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Home > iSGTW - 18 February 2009 > iSGTW Feature - Blue Gene for Africa

Feature - Blue Gene for Africa


Image courtesy of the Meraka Institute

IBM donated a supercomputer to South Africa's Center for High-Performance Computing, as part of a $120 million investment in sub-Saharan Africa. Dubbed "Blue Gene" and designed and built in collaboration with the Department of Energy's NNSA/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, it is capable of 11.5 teraflops, or 11.5 trillion floating point operations per second, or flops. ("Flops" are a standard measure of a computer's performance.)

In other words, it is currently the fastest scientific computer on the entire African continent.

The computer system is part of a larger initiative, known as "Blue Gene for Africa" (BG4A), that aims to build high-end computing capacity in the continent. The project aims to develop infrastructure, encourate collaborative science,  and promote Africa's human capital. As such, it will be available free of charge to any qualifying African institution for use on advanced scientific projects.

At BG4A's launch, IBM vice president Mark Dean called attention to the importance of research and development in giving organizations and countries a competitive edge. He suggested that Africa needs more R&D to spur economic development, and that investment in the development of human capital as well as infrastructure was therefore crucial.

Johan Eksteen, Manager of Technology Research Programme at the Meraka Institute added that  Blue Gene would be wedded into the present cyberinfrastructure, as implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

Official launch of the Blue Gene for Africa Project. Image courtesy of Belief-II

"Flagship" will find super-support

The BG4A supercomputer will predominantly be used to run what are termed "Flagship" projects, which are awarded following a stringent selection process.

At press time, some frontrunning contenders for use of the system include projects on mineral processing, the large-scale impact of climate change, food security and the nutritional value of cassava root.

The potential user community is even more broad, including those interested in environmental simulations, agricultural modelling, energy generation and usage, information analytics and complex systems-modelling for business systems, risk management, financial models, transportation management, health and more.

Blue Gene is a resource for all of Africa, and African higher education and research institutions are invited to take advantage of its high-performance computing facilities to conduct cutting-edge, socially relevant research. Researchers who wish access are encouraged to contact the Center for High Performance Computing for further information.

International collaborative research projects are especially encouraged. One such collaboration already exists between the Meraka Institute and the European Commission-funded BELIEF-II consortium; it is envisaged that BELIEF-II will make a significant contribution to the development of the "Blue Gene for Africa" project and subsequently foster a wider range of eScience partnerships between African and international institutions.

Jeff Chen, Meraka Insitute, South Africa. Excerpted from Zero-In magazine

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