The Department of Science and Technology (DST) has applauded the six South African students who trounced 13 other teams from around the world to scoop first prize at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) 2019 Student Cluster Competition in Frankfurt, Germany.


The undergraduate team, including four students from the University of Cape Town and two from the University of the Witwatersrand, entered the highly contested global competition following their success in the national round, where they beat nine other South African teams.


The 2019 team, one of few comprising an equal representation of men and women, was supervised by David Macleod and Matthew Cawood, computer engineers from South Africa's Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC).


Stephan Schröder, Dillon Heald, Jehan Singh, Clara Stassen, Anita de Mello Koch, and Kaamilah Dessai walked away with the highest overall score against teams from the USA, UK, China, Taiwan, Spain, Switzerland, Estonia and Singapore.


The students had to showcase computing systems of their own design, and adhere to strict power constraints while striving for the highest performance across a series of high-performance computing benchmarks and applications.


The event, regarded as the premier international high-performance computing student competition, took place on the sidelines of ISC 2019, which ran from 16 to 19 June.


South Africa won the competition on debut in 2013 and repeated the feat in 2014 and 2016, coming second in 2015 and 2017.  The South African team is one of few that consists entirely of undergraduate students, and of different students each year.


Before competing, the team receives intensive training from the CHPC, an initiative of the DST and its entity the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).  The CHPC trains computer science and engineering students from across South Africa at its winter school every July, and selects entrants for the national student competition that takes place during the CHPC National Conference every December.  The winners go on to compete in the international competition in Germany.


The DST said the centre was enabling cutting-edge research with the potential for high impact on the country's economy.

“The skills that South Africa is building in supercomputing will help the country deal with the disruptive technologies that the fourth industrial revolution is promising,” said Dr Daniel Adams, Acting Deputy Director-General for Research Development and Support at the DST.


“This competition is one way that proves that South Africa will be able to fully participate in this new technological era and assist citizens to live better,” he added.


According to the team adviser and manager of the CHPC's Advanced Computer Engineering Lab, David Macleod, the South African team's winning formula was to have dedicated students and sponsors.


"Our sponsors are excellent and allowed the team to choose equipment without restriction or compromise.  In turn, the students put in a lot of time and effort before the competition and arrived well prepared", he said.


The national and international competitions are sponsored in terms of hardware, software and training.  The total value of the South African team's cluster was about R6 million, with sponsorships from Dell EMC, Intel, Nvidia and Mellanox.


"It is really good progress we have made as a nation, where we have demonstrated consistently that there is talent and skills in the country.  These teams come from different universities and provinces, showing that this is now the national DNA", said Dr Happy Sithole, Director of the CHPC and manager of the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS).


The CHPC is one of the three pillars of South Africa's cyberinfrastructure system.  It is supported by the South African National Research Network for transportation of data, and by the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa for the management and curation of data.


 Issued by the Department of Science and Technology and the Centre for High Performance Computing


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