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January 19, 2012

South African Super Returns to TOP500

Michael Feldman

Last year, South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing’s (CHPC) upgraded its number one supercomputer, known as known as Tsessebe, with the latest Dell PowerEdge 6100 server, increase its Linpack performance to 61 teraflops. That was enough to earn it the number 329 spot on the November 2011 TOP500 list.

According to an article in Creamer Media’s Engineering News, the upgrade was initiated to “cater for the increased demand for high performance computing by various universities and science council teams, bringing utilisation to nearly 100 percent.” The work, which cost 9 million Rand (just under $1.14 million), was facilitated with the help of the Cambridge High Performance Computing Centre, Dell and Eclipse Holdings, a local datacenter facilities management firm.

Tsessebe was first deployed in 2009 as a Sun Microsystems (now Oracle) blade server cluster, which at the time placed it at number 313 on the TOP500 list. The Sun blades sport both Intel Nehalem (4-core) and Westmere (6-core) Xeon CPUs. The Dell PowerEdge 6100 servers that were added last year are also equipped with Westmere parts. The cluster is hooked together with InfiniBand and runs as a single, if somewhat heterogeneous, cluster.

Tsessebe is currently the most powerful supercomputer in South Africa. In fact it’s the most powerful system on the entire content. Tanzania and Egypt are the only other two African nations known to have HPC clusters, and they are in the single-digit teraflop range.

The need for more high performance computing is acute. The region’s problems related to drought, climate change, HIV and malaria are all application areas that can benefit from the HPC-level simulations and analytics. South African industry is also in need of HPC capability to help maintain its competitive edge in the global marketplace. According to the Engineering News report, there are plans in place at CHPC to add another supercomputer next year to help meet some of that unmet demand.