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SA to host supercomputer

SA to host supercomputer

South Africa is likely to be the home of the next record-breaking supercomputer, with Exabyte capacity and compute power in the Exaflops (floating point instructions per second) range.

Dr Happy Sithole, from the Centre for High Performance Computing, says this new and powerful supercomputer will be necessary to process the enormous volumes of complex data produced by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project.

The centre currently runs a supercomputer that runs at 61,4Teraflops. Although it is in the world’s top 500 supercomputers, it is rapidly falling behind the global curve. And this computer is currently running at 93% capacity, Dr Sithole says.

“The world’s next biggest supercomputer will be in South Africa, and it will have Exascale capability,” he adds.

South Africa is no stranger to using its supercomputer capacity for big science projects. It currently analyses climate change, mineral beneficiation, bio-informatics and has designed both the new SKA dish and participated in 3D animated movies. “We have used the Centre for HPC to solve real-life problems,” Dr Sithole says.

The centre has also participated in large-scale science projects like CERN, and performed 500 jobs per day for ALICE experiment that was responsible for discovering the Higgs Boson.

The SKA brings a new set of challenges to HPC, he adds. The telescopes are being designed to have 100-times more sensitivity and this adds an enormous amount of data that needs to be processes and analysed. “How do we deal with these large amounts of data, and navigate through it?”

Using sensitive radio telescopes and powerful computer processing, Dr Sithole explains that scientists will be able to study the evolution of galaxies.

“Because the large scale dishes, there is a large amount of information coming in very fast, which needs fast data processing, which can’t be done with the computing we have today,” he says.

SKA 1 anticipates data requirements of 100 Petaflops and up, increasing with SKA 2 to Exabytes of data requiring Exaflops of processing power.

“I see this as an opportunity for South Africa,” Dr Sithole says. “It is a challenge that is not just for the IT industry but for academia and government as well – in fact, for all of us.”

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