Africa's fastest supercomputer unveiled in Cape Town

Super computer at the CHPC. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Super computer at the CHPC. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Cape Town – The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has officially launched the fastest supercomputer in Africa.

The latest Dell machine cost more than R100m and allows Cape Town's Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) to leap-frog in the global high performance computing stakes.

“If you look at the knowledge that is being produced that goes into other different areas that affect our economy, the benefits are quite significant,” Dr Happy Sithole, director of the CHPC, told Fin24.

“Worldwide, when I looked at the top 500 supercomputing list, and obviously it must be updated in a week’s time. With the current list without anything moving we are sitting just below 100 in the top 500,” said Sithole.

“We’ve shifted about 200 places up with this computing power,” he added.

The machine has 40 000 cores, which is equivalent to the power of 40 000 laptops connected by a 56Gbps (Gigabit per second) network.

“The project is directly funded by the department of science and technology and when we started the installation of this super computer, already some users started using this super computer,” Sithole said.

The new super computer will be operational in academic areas of bioinformatics by the University of Cape Town, CSIR climate modelling, material sciences by the University of Limpopo and astronomy as part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

“As you might know, the SKA is a long lead project and this will also help us in terms of the design of the computing infrastructure that will be used for the SKA,” said Sithole.

At least 30% of the CPHC resources will be dedicated to non-academic research focused on industrial, agricultural and commercial areas.

“Our strategy in this case is that no super computer will run out of being utilised even if it’s no longer fast enough. We look at development of high performance computing at universities,” said Sithole.

Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore, dictates that computing power will double every 18 to 24 months, but Sithole said that the CHPC had a longer term view of the new super computer.

“Our strategy is to work on a three year cycle, so we’re exactly following Moore’s Law to the core. At least in three years this super computer will still be world class, we will still be doing serious computations.”

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