Science and technology


Africa's most powerful supercomputer

29 September 2009

South Africa's newest supercomputer, a Sun Microsystems hybrid, went online in Cape Town earlier this month, providing the local and regional research community with a powerful tool for tackling problems of climate change, energy security and human health.

With a peak performance of 31-trillion calculations per second, the hybrid supercomputer is the fastest in Africa and ranks among the top 500 in the world.

By using the system, months of computing on research projects can be replaced by weeks, days or even hours of work. It is housed at the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), a unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

"Through the addition of this Sun Microsystems hybrid supercomputer, the CHPC has become a facility that holds its own among the best in the world," CSIR chief executive Sibusiso Sibisi said in a statement.

"It is a resource, along with the other elements of the unfolding national cyber-infrastructure, which provides us as South Africans with the tools and infrastructure to tackle major challenges collaboratively, by drawing on our own and international expertise."

The supercomputer has been installed in the CHPC's newly refurbished data centre. Green computing interventions have been included in the design and construction of the facility.

Technical specifications

At the core of this computing power is a Sun SPARC Enterprise M9000 server with 64 SPARC64 VII quad-core processors, and a cluster of four Sun Blade 6048 modular systems.

This was delivered in two stages: stage one consisted of one Sun Blade 6048 modular system with 48 Blades based on Intel Xeon E5450 processors, while stage two consisted of three Sun Blade 6048 modular systems that house 144 blades based on the next-generation Intel Xeon processor codenamed "Nehalem".

At the front end, the CHPC has the Sun visualisation system, which allows for users to assemble and view 3D models of their data.

The open storage solution is based on 10 AMD Opteron-powered Sun Fire X4540 open storage servers, providing half a petabyte of data, with the Lustre parallel file system for extreme input/output performance and reliability. Rounding out the hardware part of the solution, all of the components are connected via a Voltaire Infiniband switch.

Software for the solution consists of Sun HPC software, Linux Edition, SunVM Ops Center and software from Totalview.

"The Sun Microsystems hybrid computer complements the [country's] existing supercomputers, notably the IBM e1350 Linux-based cluster and the Blue Gene/P system," the CSIR pointed out.

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Supercomputing: SA back in top 500

Science and Technology Minster Naledi Pandor (left) and other officials at the launch of the Sun Microsystems hybrid supercomputer at the Centre for High Performance Computing in Cape Town, 8 September 2009 (Photo: Council for Scientific and Industrial Research)

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