Boosting SA’s economy by supporting industry research and innovation

From assisting the South African Weather Services to make more accurate weather forecasts to making complex calculations required in oil reserve estimations a breeze, high performance computing (HPC) infrastructure remains one of South Africa’s best investments.

In fact, top companies such as PetroSA, Johnson Matthey, De Beers Marine and Sasol have found the technology to be of immense value in their businesses too.

“South African industries in petrochemicals, mining and health use HPC to reduce the time it takes for them to make decisions. HPC also improves the quality of data available to them when it comes to decision making and product design, which is not possible without HPC,” says Dr Happy Sithole, director of the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC).

It was only in 2007 that HPC technology was introduced in South Africa and Africa, Sithole began working on building South Africa’s first national HPC facility from the ground up. Prior to this, researchers in the academic and commercial fields were forced to rely on external resources. In fact, Sithole had to travel to the UK to do his PhD studies, because South Africa lacked the technology to support his research.

“When the opportunity to develop HPC in South Africa was presented, I immediately realised the impact that this would have on our country. I was also motivated by the lack of skills in the country,” says Sithole. “We considered how the impact of HPC would also filter into other areas of our economy, and the impact it would have on the overall development and competitiveness of our industries.”

Sithole trained as a material scientist, applying HPC as a tool to simulate large systems of minerals, and came to realise the value that access to HPC could offer to industries back home.

South Africa’s HPC capabilities have gained global recognition under Sithole’s leadership. Some of the many achievements he is able to hang his hat on include the launch of Africa’s fastest supercomputer — aptly named “Lengau”, which means cheetah in Setswana —located at the CHPC in South Africa.

With a view of empowering the next generation with important skills for the future, the CHPC also gives undergraduate South African students the chance to participate in its Student Cluster Competition. The winner of this competition is entered into ISC Student Cluster Competition hosted at the 2020 International Supercomputing Conference in Germany.

“Our South African students have just won first place in the Student Cluster Competition, which they have done four times since they first started participating in the competition in 2013,” he says. “This really makes me proud as a South African, that we are a force to be reckoned with as a nation, and I truly believe we have a lot to contribute as a developed country and continent. This is why I am so committed to empowering people in Africa with these important skills for the fourth industrial revolution.

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