South Africa launches Africa’s fastest supercomputer

Though ranked as one of the most illiterate countries in the world, with just half of the population having internet access, South Africa has launched one of the world’s fastest super computers in the country’s city of Cape Town.

A recent study by the State University of Central Connecticut in the United States, found that South Africa is one of the most illiterate country in the world with poor access to computers, Newspapers and Libraries. The report also rated South Africa as the 57th among 61 countries surveyed with low computer availability and literacy. The country is only better than Tunisia, Albania, Indonesia and Botswana in terms of computer availability and literacy.

Despite these findings, the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has launched the “fastest supercomputer in Africa” a petaflops (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),” said Dr Happy Sithole, the Director of CHPC.

“In 2009 there was increased demand of 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 in the African continent. The system was later upgraded to 64.44 teraflops,” he said.

The current system is named Lengau owing to its speed of 1000 teraflops.

The Dell machine which cost more than R100 million ($6.7 million), will be operational in academic areas of bioinformatics at the University of Cape Town; climate modelling, material sciences at the University of Limpopo; and astronomy as part of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project. It allows Cape Town’s Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) to leap-frog in the global high performance computing stakes, Fin24 reported.

“If you look at the knowledge that is being produced that goes into other different areas that affect our economy, the benefits are quite significant,”, adding that “worldwide, when I looked at the top 500 supercomputing list, and obviously it must be updated in a week’s time. With the current list without anything moving we are sitting just below 100 in the top 500,” Sithole said.

The Lengau system will play an important role in growing the country’s ailing economy, says Dr Thomas Auf der Heyde, Deputy Director-General: Research Development and Support at the Department of Science and Technology. “High-performance computing and advanced data technologies are powerful tools in enhancing the competiveness of regions and nations,” he added.

Though the development is expected to increase access to resources and computer literacy in the country, experts believe more needed to be done to reconcile the country’s current literacy level with the recent development.