Jan 19, 2012
SA’s supercomputer back in world top-500 after R9m upgradeBack
Seattle|Cambridge High Performance Computing Centre|Dell|Eclipse Holdings|Intel|Oracle|Renewable Energy|Africa|Egypt|Japan|South Africa|Tanzania|United States|Square Kilometre Array|Performance Computing|LINPACK|Happy Sithole|Naledi Pandor|Seymour Cray|Gigabit|Molecular Modeling|Parallel Processing
© Reuse this
The CHPC is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology, and is driven by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
The South African supercomputer now takes the 329th place in the international top-500 list, says CHPC director Dr Happy Sithole.
This ranking was confirmed in November, at the Super Computing Conference in Seattle, in the US. This followed shortly after a three-week upgrade of the machine in October, which saw the performance, as measured by the LINPACK Benchmark system, improve from 25 teraflops to 61 teraflops.
A teraflop refers to operating speed – and not storage capacity, which uses the byte-scale – with one teraflop equal to one-trillion floating point operations per second. This is largely similar to the older term of instructions per second. (To put this in perspective, consider that standard household computers and laptops operate at between one and seven gigaflops, or one-billion floating point operations per second.)
Shortly after its launch by Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, in September 2009, the Tsessebe Cluster was ranked at number 311 on the top-500 list. As a consequence of fast developments in the supercomputing arena, machines generally do not stay in the rankings for very long and by May 2010 the CHPC machine had already fallen to 461st.
The CHPC's Tsessebe system is made up of Oracle’s Sunblade X6275 blades with Intel Nehalem 8 core processors and Westmere 12 core processors, as well as Dell’s Poweredge C6100 servers with Intel Westmere 12 core processors.
The upgrade to this complex machine was performed by a CHPC team, in collaboration with the Cambridge High Performance Computing Centre, Dell and Eclipse Holdings.
The decision to upgrade the CHPC system was taken to cater for the increased demand for high performance computing by various universities and science council teams, bringing utilisation to nearly 100%, explains Sithole.
Having a world-class supercomputer is also part of South Africa’s commitment to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, in order to process the enormous data rates that will be produced by this project’s radio telescopes, should South Africa win the bid to host the E1.5-billion SKA project.
“Getting back in the top-500 was a bonus,” says Sithole.
The CHPC system is available to researchers across the country through the 10 gigabit-per-second South African National Research Network. Industry also has access to the supercomputer.
Supercomputers are typically used for high calculation-intensive tasks, such as problems around weather forecasting, climate research, molecular modeling and quantum physics.
For example, supercomputers have been used abroad to help understand certain diseases by computing the complex process behind protein folding. Proteins that fold incorrectly can cause illness. If scientists can understand what leads to misfolds, new treatments or cures might be possible. Supercomputers have also helped researchers improve the efficiency of combustion engines, especially for aircraft.
South Africa requires more supercomputers than the systems – some universities have small supercomputers – currently available, says Sithole.
“The availability of more supercomputers in South Africa and Africa as a whole is paramount to finding solutions to the problems that plague the region, such as climate change and the impact it has on Africa’s agriculture, HIV/Aids, malaria and the implementation of renewable energy.
“South Africa’s economy also exerts pressures on industry to continuously grow its business to maintain its edge in the market. Computational research, used together with conventional research, offers remarkably speedy research solutions that are neither labour intensive, nor exorbitant,” he notes.
“This will be a new system and not an upgrade, and it will ensure we can allow for more users around the country,” says Sithole.
One challenge with building any supercomputer is the fact that computer chips change every 18 months.
Supercomputers also require specific working environments.
This environment must be programmed and controlled by a building management system, especially in terms of temperature and relative humidity.
The optimal humidity operating range is between 45% and 55%. Room temperature has to be 20 ˚C.
Supercomputers have more than one brain, or processor. These processors run different parts of the same computer programme concurrently (parallel processing), resulting in significantly faster compute times.
