Director, Center for High Performance Computing in South Africa
One of the promises of HPC technologies is that of making lives fundamentally better by helping people understand how to better utilize resources, and create new and better ways of discovery. While these promises are being fulfilled in the Northern Hemisphere, there is not a lot of high performance computing happening in the southern part of the globe. This is a problem which Happy Sithole, the director for the Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in South Africa wakes up to address every day. We caught up with Happy for a few questions on his work.
HPCwire: Happy, there is not a lot of high performance computing happening in the southern hemisphere, and you’re working on initiatives to lead South Africa into the high performance computing era. Can you talk about the challenges you face as you work to move supercomputing into an under-served region?
Happy Sithole: High Performance Computing globally experience a lot of challenges with unique skills, where engineers and scientist need the depth in domain areas, and also on computer science. In most cases, these skills are not taught in many institutions, and are depended on self-taught initiatives. It thus a situation one finds in Southern Africa, and in most cases rare to find the right people.
The other challenge is proximity to the OEMs and suppliers of technology. Most of the vendors in Southern Africa, are geared to enterprise customers and mainly focus their business and skills for these markets. Hence most of the pre-sales engineers that understands HPC market and solutions are based either in Europe or America. This creates a challenge, as interaction with these high-end skills within the OEMs are remote.
We have in the past few years been working on alerting the OEMs about these challenges and building awareness in these areas, and seen some improvement. At the same time, the development of skills has been looked at in a holistic view, where local business is encouraged to develop skills and tap into the generation we train within CHPC.
HPCwire: Obviously, you bring supercomputing to an area to help solve real problems. Can you discuss some of the specific challenges that you are using high performance computing to address?
Happy Sithole: First of all, there are a host of academic research problems ranging from materials science, astronomy to engineering and medical sciences that already exists and require support for HPC. Previously, this demand was met by collaboration with scientists elsewhere and having access to HPC resources. Some of the notable projects, such as SKA are driving the need for more computational capacity in South Africa and the region.
In addition to this community, most South African industry and business have started taking HPC in their work. Hence CHPC is working with some of the advanced industries that have the skills, and also assisting smaller industries that just starts with HPC.
HPCwire: As you look down the road at 2014 and beyond, what do you see as the most important trends and ideas that you plan to leverage in order to help you further your objectives?
Happy Sithole: Building capacity within the research community is critical for success of HPC, hence skills in developing applications that can be able run efficiently on the heterogeneous systems is key. It is also important to keep on building capacity in computing resources, and thus additional systems with heterogeneous architecture will be our focus. Leadership in developing African capacity will be the focus to ensure other African countries have skills in HPC.
HPCwire: On a personal note, can you talk about your personal life? Your family, background, any hobbies?
Happy Sithole: I am married to my wife Mandy and a proud father of three boys, 18, 11 and 8 years old, hence in between my work, I have to make time for the family. I enjoy watching soccer and from time to time when an opportunity arise, a good jazz music make me relax.
HPCwire: One last question – is there anything about yourself that you can share that you think your colleagues would be surprised to learn?
Happy Sithole: My parents never made it to University and I am the first in my family to get University education. So my passion did not have any influence from family background.