Cluster building at UWC

students assembling compute cluster

Motse, Eugene (hidden) and Saeed assembling a Dell R710 they’re going to use in their cluster

Last year the Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) ran a student cluster building competition for the first time, alongside their national meeting. The winning team progressed to the International Student Cluster Challenge in Leipzig and won top honours there. Observing the teams at work last year convinced me this is something we need to introduce to UWC, so his year when David Macleod from the CHPC’s ACE Lab is announced the second installment of  competition I contacted Computer Science to make sure we had a team. From that side Reg Dodds is facilitating things, and their sysadmin, Daniel Leenderts, is offering a helping hand. The team is being mentored by Motse Lehata, and includes Warren Jacobus, Saeed Natha, Nicole Thomas and Eugene de Beste.

On Tuesday Long and myself wandered over the CS to observe and assist with the unpacking and installation of the practice cluster that Dell had sponsored. I’ll be thin on the technical details in case they don’t want it shared, but it provides enough hardware for installing and testing an operating system and applications for benchmarking. I’m hoping to use this cluster building as an opportunity to get students (and faculty) interested in building cyberinfrastructure as an area for research and maybe even future careers. After all, right now I’ve got the distinct impression that the small number of people I know that run the (mostly Linux) servers that power South African e-Research infrastructure ended up in that career path largely by accident. With big international projects like the SKA and H3Africa coming on stream in the next few years, we’re going to need a much large pool of scientific computing, High Performance Computing, scientific workflows (my personal research bugbear), data curation, storage and re-use and so on expertise. Right now, as far as I can see, there is no decent curriculum out there to train these people, something that I’m trying to address in my small way as part of the H3ABionet, and there is no clear track through the educational institutions into the research infrastructure (as opposed to pure research) side of things. Its gotta change!