Why More of Africa Needs HPC, ASAP (& How You Can Help)

For starters…

Climate Change, Food Security, Fresh Water, Poverty, Disease, Energy, Human Capital Development, and World Peace!

At the 2014 Southern African Development Community High Performance Computing (SADC-HPC) Forum meeting, a whitepaper by Jackson Phiri (University of Zambia), et al, titled “Cyberinfrastructure: An urgent need for SADC leadership to address food security in sub-Saharan Africa” set the platform for a broader discussion about the impact of climate change and how it could affect their shared vision of prosperity and peace. Their conclusion…

HPC (with related analytics & decision support systems) is critically important for sustaining people, societies and essential ecosystem functions.

Food insecurity and access to fresh water have been historical drivers of conflict in developing nations, and are growing concerns for the peaceful and diplomatic region. The SADC population is expected to double in some places by 2050 and quadruple in others by 2100. More than one fourth are currently malnourished, and five percent are food insecure (they don’t know where their next meal will come from—a number that increased 16 percent since 2012). Seventy percent of SADC citizens rely on agriculture for their income, and the industry is the largest consumer of water. According to the European Center for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), SADC policies associated with capturing, storing and delivering water are especially politically-charged since two or more member states share 70 percent of its water supply.

Many fear the world’s farmers won’t be able to produce enough biomass to satisfy future food, livestock feed, fiber, and biofuel demands. African yields have been in sharp decline and nearly 65 percent of SADC’s cultivated lands are nutrient-depleted due to over-farming, erosion, compaction, or pollution; soil degradation robs sub-Saharan Africa of $68 billion each year. Desertification reduces arable acreage, and shifts the footprint of production. In Africa, and everywhere, agribusiness will be increasingly reliant on informatics so that farmers can make informed decisions as local (climate, market and other) conditions change.

Poverty continues to undermine SADC progress in most arenas. Seventy percent of its 277 million citizens live below the poverty line, and 45 percent subsist on less than $1.00 per day. The poorest regions are the most vulnerable to disease, and lack access to adequate healthcare and sanitation. Vector-borne diseases thrive in many SADC regions, and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates between 500,000 and 700,000—mostly children under the age of five—die from Malaria each year in the WHO African region. WHO also reported that in 2013, 1.5 million perished from Tuberculosis (300,000 were HIV positive), and another 1.5 million from HIV/Aids (the majority in southern Africa). Whether it’s to apply computational modeling to overcome policy and transportation bottlenecks so that life-saving inoculations can be delivered in time, or through the use of molecular modeling and protein folding techniques to unlock the mysteries of diseases, SADC public health will improve when more of its research community gains a mastery of data science, and can access HPC.

While energy is relatively cheaper in Africa (than in most developed countries), it’s a limited and finite resource that is being spread progressively thinner. With an erratic supply of modern fuel sources in many rural areas, and vast regions that have yet to be electrified, many burn firewood for warmth and light. Some rural communities have access to electricity and Internet for only a few hours each day. Poor national investment and deteriorating infrastructure have led to the collapse of several power plants in recent years. Rolling blackouts occur during high-use periods in urban and rural regions alike. South Africa practices ‘load-shedding’ with scheduled outages to distribute available watts where and when they are needed. Since necessity is often the mother of invention, Mother Africa will likely spark future energy innovation.

Africa is the best possible laboratory in which to analyze African problems, and who could be more passionate about discovering solutions to them than African scientists? But science and technology (S&T) human capital development is difficult for resource-constrained communities that lack infrastructure. Consequently, scholars with an interest in and aptitude for S&T often flee for greener pastures making diaspora SADC’s grandest challenge.

A globally-shared vision and cyberinfrastructure for sub-Saharan Africa

student-cluster-shirt (2)Great strides have been taken recently to bolster regional infrastructure and Africa’s future S&T community. The South African student cluster challenge team, sponsored by the Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC, SA), won the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) Student Cluster Challenge in 2013 and 2014. CHPC Director Happy Sithole hopes the cluster challenge will be a SADC-wide activity in the future as more students learn to code.

In 2013, the University of Texas at Austin, U.S. donated the upcycled supercomputer, formerly known as Ranger, to the CHPC. Twenty-four Ranger racks were divided into several stand-alone systems that now reside in institutions in Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa. Each is interconnected via high-speed national research and education networks (NRENs), and creates a point of presence on an interfederated knowledge network where technicians can help each other as new sites are brought online. New SADC institutions can join if they are connected to NRENs (that are peered with neighboring NRENs). All will be able to leverage the Ranger racks, plus a variety of third-party, cloud-hosted resources. SADC’s American, European, Australian, and Asian HPC advisers (who have been working toward interoperable resources and sustainable support models for 20 years or more) are sharing lessons learned in an effort to accelerate SADC progress. By adopting compatible infrastructure and standards, SADC will be able to securely and efficiently collaborate with trusted education and research initiatives around the world.

Planned for November (support pending); here’s how you can help!

On Nov. 10, (we hope!) 16 African computational and domain scientists will travel to the U.S. to attend the annual Supercomputing Conference (SC15) for a cultural and knowledge exchange. The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), will host a two-day workshop where participants can roll up their sleeves, working side-by-side with some of the world’s most experienced HPC technicians, and learn more about the use and management of their shared eInfrastructure. On Saturday, Nov. 14, a reception will be held for participants and early-arriving SC15 attendees who would like to meet the delegation.

As you can imagine, sponsors are needed to support this activity. Additionally, we would like to pair African scholars with mentors from other CI’s in order to expand professional networks, and provide them with extended technical, and psycho-social support. If you’d like to join the list of prestigious sponsors that have already pledged to help, or volunteer to serve as a mentor, please send a letter of interest to info@stem-trek.org.

We look forward to adding your organization’s logo to our hall of fame!



Team-CHPC-Happy (2)We’re proud of you Team South Africa! Thanks for competing in the ISC student cluster competition.


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