Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the global stage. Now, the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P) in Ben Guerir, Morocco has inaugurated a new system: Toubkal, which now rates as the most powerful supercomputer in Africa and marks the continent’s first appearance on the Top500 since June 2019, when South Africa’s mighty Lengau still prowled the list.
Toubkal is named after the eponymous Moroccan mountain (pictured in the header), which itself stands as the tallest peak in North Africa. The system’s peak, meanwhile, stands at 5.02 petaflops (Linpack-rated at 3.15 petaflops), delivered by more than 1,300 nodes containing 71,232 Intel Xeon Platinum 8276L cores and 244 TB of memory. Toubkal uses Mellanox InfiniBand HDR100 networking and is backed by more than 8 PB of storage.
All told, the Dell EMC-manufactured system, which was developed in partnership with the University of Cambridge was powerful enough to place 98th on the most recent Top500 list.
Toubkal’s inauguration was also the inauguration of its home, the new African Supercomputing Center (ASCC) at UM6P, which has been certified Tier III and Tier IV. The ASCC’s site broadly identifies its resources as available to African researchers, academics and entrepreneurs.
There are a number of projects already underway for the ASCC and Toubkal, of course, and most of them are green: modeling the genomes of African plants in need of protection; modeling the genomes of microorganisms to better understand soil fertility; processing satellite data for improved agricultural management; and analyzing meteorological data to aid in the integration of renewable energy projects. The ASCC also says it has promising projects in the works on artificial intelligence and data analytics.
“This platform aims at accelerating research at the University, helping attract and retain world class research staff, building research momentum and inspiring a generation of African students with HPC technology leadership,” the ASCC’s vision reads. “This new supercomputing center will project this capability nationally, driving the research discovery process within wider Moroccan research institutes, and also regionally across the wider African continent.”
“Beyond the scientific objective, our will is above all to bring answers to industries, populations and territories,” added Hicham El Habti, president of UM6P, at the inauguration event. “Big data is an invaluable source of information that will help us understand how we can meet the challenges of an increasingly digital world.”
The African supercomputing crown previously belonged to Lengau, a South African system hosted at its Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC). Lengau, which is still active, rates at 1.03 Linpack petaflops and debuted at 122nd on the June 2016 Top500 list.