Supercomputing: SA back in top 500


3 January 2012

A major upgrade to the Centre for High Performance Computing’s (CHPC’s) Tsessebe Sun Constellation System has seen South Africa reclaim its place in the top 500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

The Tsessebe cluster has been Africa’s fastest supercomputer since its launch in 2009, when it was ranked 311th in the world. Supercomputing is a fast-changing arena, however, and by May 2010 the machine had fallen to 461st.

The October 2011 upgrade saw the performance of the machine, as measured by the LINPACK Benchmark, improve from 25 to 61 Teraflops, lifting it back up to 329th place – a ranking confirmed at the Super Computing Conference in Seattle, US in November.

The upgrade to the complex machine was performed by a team from the CHPC – a unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – in collaboration with the Cambridge High Performance Computing Centre, Dell and Eclipse Holdings.

‘Paves way for local HPC solutions’

“The configuration and implementation of the system by this team, in which South African engineers took the lead, paves the way for South Africa’s capability in producing local high performance computing solutions,” said Laurens Cloete, executive director of the CSIR’s Meraka Institute.

Cloete said the Tsessebe cluster was upgraded to meet demand from South Africa’s universities and science councils, which had pushed usage to almost 100% of the machine’s previous capacity.

The CHPC’s high performance computing platforms are used to solve problems in fields such as materials science, climatology, chemistry and biomedicine, and are available to researchers across the country through the 10 gigabit-per-second South African National Research Network.

Boost for SA’s Square Kilometre Array bid

“African researchers from academia and industry now have a facility that is able to process over 60-trillion cycles of instruction per second, enabling collaborative research that addresses scientific grand challenges, addressing societal issues and enhancing industry competitiveness,” Cloete said.

“This infrastructure is also developing computational research into a viable mode alongside experimental and theoretical modes of enquiry across all academic disciplines.”

The top 500 rating also came as South Africa was bolstering its commitment to host the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, “a goal for which the centre has been working tirelessly to ensure that it is fully equipped to process the enormous data rates that will be produced by the radio telescopes”.

The CHPC’s Tsessebe system is made up of Oracle’s Sunblade X6275 blades with Intel Nehalem 8 core processors and Westmere 12 core processors, as well as Dell’s Poweredge C6100 servers with Intel Westmere 12 core processors. The system has a theoretical peak performance of 74 Teraflops.

The CHPC is an initiative of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology implemented by the CSIR’s Meraka Institute.

SAinfo reporter