Parallel processing is used when many complex calculations are required, such as in climate or earthquake modelling.
Supercomputers have ten times the speed and memory compared to a personal computer, and are made up of many smaller computers – sometimes thousands of them – connected via fast local network connections.
The fastest supercomputers currently operating do so on the petaflop scale – that is one quadrillion operations per second, explains Sithole.
The world’s fastest supercomputer is Japan’s K computer, running at 10 petaflops, he adds.
Talk is now of achieving a system capable of exaflop operation by around 2018. An exaflop is a quintillion floating point operations per second – that is a number with 18 zeros.
The history of supercomputers is closely associated with Seymour Cray, who designed the first officially designated supercomputers in the late 1960s.
In the initial stages supercomputers were the entities of large government agencies and government-funded institutions. They were carefully controlled since they were used for nuclear weapons research. They were also a source of national pride, and symbolic of technical leadership, says Sithole.
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter© Reuse this Comment Guidelines
Updated 30 minutes ago International freight volumes are expected to grow by 17% over the next five years, indicating a conservative recovery in global economic activity and world trade volumes, the International Air Transport Association (Iata) Airline Industry Forecast 2013-2017 revealed...
Updated 41 minutes ago JSE-listed Hudaco Industries on Thursday announced that it had acquired the assets and liabilities of imported battery distributor Specialised Battery Systems (SBS). The final total consideration payable by Hudaco would depend on the company’s average profits over...
Updated 1 hour 46 minutes ago Independent renewable-energy company Mainstream Renewable Power, which is in the process of developing a sizeable South African portfolio, has launched a new capital-raising unit designed to secure competitive financing for wind and solar projects. Known as...
Recent Research Reports
Defence 2013: A review of South Africa's defence industry (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2013 Defence Report examines South Africa’s defence industry, with particular focus on the key players in the sector, the innovations that have come out of the defence sector, local and export demand, South Africa’s controversial...
Road and Rail 2013: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2013 Report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move...
Liquid Fuels 2013 (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2013 Liquid Fuels report examines South Africa’s liquid fuels market, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing,...
Projects in Progress - Second Edition (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s second Projects in Progress supplement considers some of the major project developments under way, including high-profile energy and transport projects, as well as a few of the lower-profile public and private developments. What remains apparent is...
Water 2013: A review of South Africa’s water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2013 report considers the aforementioned issues, not only in the South African context, but also in the African and global context, and examines the issues of water and sanitation, water quality and the demand for water, among others.
Canadian Mining Roundup for June 2013 (PDF Report)
The June 2013 roundup includes details of the development of TSX-V-listed Aldridge Minerals’ flagship Yenipazar polymetallic project, in Turkey; the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s renewal of Cameco’s uranium mining licence pertaining to the Cigar Lake...
This Week's Magazine
Mitsubishi Motors South Africa (MMSA) has introduced a 4x2 derivative of its Pajero Sport sports-utility vehicle (SUV), which will give it access to a substantial slice of the full-size SUV market, where it will compete with the likes of the Ford Everest, Chevrolet...
South African Energy Minister Ben Martins has affirmed that the government wants the country to be globally competitive in the nuclear sector. "Our responsibility has always been ... to ensure that, in nuclear energy, South Africa can compete with the rest of the...
Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) president and CEO Dr Martin Zimmermann describes the new S-Class as “a special place to be”, with the car creating a sense of “wellness” once you are seated inside the German brand’s flagship model. It is difficult to argue...
Water scarcity and water-quality issues are broadly recognised and understood in most political, business and civil organisations in South Africa, but solving water issues will require wide and continuous action in catchments and municipalities by organisations and...
Work is well under way on the R212-million Imvutshane dam, 30 km north-west of Stanger, in KwaZulu-Natal, which is a key link in supplying people in rural Maphumulo with a reliable source of safe drinking water.