Students win big at CHPC National Conference 2019

The Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) National Conference, held from 1 to 5 December 2019 at Birchwood Conference Centre, Boksburg, hosted three student competitions that ran in parallel with the programme of the conference.


The conference exhibition floor was a battleground for university students from within South Africa and the Southern African Development Community. Over 120 of these students were split between the Student Cluster Competition, the Cybersecurity Challenge and the Student Datathon Challenge. Prizes included entry to international rounds with international trips, laptops and notebooks, noise cancelling earphones and even cash.


The Chief Director: Emerging Research Areas and Infrastructure at the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), Daniel Adams, thanked the industry sponsors of the competitions and applauded the teams from previous years for South Africa's great track record at international competitions.


"Interventions that expose our students and researchers to high-quality conferences like this one, and which provide platforms and opportunities to stimulate the pipeline and grow the pool of postgraduate students, are definitely steps in the right direction. The DSI remains committed to supporting such efforts," he said.


National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS) Centre Manager, Dr Happy Sithole, was impressed by the amount of effort that the students put into the competitions.


"The Student Cluster Competition and Cybersecurity Challenge remain important in addressing the skills shortage in cyberinfrastructure, and the Datathon Challenge that was introduced this year brings the element of effectively harnessing cyberinfrastructure by using data manipulation techniques to solve societal challenges," he said.


Student Cluster Competition


The Student Cluster Competition starts in July every year. University students from various universities around the country are trained on Linux systems as well as in high-performance computing. Their training concludes with an assignment that requires each team to build a prototype cluster in the Cloud. The teams selected from this round go on to compete in the national round of the Student Cluster Competition, which takes place at the CHPC National Conference.


This year, a team of six students (Guy Axelrod, Victoria Bench, Michael Beukman, Sivenathi Madlokazi, Alungile Tshangela and Mikhail Vink) from the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of the Western Cape took first prize.  Two reserves (Stephanie Agenbag and Kalreen Govender) from the University of the Western Cape and the University of KwaZulu-Natal were also chosen.  This team will represent South Africa at the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany, in June 2020.


Two Student Cluster Competition participants, the best male and the best female, each walked away with R65 000 courtesy of Intel.  The awards were made to Sivenathi Madlokazi and Alungile Tshangela, both from the University of the Witwatersrand, for their technical contribution to the team, academic performance and team work.


"The purpose of the competition is to expose young university students to high-performance computing and equip them with Linux skills. It's a great opportunity for the CHPC to provide the students with real workplace skills that they can go on and use in their careers," said the CHPC's Matthew Cawood.


The Student Cluster Challenge was sponsored by Dell EMC, Eclipse Holdings, Intel, Altair, Bright Computing, Mellanox and Microsoft Azure.


Cybersecurity Challenge


The South African National Research Network (SANReN) hosted its third annual information security competition, the Cybersecurity Challenge, at this year's conference.


A team of three University of Pretoria students (Jared O'Reilly, Savvas Panagiotou and Tristan Sander-Hug) won first place at this year's competition.


The challenge seeks to stimulate interest in cybersecurity, specifically network security, among students at South African higher education institutions.  The competition is split into two rounds.  In the qualifying round, 416 students (125 teams) competed for a place in the final round.  Twelve teams of four members each were chosen to participate in the competition at the CHPC National Conference.


"A benefit from this challenge is the exposure that university students get to real cyber-related threats and the pipeline of students that is built into the information security field," said SANReN's Ajay Makan.


The Cybersecurity Challenge was sponsored by Cyanre, Microsoft and F-Secure.


Student Datathon Challenge


This year, the Data Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA) hosted its first student competition at the CHPC Conference.


Students were challenged to demonstrate how open research data could be used for creative and innovative solutions to some of the country's problems. The participating teams were chosen from a group of students who were invited to a DIRISA workshop in July this year, where they were given training in basic concepts of data science, research data management and Python.


"The judges of the competition do not focus so much on the technicality of the solutions, but more on the feasibility of the solutions and the effort that the students put into finding a real problem and a suitable solution," said DIRISA's Nobubele Shozi.


Students used available data and manipulated it to come up with potential solutions to delayed ambulance response times, suicide alert efforts and crime.


The three-member winning team of Jean Boguo, Kayleigh Slogrove and Ruan Spijkerman from the University of Johannesburg will be put in an incubation programme where they will have an opportunity to develop their solution even further.

The datathon's prizes were courtesy of Red Hat, NetApp and Altron.


More information on the conference can be found on


Images from the conference can be viewed on


Media enquiries:

Nox Moyake

Communications Manager: NICIS

072 026 6762

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The National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System promotes scientific and industrial development through the provision of high-performance computing capability, high-speed network capacity and a national research data infrastructure integrated hierarchically into globally connected systems and local system, providing seamless access for the research and education communities of South Africa. It is a national initiative of the Department of Science and Innovation that is implemented by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.



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