Jan 19, 2012
SA’s supercomputer back in world top-500 after R9m upgradeBack
© 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 (150 word limit)
Updated 5 hours ago Top aluminium producer United Company Rusal will start producing metal at its Boguchansk project, in Russia, by June and will ramp up output over the following year depending on demand, the company's chief executive said on Monday. Weak aluminium prices are forcing...
Updated 5 hours ago Dubal Holding, the holding company for Dubai's stake in Emirates Global Aluminium and other assets, is considering possible acquisitions in local and international energy projects, it said on Monday. The firm was looking for equity interests related to coal, solar,...
Recent Research Reports
Steel 2015: A review of South Africa's steel sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Steel 2015 report provides an overview of the key developments in the global steel industry and particularly of South Africa’s steel sector over the past year, including details of production and consumption, as well as the country's primary carbon...
Projects in Progress 2015 - First Edition (PDF Report)
In fact, this edition of Creamer Media’s Projects in Progress 2015 supplement tracks developments taking place under the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, which has had four bidding rounds. It appears to remain a shining light on the...
Electricity 2015: A review of South Africa's electricity sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Electricity 2015 report provides an overview of State-owned power utility Eskom and independent power producers, as well as electricity planning, transmission, distribution and the theft thereof, besides other issues.
Construction 2015: A review of South Africa’s construction sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Construction 2015 Report examines South Africa’s construction industry over the past 12 months. The report provides insight into the business environment; the key participants in the sector; local construction demand; geographic diversification;...
Liquid Fuels 2014 - A review of South Africa's Liquid Fuels sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Liquid Fuels 2014 Report examines these issues, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing, competition in the sector, the...
Water 2014: A review of South Africa's water sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Water 2014 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.
This Week's Magazine
Forest products group Sappi has confirmed the selection of its 25 MW biomass-to-power project, to be erected at its Ngodwana mill, in Mpumalanga, as a preferred bidder under the South African government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement...
Information and communications technology (ICT) distributor DCC is making Windows- and Android-operating systems tablets available through retailers and education equipment suppliers to provide school children with affordable, high-performance education tools. The...
Another cement manufacturer is set to enter the Ugandan market, raising hopes that prices will come down and spur growth in the construction industry. National Cement, a Kenyan manufacturer, has unveiled plans to invest $195-million in a new manufacturing plant in...
With growth rates exceeding that in the developed world – at an average of between 4% and 5% between 2002 and 2014 – African countries provide investors with ample reason to tap into booming consumer demand says Manufacturing Circle executive director Coenraad...
The South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (Sacci’s) Business Confidence Index (BCI) decreased by 3.7 index points month-on-month to 89.1 in March.