SA unleashes Africa's fastest supercomputer

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The Lengau is the fastest computer on the African continent with a speed of roughly one petaflop.
The Lengau is the fastest computer on the African continent with a speed of roughly one petaflop.

The Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has unveiled the fastest computer on the continent, a petaflops (PFLOPs) machine.

The 40 000-core one petaflop Lengau system is designed to open new research avenues and stimulate private-sector projects.

This is a supercomputer with processing speed capable of a thousand-trillion floating point operations per second. Floating point operations or flops are used in computing to calculate extremely long numbers.

The CHPC says with over 40 000 cores, the machine is the fastest computer on the African continent owing to its speed of roughly one petaflop (1 000 teraflops) which is 15 times faster than the previous system named Tsessebe (Setswana for antelope).

Tsessebe had a peak performance of 24.9 teraflops/second and became number 311 on the world's top 500 supercomputers and was ranked number one in Africa.

Following the history of CHPC naming its high-performance computers after the fastest animals in the country, the petaflops machine was named Lengau, which is Setswana for cheetah.

Economic boost

Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, deputy director-general for research development and support at the Department of Science and Technology, outlines the role high-performance computing played in growing the economy.

"For our country to grow at the required rate, as set out in the National Development Plan, it needs to change gear by building capacity in the production and dissemination of knowledge," he explains.

"The CHPC represents a deliberate move by this country to invest in modernising our research and development. High-performance computing and advanced data technologies are powerful tools in enhancing the competiveness of regions and nations," he adds.

Dr Happy Sithole, director of CHPC, details the journey leading to the unveiling of the new PFLOPs machine.

"When we started in 2007, we took inspiration from the fastest animals in the land and named our first high-performance computing system iQudu (Xhosa for kudu) which boasted 2.5 teraflops (which is 2.5 trillion operations per second).

"In 2009, there was increased demand for computational resources, and a new high-performance computing system dubbed the Tsessebe was launched. It boasted 24.9 teraflops and became number 311 on the TOP500 supercomputers, and ranked number one on the African continent. The system was later upgraded to 64.44 teraflops," he says.

Dell power

The Lengau is smaller in footprint than the previous system. The Dell HPC system comprises 1 039 Dell PowerEdge servers, based on Intel Xeon processors totalling 19 racks of compute nodes and storage.

It has a total Dell Storage capacity of five petabytes, and uses Dell Networking Ethernet switches and Mellanox EDR InfiniBand with a maximum interconnect speed of 56GBps.

"Dell is proud to collaborate with South Africa's CSIR on the delivery of the fastest HPC system in Africa. The Lengau system will provide access and open doors to help drive new research, new innovations and new national economic benefits," says Jim Ganthier, vice-president and general manager, Engineered Solutions, HPC and cloud at Dell.

"While Lengau benefits from the latest technology advancements, from performance to density to energy-efficiency, the most important benefit is that Lengau will enable new opportunities and avenues in research, the ability to help spur private sector growth in South Africa and, ultimately, help enable human potential."

The CHCP says the key advantages of Lengau are that it provides increased access to computer resources for users who previously had limited or no access to such resources owing to capacity constraints.

It also offers improved performance of large-scale simulations that were impossible in the past, opening completely new avenues of research, and gives greater capacity to build the private sector/non-academic user base of the CHPC for improved national economic benefit.

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