South Africa: High Performance Computing – January 2014
British High Commission Pretoria
Science and Innovation Network brings UK computing researchers to South African annual High Performance Computing Meeting, with Square Kilometre Array telescope a focus. Further UK investment in capacity building in SADC region secured. Opportunities as we look ahead.
The UK Science and Innovation Network in South Africa, via the Global Partnerships Fund (GPF), brought ten UK scientists to a meeting on High Performance Computing (HPC), hosted by the South African Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC). The meeting (2 – 6 December) included two days of training workshops and a three-day conference. The UK scientists represented leading UK institutions: Cambridge University; University College London; University of Southampton; and Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Daresbury Labs. The meeting brought together researchers, engineers and industry players from around the globe, but particularly South Africa.
Prior to the meeting, our GPF project facilitated bilateral exchanges to explore HPC and Big Data applications and in particular the development of HPC capabilities for processing data from the Square Kilometre Array telescope (SKA). These exchanges also included a joint trip to Botswana.
GPF funding provided face-time between HPC researchers, accelerating the cross-pollination of ideas between South Africa, the UK and their US counterparts; with discussions on technology development and transfer, as well as HPC outreach to other applications e.g automotive and banking. The new international networks created will also allow teams to develop new resources and bid for large research funding.
HPC hardware is expensive and quickly becomes redundant, with upgrades in laboratories needed every few years. The Cambridge HPC Services Lab agreed during this trip to donate more than £500,000 of their used HPC equipment. This is the first step in a process that ensures Botswana, and other SKA African partner countries, are not merely landlords of the telescope, but are able to get involved in the data processing.
The Cambridge team is also developing a Train the Trainer initiative that will see the enrichment of lecturers in the region in building, running and configuring HPC systems. Industry is already a partner in this, with the development of a HPC Solution centre in Johannesburg, and ongoing discussions with DELL who are looking to invest in HPC in South Africa.
There are significant commercial opportunities for SA and UK industry to participate in cutting-edge research into big data processing. With UKTI we now plan to approach UK companies who are able to meet Big Data requirements and could expand their product application to other markets in SA and the region as well as companies who could be interested in the opportunities provided by the Science Data Processing (SDP) consortium for the SKA (tender expected in 2017) and who were represented at this meeting.
Work on Big Data offers clear opportunities for beefed up UK science and innovation engagement with South Africa. The new BIS Research Fund for Emerging Powers offers a major tool to deliver this, and as we design our programme(s) in parallel with South Africa, we will ensure Big Data is a major component. For example, we could look to support Big Data computing skills for Southern African countries, with the upskilling done in South Africa.
The significant UK presence at the meeting made us the preeminent overseas participant and reinforced the visibility of our interest in deeper engagement with South Africa in HPC. With Cambridge’s involvement in capacity building here, the UK can and should position itself as a driver of human capital development forging technology links between the UK and SADC, and creating future business development opportunities.
Further opportunities for collaboration on Big Data will be now explored during the visit of Science and Technology Minister Hanekom to Oxford (hosted by STFC) and Cambridge (SKA computing) in the coming weeks.
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