Workshop Aims to Engage and Inspire Africa’s HPC Professionals

By Tiffany Trader

July 9, 2015

In Africa, high performance computing and related technologies are needed to battle issues no-less-urgent than climate change, food security, fresh water, poverty, disease and energy. Over the last few years a collaborative effort to bolster Africa’s HPC and networking infrastructure has hit its stride with grassroots and international support. The non-profit organization STEM-Trek is a prominent partner and voice working to facilitate these positive changes.

An article by STEM-Trek founder and longtime HPC community member Elizabeth Leake describes the high stakes. At the 2014 Southern African Development Community High Performance Computing (SADC-HPC) Forum meeting, the authors of a white paper titled “Cyberinfrastructure: An urgent need for SADC leadership to address food security in sub-Saharan Africa,” concluded:

“HPC (with related analytics & decision support systems) is critically important for sustaining people, societies and essential ecosystem functions.”

The STEM-Trek article notes that 70 percent of southern African citizens rely on agriculture for their income, and the industry is the largest consumer of water, yet African yields have been in sharp decline and nearly 65 percent of the area’s cultivated lands suffer from over-farming, erosion, compaction, or pollution. In the face of these dire challenges, a study conducted by an international team of researchers employed a bio-economic approach to modeling global agricultural futures to show that it is possible to meet future demands given adequate and sustained global investments in agricultural research and development. On the medical front, computational modeling is key to addressing policy and transportation bottlenecks that hinder community healthcare measures. And molecular modeling and protein folding techniques are among the most important tools for combatting deadly diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.

The profile of HPC in Africa is certainly on the rise. The South African student cluster challenge team, sponsored by the Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC, South Africa), has won the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) Student Cluster Challenge for the past three years and is headed to ISC again to defend their title. In 2013, the University of Texas at Austin donated the decommissioned supercomputer, Ranger, to the CHPC, where 24 of Ranger’s racks were divvied up and sent to sites in Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa. These upcycled clusters are interconnected via high-speed national research and education networks (NRENs). Any facility that is plugged into the network of NRENs (and new sites that connect to the network) will be able to leverage the Ranger racks as well as third-party, cloud-hosted resources.

Maintaining and growing this burgeoning e-infrastructure and connecting it with trusted education and research initiatives around the world takes a knowledgeable and dedicated team that is familiar with compatible infrastructure and standards. To facilitate such a meeting of the minds, STEM-Trek and its partners are planning a two-day workshop and reception in the days leading up to SC15 in Austin, Texas.

From STEM-Trek:

On Nov. 10, (we hope!) 16 African computational and domain scientists will travel to the U.S. to attend the annual Supercomputing Conference (SC15) for a cultural and knowledge exchange. The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), will host a two-day workshop where participants can roll up their sleeves, working side-by-side with some of the world’s most experienced HPC technicians, and learn more about the use and management of their shared eInfrastructure. On Saturday, Nov. 14, a reception will be held for participants and early-arriving SC15 attendees who would like to meet the delegation.

As you can imagine, sponsors are needed to support this activity. Additionally, we would like to pair African scholars with mentors from other CI’s in order to expand professional networks, and provide them with extended technical, and psycho-social support. If you’d like to join the list of prestigious sponsors that have already pledged to help, or volunteer to serve as a mentor, please send a letter of interest to [email protected].

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