part of a national group, The Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing (APAC), which has received $47.5 million in Federal and State government funding to set up supercomputer facilities across the country.
The program got off to a bad start in October when APAC rejected the winning tenderer of its flagship supercomputer: the Sun Microsystems machine failed to meet key performance benchmarks. A re-tendering process is now due to close in December.
Ac3, based at the Redfern Technology Park, is the only member of the group that has established itself as a privately run, fully commercial entity. However, it is 57 per cent owned by the NSW Government, which contributed $12 million in seed funding.
NSW IT Minister Mr Kim Yeadon announced this week that the centre had opened with “three major business deals worth nearly $9 million”. The founding tenants are Superquant, Animated Biomedical Productions and SIRCA.
However, the $9 million figure is dependent on two of the three companies gaining further government and venture capital funding, and even then appears ambitious compared to the companies’ own expectations.
Superquant’s chairman, Dr Peter Jones, was also the founding chief executive of ac3. The company was set up three months ago to provide quantitative risk analysis to the global finance industry, and is out to raise $1 million in venture capital and is seeking an AusIndustry grant. The funds, if secured, will be spent over three years.
Also in the finance sector, the Securities Industry Research Centre of Asia Pacific (SIRCA) is an organisation that “scrubs” or checks financial data. The aim is to use ac3 to allow financial service customers to dial in and research any financial market. Roughly eight gigabytes of data would be uploaded to the database every day. However, SIRCA’s plan depends on winning one of the Federal Government’s Cooperative Research Centre grants. Up to 15 grants, worth $60 million, will be awarded next month.
SIRCA chief executive Professor Mike Aitken said $500,000 was being spent with ac3 to build a prototype system, but if the full proposal got up this would rise to “several million” over the next three years.
Animated Biomedical Productions is the only one of the three which is revenue positive. The five-year-old company specialises in 3D animation for the medical industry. More than 75 per cent of its revenue comes from exports. It will use ac3 for storage and distribution of its huge library of animated images.
ABP general Manager Mr Destry Sloane said the company was using ac3 to render images, but needed the broadband networks to be in place for electronic distribution of images. Mr Sloane said he was still waiting on costing estimates from ac3.
Ac3 chief executive Mr Philip McCrea claimed the $9 million was only “scraping the surface” of the contracts the centre was negotiating. Ac3 was also talking to companies in film post-production.
While the Sydney centre is up and running, it will be next year at the earliest before the promised job creation benefits of supercomputing reach regional NSW.
Ac3 was set up as the hub of a network stretching to Wollongong, Bathurst, western Sydney and Newcastle. Premier Carr had predicted it could create 2000 jobs.
While Bathurst has “a modest supercomputer”, Newcastle, Wollongong and western Sydney will not get theirs until 2001. And funding for the crucial broadband network that will connect them all together, and allow them to be used interactively, is still to be found.
“We can’t afford the funding to handle the communication links with the regional centres,” admitted Mr McCrea, who hopes that the funding to set up the high-speed network may come from the Federal Government’s $40 million BITS program.
“The regional centres will only be able to benefit if there’s decent bandwidth between them and us,” he said. The tender to build the networks closes next month.
Who chips in what to APAC
Federal Govt – $19.5m
NSW Govt – $12m
Queensland Govt – $10m
Victorian Govt – $6m
WA Govt – $2-3m
SA Govt – $1m-$2m expected
Tasmanian Govt – $1m-$2m expected
Research groups and institutions – the rest