SA's supercomputer among the best

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South Africa hosts one of the top 500 fastest computers in the world, and the best on the continent, at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), of the CSIR, in Cape Town.

The CHPC's Tsessebe Sun Constellation System was named one of the world's fastest supercomputers, taking 329th place in the international Top 500 list, and the top spot in Africa. This comes shortly after the upgrade of the machine in October this year from a Linpack performance score of 25 Teraflops to 61 Teraflops.

The announcement was made at the Super Computing Conference, in Seattle, US, on Tuesday, where members of the world's high-performance computing industry congregated. Japan's 'K Computer' claimed the top spot for the second time in a row, after it was first revealed in Hamburg, Germany, in June.

Installed at the RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, in Kobe, Japan, the K Computer achieved an impressive 10.51 Petaflops on the Linpack benchmark using 705.024 SPARC64 processing cores.

League of Nations

Acting executive director of the CSIR Meraka Institute, Laurens Cloete, says SA's achievement confirms the country's position in the League of Nations with supercomputing capability.

“This capability includes commissioning, hosting and operating world-class, high-performance computing systems. With this upgrade, we have also shown that we can do more than simply buy something and plug it in, and rather that we have the engineering expertise to integrate components from different suppliers to implement a high-performance computing system,” he says.

Cloete adds that as the demands from science and industry for solving computationally intensive problems increase, it is important that SA has local expertise in the underlying technology.

“Equally important is the modelling, algorithmic and relevant, especially parallel, programming ability that allows us to solve important problems in diverse fields such as climate change, material science, medicine, etc. In this regard, the CHPC has been supporting teams across the country, from Cape Town to Polokwane, through a number of flagship projects that provide teams with seed funding, time on the CHPC platforms, and support in using the platforms and software codes.”

The system is made up of Oracle's Sunblade X6275 blades with IntelNehalem 8 core processors and Westmere 12 core processors, as well as Dell's Poweredge C6100 servers with Intel Westmere 12 core processors.

Peak performance

The Tsessebe has a theoretical peak performance of 74 Teraflops. The CHPC's Tsessebe Cluster last held a place in the Top 500 list in May 2010 (ranking 461th), an announcement made at the International Super Computing Conference, in Hamburg, and still remains Africa's fastest supercomputer.

African researchers from academia and industry now have a facility that is able to process over 60 trillion cycles of instruction per second, enabling the CHPC to enhance significant research, address grand challenges, and develop computational research into a viable mode alongside experiment and theory across all academic disciplines.

This rating of CHPC's supercomputer comes as SA bolsters its commitment to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, a goal for which the centre has been working to ensure that it is fully equipped to process the enormous data rates that will be produced by the radio telescope.

The Top 500 listing is evidence of CHPC and the Department of Science and Technology's (DST's) commitment to ensure that SA wins the right to host the EUR1.5 billion SKA telescope. The CHPC is an initiative of the DST and is managed by the CSIR.

Cloete concludes: “We plan to do a further upgrade to the current machine, but the real excitement is around our next-generation machine, which is still in the planning phases and which will be commissioned in a year or two. Watch this space.”

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