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South Africa's CHPC in the picture with new Lengau supercomputer, Student Cluster Competition victory and upcoming ICRI 2016 Conference

After the workshop on International Cooperation following ISC 2016 in Frankfurt, Germany, we had the opportunity to talk with Happy Sithole, Director of CHPC, the Centre for High Performance Computing in South Africa, about the new Lengau supercomputer, the Student Cluster Competition and the upcoming International Conference on Research Infrastructures - ICRI 2016, which will be organized in Cape Town, October 3-5, 2016. Lengau is the name of the new Petascale supercomputer, that has just been installed at CHPC. Lengau means cheetah in seTswana, one of the South African languages. Currently, this machine has 1,008 nodes of Haswell processors which provides a computing capability of 782,9 teraflops. This is only the first phase. In the coming weeks, the installation of the second phase will be performed which will provide a sustained petaflop machine.

Does the machine support the whole of South Africa? Who are the users?

Happy Sithole: The users come from the whole of the research community in South Africa, mainly academia, but CHPC also works to some small extent with the industry. CHPC also gives some of its computing capability to the research community in the African continent, mainly working on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) programme, but also on some notable projects like the H3Africa programme on bioinformatics, so it is linked to a number of research topics in the country and also in the continent.

The machine has just been installed?

Happy Sithole: CHPC started doing the installation in December 2015. There has already been production during that time. While the CHPC team was building the machine, the CHPC users were given access. General access was given to other users on June 7, 2016, at the time when CHPC officially started running the machine. Lengau was in production progressively since CHPC started building the machine.

How much is Lengau used today?

Happy Sithole: Currently, Lengau has a variable utilization but the CHPC has seen now users picking up 86 percent utilization of the machine. This is mainly due to some of the very big users who were involved in the benchmarking of the machine. Especially from climate modelling, one starts seeing high core code utilization. CHPC is looking at a utilization of around 50 to 86 percent.

The Student Cluster Competition has been one of the key projects in the Centre for High Performance Computing in driving the human capital. This year's competition was really very tough. There were twelve teams who participated in this competition, coming from all over the world. They were all very good teams. CHPC did not really expect that the South African students would win. The result shows that they have done very good work. One thing that we take from this is that the preparation that has been done in the country for the students has been very fruitful. As you may have seen, this has been the third time South Africa is winning this competition. South Africa has entered it four times and only once, it came second. So the preparation of the students has been very succesful and we are very proud of them.

You also are involved in a lot of international collaboration. One of the things is that this is because of the SKA of course, and there are also strong links with Europe. One of the main infrastructure conferences that is co-organized by Europe is the e-infrastructures conference called ICRI. This time, CHPC in South Africa will host it?  

Happy Sithole: We are very happy indeed that ICRI this time will be coming to South Africa. This is really a good timing because we start seeing a number of initiatives on infrastructure collaboration taking place in the continent and also with Europe through the Square Kilometre Array. This year, these projects are just starting to take off because in the past it was still at idea-level but now we start seeing infrastructures being pulled in the Netherlands, in the UK, with some of the infrastructure in Africa. I would say that the hosting of ICRI at this stage is very timely and South Africa welcomes this opportunity because we can kick-start most of the collaborations that we have been preparing.

Do you already have an idea how many visitors there will be at ICRI 2016?

Happy Sithole: I don't have an idea at this stage but ICRI is well attended. I think it is a good momentum, especially with the SKA SDP which is the Science Data Processing Workshop. I believe that this workshop should be well attended also.

We are looking forward to come to South Africa and ICRI.

Happy Sithole: Thank you. The weather will be nice and you are welcome in our beautiful country.