The launch of the Blue Gene for Africa (BG4A) initiative at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in Cape Town today marks a significant milestone in South Africa's expanding cyber-infrastructure.
The Blue Gene/P system is capable of 14 trillion individual calculations per second, and is five times more powerful than the fastest research computer currently on the African continent, the Blue Gene/L in Egypt. This donation has given impetus to the Blue Gene for Africa initiative, which has three interlinking thrusts: infrastructure; promoting collaborative science, through flagships, with a major impact on the African continent; and human capital development (HCD) – building of high-end computing capacity in Africa.
Potential projects which could benefit from this initiative are environmental simulations (water management, climate and atmospheric simulations), plant genomics and agricultural modeling, energy, information analytics and complex systems modeling (such as business systems, risk management, financial models, transportation management and health).
Frontrunners among the flagship projects, which are subject to a formal review process, include the following: A mineral beneficiation project, which will focus first on manganese, and then on other minerals; a project on global change impact, with a strong focus on climate, specifically the large-scale impact of climate change in certain regions of the African continent; and a project on food security and research into the nutritional values of cassava root.
The donation of the supercomputer by IBM follows an extensive series of meetings in 2007 on economic development opportunities in Africa convened by IBM as part of its Global Innovation Outlook. IBM has held eight Global Innovation Outlook (GIO) events for Africa in countries including Kenya, Senegal, Beijing, the US and France. The donation is part of a $20-million investment in sub-Saharan Africa announced by IBM in December 2007.
The BG4A is hosted by the CHPC, an initiative funded by the Department of Science and Technology, and managed by the Meraka Institute of the CSIR.
Dr Mark Dean, IBM Fellow and Vice President: Technical Strategy and Worldwide Operations, emphasises the importance of research and development in giving organisations and countries a competitive edge.
"Africa needs R&D to spur further socio-economic development. Investment in HCD as well as infrastructure is therefore crucial. Blue Gene is IBM's contribution to sparking scientific and socio-economic progress on the continent. Research infrastructure is key to developmental input. There is going to be some fascinating work done on this computer. It will not only contribute to the advancement of science in the Africa region but also help grow economies in the region. This tool will enable people to make a difference."