SA gets first supercomputer

23 May 2007

South African researchers will now have a better chance in their quest to find new knowledge and scientific applications, with the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) giving them access to massive amounts of computing power.

The centre, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology, is hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s Meraka Institute.

This new facility will be the hub for computational research support and resource supply in Africa.

“The CHPC represents an important step in the modernisation of our South African science infrastructure,” said Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena during the official opening of the facility this week.

“I am confident that this will ensure that we have the requisite capacity to generate new knowledge and cement South Africa’s position as an attractive destination for science and technology endeavours.”

The centre, which started operating early this year, is already being used to carry out three projects research projects. One such project focuses on climate change, undertaken by UCT Professors Bruce Hewitson and Frank Shillington.

UCT’s vice-chancellor and principal, Professor Njabulo Ndebele said, “As a leading research-led university in South Africa, UCT is proud to be involved with this significant project that has far-reaching implications for research that impacts local and global societies.”

North-West University Professor Marius Potgieter is using the CHPC for his research into cosmology, while University of Limpopo Professor Phuti Ngoepe is conducting a study into enhancing the cost effectiveness and energy efficiency of high-energy density, solid-state lithium-ion batteries.

Other typical commercial applications for the CHPC are in the pharmaceutical, chemical and petroleum, software development, mining, automobile and financial and commerce industries.

The Meraka Institute’s technology research manager, Johan Eksteen said, “The facilities at the CHPC provide impetus for researchers throughout southern Africa to engage in a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to solve complex computationally intensive problems that will make a real difference.”

According to CHPC deputy director, Dr Happy Sithole, the centre operates within a multiple stakeholder environment, and is a good example of a public-private partnership.

“The CHPC environment enhances the output of research projects in many ways. In addition to facilitating the development of on-site research laboratories, it also strengthens collaboration with international research communities and promotes partnerships with science councils, research initiatives and experimentalists,” he said.

High-performance computing
South Africa’s first true supercomputer for scientific research is a result of a R10-million deal struck between the CHPC and IBM in November 2006

The IBM-made supercomputer features 160 clustered compute nodes, each equipped with two dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Opteron 2.6 gigahertz processors and 16 gigabytes of memory, while the system has a shared data storage capacity of 50 terabytes.

Eight of the cluster nodes are fitted with ClearSpeed accelerator cards.

The supercomputer is said to have a peak performance of around 2.5 terraflops, or, in other words, 2.5-million million mathematical operations every second.

Besides supplying the system, IBM is also contributing two IBM Unix shared memory computers for training, to help establish ClearSpeed expertise at the centre and to collaborate in application domain focussed research.

In addition, IBM is also to offer beta testing of other new and emerging technologies, and to provide access to IBM BlueGene, Cell and Deep Visualisation technologies.

“We are very excited about this milestone in the establishment of a significant addition to South Africa’s scientific infrastructure,” the Department of Science and Technology’s Bethuel Sehlapelo said during the signing of that deal.

“It will enable skills development in the cutting-edge field of high performance computing, which in addition to enhancing our scientific outputs will offer many downstream benefits for local industry and commerce.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter and BuaNews

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