Centre for High Performance Computing national meeting
The 7-9th December 2010 saw the Centre for High Performance Computing's national meeting held at the Westin Grand hotel in Cape Town, next to the International convention centre, CTICC.
Dr Happy Sithole is director of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), an initiative funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and managed by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). He opened the Plenary session, discussing High Performance Computing and Data curation - the latter being slipped in as a target for the next big project at CHPC, a petabyte-scale database facility.
Connectivity at CHPC
I asked a question about the schedule for the SANReN network deployment at CHPC, as I see fast networking going hand-in-hand with High Performance Computing. CHPC has a gigabit fibre link to the nearby University of Cape Town (UCT), but otherwise I consider network connectivity to be pedestrian. Happy deferred to Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) who were present at the meeting, and who replied that the original deadline of February 2011 had been pushed back to June 2011.
I consider this an unsatisfactory answer - particularly as I heard that the June date is actually a drop-dead date for another project - perhaps MeerKat. You can read the SANReN project status as of November 2010 here.
Also introduced was a proposal for two separate Petabyte-scale Very Large Database (VLDB) centres - one in Pretoria and the other at CHPC Cape Town.
EPCC - Edinburgh
Gavin Pringle gave an entertaining talk on EPCC, the supercomputing centre at The University of Edinburgh. Much of the talk was devoted to industry collaboration, and the necessity of making money, with timescales and deliverables, as a reality of research in the UK.
National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)
Danny Powell of NCSA, at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave a little history of NCSA, reminding us that supercomputing is as much about software research as it is about large hardware installations. He introduced Blue Waters, targetting a peak performance of 10 petaflops and sustained performance of 1 petaflop running a range of science and engineering codes. He downplayed it significance on the bragging list of fastest supercomputers, saying that many other national projects will probably outstrip it before it comes on line.
Computational Physics centres in Africa
Clement Onime talked about a project spearheaded by the Abdus Salam International Centre for theoretical physics to use small linux clusters of 5 to 32 nodes for High Performance Computing around Africa. Emphasis is on implementing and maintaining such clusters, and dealing with peculiarly african issues like dealing with power outages. One of the centres Clement had worked with was AUST - the African University of Science and Technology in Abuja, Nigeria. Two years ago I installed the AUST computing facility, and recruited Dayo Adewunmi and Bobby Adesuyan to manage the installation.
There were a number of other presentations, but one that caught my ear was from Wim Hugo, of South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON). Data on biodiversity and health in Africa is currently scattered around the world. The new SAEON centre aims to collect all this data into a single, online, resource that could be useful for African policymakers. His presentation was about Metadata - information describing the data itself. The datasets are so huge that without good metadata they are unsearchable.
I then attended a two day breakaway session on Operational Oceanography, organised by the Nansen-Tutu centre for Environmental research - named after two Nobel Laureates, Fridtjof Nansen and Desmond Tutu. The talks were focused on the development of a system for regular and consistent monitoring and data curation of in-situ monitoring, remote sensing and ocean modelling activities of African oceans. We had an evening out at Lelapa restaurant in Langa township - always excellent.
the Cape Town International Convention Centre is located right downtown, and the Westin Grand did us proud with the hospitality - food was excellent and the facilities outstanding - just no free wireless internet.