SA takes 2nd spot

University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Stellenbosch University (SU) students led team South Africa to second prize in the international Supercomputing competition held in Germany last month.

The South African team was selected in December last year at the annual Centre for High Power Computing (CHPC) South African Student Cluster Challenge. Those winners, Mishka Mohamed, Kyle Jordaan, Tyrone de Ruiters and Liam Doult – who formed UWC’s Team No Windows – as well as SU’s Phillip Goosen and Lydia de Lange, went on to Germany to build a small cluster of their design on the exhibition floor and race to demonstrate the greatest performance across a series of benchmarks and applications.

Over the past few decades, computer clusters – two or more computers connected in such a way that they are able to act as a single computer with way more power – have changed high performance computing, making massive computing power available to research teams with modest budgets and allowing more flexibility and customability than traditional supercomputers.

The competition took place over three days in Frankfurt with 12 international teams competing. Since the competition began, Team SA has won the international competition three times, with UWC again leading the team in one of those victories, and taking the second position once. The international competition is organised by the international High Performance Computing Advisory Council.

This year’s competing teams included Centre for High Performance Computing (South Africa), Nanyang Technological University (Singapore), Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, University of Edinburgh (UK) and University of Hamburg (Germany).

Team No Windows – the UWC portion of the team – was guided by staff mentor, the South African National Bioinformatics Institute’s (SANBI) Peter van Heusden, and their student mentor, Eugene de Beste during the South African part of the competition.

“I still remember playing on my dad’s old DOS computer and wondering how it works; so I’ve always loved computers,” said Mishka Mohamed, who is completing her third-year Bachelor of Science at UWC.

“My interests shifted to the Supercomputing competition as soon as I was presented with the opportunity to learn more about creating a super computer,” she said.

“I am interested in high-performance computing because I want to build a supercomputer and gain experience through these events,” said Computer Science student Kyle Jordaan, from Bellville. “I also love all things computer-related.”

Liam Doult from Durbanville, also doing his BSc in Computer Science, is grateful both for the victory and the opportunity to hone his skills.

“What nerd doesn’t want to build a supercomputer?”

The cluster competition is designed to give undergraduate students exposure to the high power performance computing industry – an industry that’s increasingly crucial to researchers in fields as disparate as astrophysics, molecular biology and even history, where there are complicated operations to perform on often massive datasets.