SA reseachers gain access to supercomputing


South African researchers now have the advantage of using massive computing power in their quest for new knowledge and applications.

This is as a result of a joint initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and its partners in creating the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), which is the first of its kind in the country.

The CHPC is hosted by the University of Cape Town (UCT) and managed by the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Minister of Science and Technology, Mosibudi Mangena, officially opened the facility in Cape Town this week.

"The CHPC represents an important step in the modernisation of our South African science infrastructure,' the minister said.

"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.

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.

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

Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UCT, 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.'

Johan Eksteen, Technology Research Manager at the Meraka Institute 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.'

The high speed computational infrastructure comprises of 160 compute nodes (640 processors) in a clustered architecture.

It is rated to have a peak performance of around 2.5 terraflops, or , in other words, 2.5 million million mathematical operations every second.

It is complemented by 50 terrabytes of storage space. It compares with the performance of a few thousand standard desktop personal computers.

"The CHPC operates within a multiple stakeholder environment, and is a good example of cross-pollination of a public-private partnership,' according to Dr Happy Sithole, Deputy Director of the CHPC.

"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,' Dr Sithole said.