The Ninth Annual National Meeting for the South African Center for High Performance Computing was in held in early December 2015 in Pretoria, SA.  South Africa has become the focus of regional and international interest in the tech and science communities due to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) being built in the Karoo region.  When completed, it will be the world’s biggest radio telescope with an expected 50-year lifespan.  The investment in the SKA will benefit the area and 15 member states as a whole as a result of improvements to the power grid, high-speed networks, and workforce development. Phase One of the construction project is scheduled to begin in 2018, with early science and data generation following by 2020.

Many well-known experts were on hand at the symposium.  CHPC’s Director Happy Sithole talked about the growth of the Cape Town center since launching in 2007.  It was the only center of its kind on the African continent at the time, and supported 15 researchers with 2.5 teraflops.  Now it supports 700 with 64 teraflops of power with expansion driven by demand.  Sithole also announced the addition of a new Dell system to be added in two phases, which will increase capacity to 1,000 teraflops, operational in early 2016.

Merle Giles (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) gave the opening address, titled “HPC-Enabled Innovation and Transformational Science & Engineering: The Role of CI.” Of note, he spoke about the funding gap between the foundational research usually led by universities (or start-ups) and the commercialization phase where industry picks up.  Furthermore, data supports the ROI of HPC investments.  Giles also highlighted the importance of President Obama’s state of the union address, which translated HPC’s role in enabling medical advances into benefits for the average citizen.  This past November he spoke to Dell at SC15 about the impact of HPC on third world countries.  You can watch his observations here.

Additionally, a talk by Simon Hodson of CODATA highlighted the critical importance of allowing open access to the data behind research findings.  Rudolph Pienaar of Boston Children’s Hospital discussed data challenges within the healthcare field.  Specifically, hospital systems are antiquated and siloed, designed to facilitate billing and protect privacy, which obstructs research and collaboration. Children’s has designed an innovative system that overcomes these challenges, known as the Boston Children’s Hospital Research Integration System (ChRIS), a web-based research integration system that can manage any datatype, it is uniquely suited to medical image data, providing the ability to seamlessly collect data from typical sources found in hospitals.

An important aspect of the forum was a discussion regarding best practices on how to manage data sharing across national borders; which has been a point of concern for the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  The organization held a meeting, which included first time delegates from Mauritius, Namibia and Seychelles,  to review the collaborative framework document that last year’s forum attendees had begun to draft.  The SADC delegates were counseled by the international advisers to focus on collaboration. They were also warned that finding the best way to for reliable transfer of data among SADC sites, securely and seamlessly, was integral to the success of the project.  It was agreed that cybersecurity should be a first priority.

The meeting concluded with a plan for another conference.  This one will be held in Botswana in April 2016.  For more information, you can read the recent article on HPCWire.