This is the second consecutive year South African students have won the competition. Picture Henk Kruger

Cape Town - Racks of “black things” filled with “blue blinking lights”. That’s how Peter Van Heusden of the University of the Western Cape describes the winning “supercomputer” a group of South African students built for the International Student Cluster (ICS) competition in Leipzig, Germany, earlier this week.

The competition, which ended on Tuesday night, challenged student teams from around the world to build a supercomputer – staying within a specified monetary and power budget. Teams then race to demonstrate the greatest performance based on a series of applications and benchmarks.

This is the second consecutive year South African students have won the competition. Four of the six- member South African team came from UWC. They are Eugene de Beste, Nicole Thomas, Saeed Natha and Warren Jacobus. The other two are Pieter Malan of Stellenbosch University and Ellen Nxala of Fort Hare University. All students are undergraduates.

The students competed against 10 teams from China, the US, Brazil, Germany, South Korea, and the UK.

Supercomputing involves a group of computers working on a program simultaneously, producing faster results than what is possible on a single processor. Such computers can be used for mining exploration, modelling of crops and diseases, car crash simulations and tracking the spread of disease.

“The speed of computing has been increasing at an exponential rate, but there are still certain problems which by their very nature are hard to solve,” Van Heusden, the South Africa team’s UWC mentor, said. “Supercomputing is building the kind of computer that can handle these problems.”

According to Van Heusden, ICS informs the teams about some of the software their supercomputer will be tested with but the competition also includes two “mystery challenges”.

In one mystery challenge this year, teams were given 20 minutes to run an application with the least electricity possible.

“Our students were forced to start ripping their super cluster apart to see what they could do without,” Van Heusden said.

The South African team was selected through a competition held by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) in Cape Town. Students nationwide were invited to compete.

Selected students were then taken to Dell’s headquarters in Texas for a week at the start of the year and worked closely with mentors at CHPC.

Dell is the South African team sponsor.

The South Africans will arrive back on Saturday after 12 days in Germany. - Cape Times

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