Africa developing its first supercomputer outside South Africa

“Outside of South Africa, there is little to no capacity for cloud computing on the continent,” wrote Erik

Hersman on his blog, White African. “This means that few of the programmers in this region have the skill sets necessary to work and build out this infrastructure. We have a severely limited foundation on which to build future services in an increasingly cloud-based computing world.”

Hersman is co-founder of the iHub and the crisis mapping software outfit Ushahidi.

Steps have now been taken that will lead to HPC capability, creating a 24-node cluster that will come online at Kenya’s fantastic iHub idea factory this summer.

Google Africa has provided capital for the initial deployment, and Intel has provided a MultiFlexserver to act as the HPC’s master component.

The iHub Cluster, as it has become known, was the brainchild of iHub member Idd Salim. Google’sBob Aman, who holds “office hours” at iHub, and Jimmy Gitonga are helping Salim build the computer’s first four nodes.

“The iHub Cluster will be for people to learn what goes on under the hood of HPCs by building it,” wrote Hersman, “and to learn how to use the power in it to solve big data problems. It will also be made available to the animation and ad agencies in town for rendering services.”

Among the reasons Hersman provided for the creation of such a supercomputer were the following:

  • Research and training opportunities
  • Training people to be SREs (Service Reliability Engineers)
  • Power-computing services for local content
  • A host for parallel and resource-hungry applications such as weather prediction, drought prediction and real-time information dispatch

Hersman says the project has both the “leadership in place to run them and the resources to build them out.” The cluster, along with another project (the UX Lab, which aims to improve the user experience and design of African-coded software and Web projects), will reside at the iHub.

Africa is one of the most exciting places in the world today for innovation and growth. The technological imaginations of Africans are growing to a point where they are taking ownership of building the tools to serve that imagination. Man, it’s fun to watch.