National Integrated Cyber Infrastructure System

The National Integrated Cyber Infrastructure System (NICIS) promotes scientific and industrial development through the provision of high-performance computing capability, high-speed network capacity and a national research data infrastructure integrated hierarchically into globally connected systems and into local system systems, providing seamless access for the research and education communities of South Africa. It is a national initiative of the Department of Science and Technology and implemented by the CSIR.

The Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) is one of three pillars of the NICIS. It provides massive parallel processing capabilities and services to researchers in industry and academia. The other main pillars are the South African National Research Network (SANReN), which provides high-speed connectivity and advanced networking services, as well as the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA), which implements services that enable sound data management practices and support efficient data-driven scientific and engineering discoveries.

Advancing high-performance computing in South Africa: The CHPC

In 2016, the CHPC achieved significant milestones in servicing its user base and in advancing high-performance computing in South Africa. To further improve the centre’s computational power, the CHPC introduced a new peta-scale machine, with over 40 000 cores. The machine is the fastest supercomputer in Africa and ranked 121 amongst the world TOP500 supercomputers. A peta-scale machine is a super computer with processing speeds capable of a thousand-trillion floating point operations (FLOPS) per second. FLOPS are used in computing to compute extremely long numbers. The system, named LENGAU (Setswana name for Cheetah), owing to its speed of 1 000 Teraflops, is 15 times faster than the previous system.

The CHPC is providing leadership to South Africa and Africa on developing strong high-performance computing capabilities and supporting large-scale science projects. The Tier-2 CERN service provides 2 400 jobs per day to the ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment). In support of the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), partner countries have provided computational clusters to Botswana, Madagascar, Namibia, Zambia and Mauritius. Locally, the University of Venda, Sol Plaatjie University, University of Fort Hare, the University of the Witwatersrand, Hartbeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory and Stellenbosch University received training and equipment, which is used for small-scale processing.

Human capital development is critical to the sustainability of cyber infrastructure and the CHPC provides high-end skills, relevant to the respective science and engineering domains of the research community.  One of the CHPC’s flagship projects, the Student Cluster Competition, continues to produce world-class undergraduate students with high-performance computing skills. The CHPC has secured top accolades at an international level for four years in a row.

The industry programme at CHPC focuses on providing services such as stable and reliable high-performance computing systems, world-class consultancy in the areas of fluid-dynamics, materials science, finite-element analysis, discrete element modelling and general design of high-performance systems, optimised for specific clients. These services are currently used by South African industries in oil and gas, mining, engineering designs and weather forecasting.

Providing high-speed connectivity to research and education: SANReN

Government has invested in a dedicated national research and education network that is operated by the Tertiary Education and Research Network of South Africa with the CSIR-hosted South African Research Network (SANReN) in charge of its rollout and the incubation of services that run on the network. The aim of this investment is to improve the country’s cyberinfrastructure, specifically to provide high-speed connectivity to schools and higher research facilities.

Progress has been made in 2016 in growing and upgrading the network and ensuring connectivity for the higher education research community. SANReN has connected a further 11 higher education and research sites, including the Walter Sisulu University campuses in Queenstown and Whittlesea, as well as the South African National Space Agency Space Science site in Hermanus. This brings the total number of sites, connected to the network, to 210. The capacity of the links to various higher education and research sites were also upgraded, thereby growing the average bandwidth available per site from 2.8 to 3.5 Gbps.

In 2016, SANReN added the Mconf web conferencing tool that enables researchers to collaborate seamlessly. It uses web real-time communication, the latest technology in this area. The service has been particularly useful to the Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) initiative. H3Africa scientists study genomic influences on disease across their continent, from differences in the progression of HIV in children, to developing new sequencing methods for the Ebola virus, to collecting more than 35 000 nasal swabs from children to show how concentrations of nose and throat micro-organisms may play a role in pneumonia.

Coordinating data-intensive research: DIRISA

The Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) promotes, enables and coordinates a data-intensive research ecosystem in support of national science and strategic priorities. This is accomplished through several key objectives, including the provision of a robust national data infrastructure and services, the promotion of sound data stewardship practices and the development of underpinning expertise in data management and the data sciences. DIRISA operates as an overarching national data organisation and as such, advocates research data sharing, coordinates publicly-funded initiatives and advises on a strategic agenda for data intensive research.

Towards attaining these objectives, DIRISA is expanding the national data infrastructure to accommodate increasing demands for research data storage and coordinates the establishment of a national e-Science postgraduate training and teaching platform and of a regional research data centre by a consortium of academic institutions.  Data services developed by DIRISA enable more rapid data-based research innovation across all academic disciplines.

In supporting researchers to manage their research data, DIRISA has released an operational version of a research data management planning tool, called DMP Online. It is becoming standard practice for research funders to require such a plan as part of the research proposal as it supports improved data-driven research across all disciplines. As a collaborative effort by DIRISA and Universities South African (USAf), DMP Online will be demonstrated to local universities and research institutions to promote its adoption for use nationally.

In collaboration with the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, and following ministerial approval, DIRISA has established a Multi-Primary Administrator (MPA) in South Africa. It forms part of a global network of MPAs that manage the allocation of unique and Persistent Identifiers (PIDs) for digital objects. The use of these PIDs greatly improves the management of digital objects, including data and valuable national assets.