Monday, December 14, 2009

CHPC National meeting and BELIEF Symposium, Johannesburg, South Africa, 7-9 December 2009

- Bob Jones, EGEE Project Director

I was recently invited to attend this event hosted by the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) and Bringing Europe's eLectronic Infrastructure to Expanding Frontiers (BELIEF) to present EGEE/EGI. The programme is described here:

Government involvement in the event was via the South African Department of Science and Technology (DST), who highlighted the recent start-up in South Africa of Africa’s most powerful supercomputer, a 28 teraflop HPC system – rated at 311 in the November 2009 top 500 list.

A total of 370 participants took part during the week, which kicked off with plenary sessions, followed by break-out sessions on specific subjects later in the week. The plenary sessions were also streamed over the Internet by the GLOBAL project:

The CHPC is the dominant HPC organisation in South, featuring an E1350 IBM Linux cluster with 160 nodes (2.5Tflop, 94Tb storage) and BlueGene (11.5Ftlops, 94TB storage, 1024 nodes). The data management aspects of the national e-infrastructure are highly important and their plan includes a Very Large DB proposal. CHPC itself has not yet become directly involved in the South African National Grid, SAGrid, and during the conference a number of representatives questioned the advantages, but the users seemed more convinced. Seven universities have joined the SAGrid, which is based on EGEE middleware and operational procedures, and is very similar to the Italian national structure due to close links with INFN. SAGrid is very keen to work with EGI and has also held EGEE co-sponsored training events using the GILDA testbed. SAGrid has been featured in International Science Grid This Week:

A number of user communities are already active, notably HEP and life sciences with others gradually coming on-board. The South African organisations seem keen to learn from the experiences gained in Europe, in order to get an interoperable national e-infrastructure involving supercomputing, grids and networks, up to speed as quickly as possible. SANReN is the South African National Research Network and is expanding the network, with 10Gbs links established as a backbone across four universities in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban and improved connection to Europe.

One of the key points to consider for the future is that I think SAGrid will want to establish a connection to EGI. The user communities already have to links to Europe, so will probably also be interested in working with the Virtual Research Communities.

1 comment:

brusisceddu said...

The event was a great chance to give a holistic view of activities around e-Infrastructure in South Africa, with everything from the network to the software applications and user communities having a voice. This is typical of the CHPC meetings in the past and I'm very glad that this tradition is being continued in South Africa. We do see that there is a very serious commitment to "enablement" of scientific research wit whatever tools are necessary in South Africa.

It was noted several times that South Africa has the golden opportunity to avoid the historic divergence between the "HPC" world and the "distributed/grid" world, which Europe is now trying to overcome with the interoperability between PRACE and EGI. As SAGrid coordinator, I spend a lot of time trying to push this interoperability, amongst the user community as well as the sites directors providing resources. SAGrid, is in the 'prototype to production' transition now, having proved that the management and provisioning of advanced research support services are desired and possible to provide to distributed user communities. The middleware technology is stable and flexible, and we have worked hard to make an operations team which is just as flexible and stable.

It is true that we have several large user communities, well established on SAGrid - ALICE, ATLAS, e-NMR, BIOMED etc. However, we are far more interested in developing the South African user communities to the point where "routine, trusted" usage is a reality. We're focussing on human resources - developing a highly-skilled, coherent team of experts which can soon form a Regional Operations Centre for Southern Africa. By providing this essential level of support, the "routine" usage of the grid will hopefully be a reality to the widest possible group of user communities, in South Africa and the region.

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