Holy petaflops! SA students are supercomputing champions

Team South Africa "made jaws drop" at the international Student Cluster Challenge in Germany when the first-time entrant trumped all the other teams, including two from the United States and two from China.

Team South Africa "made jaws drop" at the international Student Cluster Challenge in Germany when the first-time entrant trumped all the other teams, including two from the United States and two from China.

The fastest supercomputer is in China, the Tianhe-2, and runs at about 33.86 petaflops. Many countries say they intend to break the exaflop barrier in the next few decades. For some context, your single-core 2.5GHz PC has a theoretical performance of 10 gigaflops. Tianhe-2 is more than a million times faster than your computer.

Although South Africa's supercomputer, based at the Centre for High Performance Computing is in the top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world, it is not one of the front-runners in the field.

However, on Wednesday, Team South Africa "made jaws drop" at the international Student Cluster Challenge in Germany when the first-time entrant trumped all the other teams, including two from the United States and two from China, the Centre for High Performance Computing said. The centre co-ordinated the student team.

"In a real-time challenge, teams of six undergraduate and/or high school students build small clusters of their own design on the [International Supercomputing Conference] exhibit floor and race to demonstrate the greatest performance across a series of benchmarks and applications," the centre said.

The South African team received the highest aggregate scores in the competition.

Supercomputing has become a South African focus, given the country's status as one of the hosts of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a giant radio telescope that will straddle both Africa and Australia. SKA South Africa project director Bernie Fanaroff has said that the SKA will generate more raw data in one week than human kind has created in its entire existence.

Supercomputers will be required to crunch this data, and the country is trying to position itself as a player in thisarena.

Referring to the student competition, the centre said: "The experience will assist South Africa grow a generation of high performance expertise for national economic development and for large projects such as the SKA."

 
Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild

Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didn't work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africa's Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards. Read more from Sarah Wild

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