How Mellanox’ high throughput, low latency has revolutionized supercomputing in Africa




Many people are simply unaware that the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), which is based at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Cape Town, is home to the fastest computer on the continent. Africa’s most powerful supercomputer is currently ranked 167 on the TOP500 list of the world’s most powerful computers. This list is published twice a year and the TOP500 list provides an important tool for tracking trends in high performance computing.

This was discussed recently at a Mellanox Technologies event in Johannesburg, at which the advantages offered by Mellanox’ intelligent interconnect solutions were presented. These solutions, which are distributed in Africa by value-added distributor Networks Unlimited Africa, increase data centre efficiency by providing high throughput and low latency, thereby delivering data faster to applications, and unlocking system performance, allowing the CHPC’s supercomputer to help drive new research, new innovations and new national economic benefits through its processing speed and computing power.

High throughput, low latency, agnostic technology

Speaking at the event, Yossi Avni, Mellanox Technologies VP sales EMEA, said, “Around 90 percent of the world’s data has been created in the past two years, meaning that the world has produced a ‘tidal wave’ of data which correspondingly needs to be managed. The future depends on the fastest interconnects, and with Mellanox, you are able to reduce your application wait-time for data, thereby dramatically increasing your return on investment on data centre infrastructure. Mellanox increases its performance approximately every two and a half years, and simultaneously cuts the latency.”

Mellanox Technologies offers a choice of high performance solutions: network and multicore processors, network adapters, switches, cables, software and silicon, that accelerate application runtime and maximise business results for a wide range of markets including high performance computing, enterprise data centres, Web 2.0, cloud, storage, network security, telecom and financial services.

Avni notes that Mellanox is able to work with any OEM, as its technology is agnostic. “We offer end to end interconnect solutions for all platforms, and support every CPU architecture in existence because we are standard. Unlike other network vendors, Mellanox uniquely allows you to mix and match your software and hardware components, as opposed to some of our competitors who provide only proprietary solutions.”

Powering Africa’s supercomputer

One of these solutions is seen in the collaboration that has taken place in building the CHPC’s supercomputer, which was originally unveiled by the CSIR in June 2016. Dr Happy Marumo Sithole, director at the CHPC, also gave a presentation at the event, in which he discussed Mellanox’ part in building the supercomputer, which is a Dell machine. Dr Sithole clarified that Africa’s most powerful supercomputer cost more than R100 million and allowed the CHPC to enter the upper echelons of the global high performance computing arena – at the time it was unveiled, it was ranked just outside the top 100 supercomputers listed on the then TOP500. The CHPC chose Mellanox HPC Testimonia to enhance and support the supercomputer, which provides high end computational resources to a broad range of users.

Dr Sithole elaborated, “The CHPC provides high performance computing and support to such areas in South Africa as the petrochemical, nuclear, mining, automotive and animation industries, as well as to science councils, government departments, universities, the financial sector and large-scale science projects such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope project.

“The project is directly funded by the Department of Science and Technology, and we operate according to strict performance criteria as regards procurement. High performance computing brings competitiveness and drives down the costs of bringing an idea to market, for example by allowing for virtual prototypes to be created instead of physical.”  

InfiniBand accelerates the majority of new high performance computing systems on the TOP500 supercomputer list (as at the November 2017 listing), explains Avni. “InfiniBand connects four of the top five supercomputers, including the world’s fastest supercomputer in the USA, unveiled in June by the US Department of Energy, the second-fastest supercomputer in China, as well as the fastest supercomputer in Japan. Mellanox connects all 25 Gigabit and above ethernet systems.

“Our collaborative Mellanox success stories include involvement in CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research; SysEleven in Germany, a leading provider of managed hosting, IaaS and Open Stack; TASE, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, and of course here in South Africa the SKA project, the world’s largest radio telescope, as well as the CHPC’s supercomputer.”

Supporting the CHPC in the annual International Student Cluster Competition

In addition to its involvement in the supercomputer, Mellanox offers further support to the CHPC through its sponsorship role in the annual International Student Cluster Competition.

Every July, the CHPC trains computer science and engineering students from across South Africa’s universities in its annual winter school, teaching them to put together high performance computing systems. Some students are then selected to enter the national Student Cluster Competition, which takes place in December during the CHPC’s annual national conference.

The winners of the national competition – a team of six undergraduate students – then win a place to enter the annual International Student Cluster Competition, which takes place in Germany and is organised by the international High Performance Computing Advisory Council.

Entrants have included teams from Singapore, the United Kingdom, Germany, China, the United States, Spain and South Africa. Each team needs to showcase their own designs in building high performance computing systems, thereby demonstrating their prowess in a competition, which aims to showcase how high performance computing influences our day-to-day learning and living.

Avni clarifies, “Over the past six years, from 2013 to 2018, South African teams have won the competition three times – in 2013, 2014 and 2016 – and been runners up in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Mellanox is proud to provide support in the CHPC’s entry into this prestigious competition. During the 2017 competition, we sponsored R200,000 worth of network equipmentWe are truly proud to support and encourage this skills transfer in South Africa with our partner, the CHPC.”

Anton Jacobsz, managing director of Networks Unlimited Africa, concludes, “As a value-added distributor, our company takes pride in offering only the best solutions within the converged technology, data centre, networking, and security landscapes. Mellanox is a true example of a company that is driven to embrace new frontiers and play a role in facilitating tomorrow’s technology developments today. We support Mellanox’s involvement in the CHPC supercomputer and its sponsorship of the South African team in the annual International Student Cluster Competition. With Mellanox, the bigger picture is always of paramount importance.”

Mellanox’ end-to-end Ethernet and InfiniBand intelligent interconnect solutions and services for servers, storage and hyper-converged infrastructure are available in Africa through Networks Unlimited Africa, a local value-added distributor of converged technology, data centre, networking, and security technology solutions. NASDAQ-listed Mellanox has its global headquarters in Sunnyvale, California and Yokneam, Israel and has been in existence for almost 20 years.




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