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African Supercomputers to Power Next Phase of Development

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Information technology developments in Africa have long lagged behind those in other parts of the world. But the transformation being brought about by the widespread adoption and use of mobile phones – each one a mini-computer – and the expansion of undersea fibre optic cable connections to Africa are creating the conditions for an exciting new phase of computing growth on the continent.

Despite the global economic crisis, Africa is on course to see annual consumer spending reach US $1.4 trillion by 2020, nearly double the US $860 billion in 2008 (McKinsey). On top of this, by 2050, a projected 63 per cent of Africa’s population will be urban dwellers. With Africa’s middle class the fastest-growing in the world – doubling in less than 20 years – matching computing power with this consuming urban population could unleash a treasure trove of opportunity for information technology entrepreneurs.

These developments are creating the conditions for game-changing computing in the next years. And this is encouraging the creation of a new supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercomputer) for Africa in Kenya that will double the total number of supercomputers in Africa. Hugely powerful compared to personal or commercial computers, supercomputers use cutting-edge technology to carry out high-speed calculations involving vast quantities of data.

Expanded supercomputing power brings numerous advantages to both economic and human development. It will radically alter what can be accomplished in Africa – allowing mass data processing to be done, highly complex and data dense applications to be run, and very large research projects to be conducted on the continent rather than overseas.

Increasing computing power in Africa will bring in its wake, it is hoped, a surge in economic and research opportunities.

It will help African researchers and scientists to undertake globally competitive projects, rather than seeing this work done overseas. It will also open up a vast range of possibilities for African entrepreneurs and businesses to do complex data processing, modelling and research and will enable them to become more sophisticated operations.

The new supercomputer, the iHub Cluster, is being built in the Kenyan capital by one of Africa’s pioneering information technology hubs – iHub Nairobi (http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php) – in partnership with Internet products and services company Google and microchip maker Intel Corporation.

Africa’s first supercomputer is located in South Africa and is ranked 497 in terms of computing power on the list of 500 supercomputers in the world (http://www.top500.org/).

It is located in the “Tsessebe cluster” in Cape Town’s Centre for High Performance Computing (http://www.chpc.ac.za/).

“With mobile devices coming in multiple cores, it is important for developers to be exposed to higher performance computing; we are hoping to debut at a higher level than ‘Tsessebe cluster’,” Jimmy Gitonga, the project team leader for the iHub cluster, told Computer World.

Africa suffers from poor supercomputer capacity and this has had a knock-on affect on everything to do with economic development. The iHub supercomputer hopes to help universities and colleges to gain competitive edge and be able to undertake more complex research in the fields of media, pharmaceuticals and biomedical engineering.

“In Africa, we need to be on top of the mobile scene, its our widest used device,” Gitonga told Computer World.

Some of the practical applications for the iHub supercomputer in East Africa and the Horn of Africa include improving weather forecasting and drought prediction, increasing the ability to give advance warning of droughts and famines in the region.

“Most of the United Nations agencies and international agencies operating in the region have extensive field research on how to tackle natural disasters in the region. Imagine if they had affordable space where they can meet with developers and test resource-hungry applications,” Gitonga said.

The iHub also wants to offer the services of the supercomputer to researchers and organizations who have had to go abroad to have their data processed.
The iHub supercomputer hopes to be used by mobile phone developers, gamers, universities and research institutions.

In the last two years, China had pushed the United States out of the number one spot for supercomputers. The Tianhe-1A located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin (http://www.nscc-tj.gov.cn/en/), China, was the fastest computer in the world from October 2010 to June 2011.

For those looking to see how they can make the most of the growing supercomputer capability in Africa, examples from other countries offer a good idea. Supercomputers can be used for weather forecasting, climate research, oil and gas exploration, physical simulations like when testing aircraft, complex modelling for medical research, processing complex social data necessary for delivering effective social programmes or running modern health care systems.

Resources

1) A video on how to use a supercomputer. Website:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvbSX–LOko

2) Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/95410448/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1-Mobile-Phones-and-Information-Technology?in_collection=3643685

3) Read more about the iHub supercomputer. Website:http://www.ihub.co.ke/blog/2012/09/the-ihub-cluster/

4) More on High Performance Computing from Intel Corporation. Website:http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/high-performance-computing/server-reliability.html

Published: October 2012

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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What is the UN doing with your data?

2011

France24: UN among victims of massive cyber-spying campaign

“Cyber-security experts have unveiled one of the biggest computer hacking campaigns to date, releasing a list of 72 organisations whose networks were attacked over a five-year period. Victims include the UN and several governments.

REUTERS – Security experts have discovered the biggest series of cyber attacks to date, involving the infiltration of the networks of 72 organizations including the United Nations, governments and companies around the world. … 

In the case of the United Nations, the hackers broke into the computer system of its secretariat in Geneva in 2008, hid there for nearly two years, and quietly combed through reams of secret data, according to McAfee.”

2019

June

Xinhua: China, UN to build big data research institute in Hangzhou

2020

January

The New Humanitarian: EXCLUSIVE: The cyber attack the UN tried to keep under wraps

“If there are no consequences for the [UN] agencies for failures like these … there will be more breaches.”

About this investigation:
While researching cybersecurity last November, we came across a confidential report about the UN. Networks and databases had been severely compromised – and almost no one we spoke to had heard about it. This article about that attack adds to The New Humanitarian’s previous coverage on humanitarian data. We look at how the UN got hacked and how it handled this breach, raising questions about the UN’s responsibilities in data protection and its diplomatic privileges.

April

Quartz: The UN is partnering with China’s biggest surveillance software company

Foreign Policy: EXCLUSIVE U.N.: Backs Down on Partnership With Chinese Firm for 75th Anniversary: The decision comes after U.S. officials and human rights advocates complained that Tencent aids Beijing in surveillance.

October

WSJ Opinion: China Uses the U.N. to Expand Its Surveillance Reach | In the name of ‘sustainable development,’ Beijing takes the lead in data collection efforts.

December

United Nations: Inauguration Ceremony Regional Hub for Big Data in China in support of the United Nations Global Platform

“I am very honoured to join you today in this inauguration ceremony of the Regional Hub for Big Data in China, in support of the United Nations Global Platform. The inauguration of this Regional Hub is most important, and timely. 

The demand for data, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, is greater than ever.  Governments are in need of detailed data on the spread of the virus and its impacts on society. Under these challenging circumstances, statistical institutes have had to respond urgently to the demand for data, and to present innovative solutions. Consequently, in these times of need, the statistical community is now able to effectively use Big Data and advanced technologies. 

For example, census data – together with detailed geospatial information – can help identify the most vulnerable populations during the pandemic. And, real-time data on the position and movement of ships, for example, can estimate the volume of cargo being transported, and thus help produce estimates on the state of the economy. These real-time shipping data are available as a global data set on the United Nations Global Platform, and can be accessed by the whole statistical community.”

2021

March

Financial Times: Opinion Technology sector: As digital trade grows, so does western distrust of Beijing: China is moving to the forefront of global innovation but governments fear privacy breaches

April

Nikkei Asia: Comment: Data suspicions threaten to tear China and west apart: Applications by Chinese companies see 200-fold increase since 1999

“Unique Identity for All”: Biometric identity is being rolled out across the planet. HSB is one of the many players in this fast-growing data collection sector. Companies such as HSB collect data on behalf of international organisations.
This story is from 1992 and is a rare glimpse into Canada’s data sharing agreements with the US and other countries.

Data integrity and cross-border data sharing have been concerns for a very long time. False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Designed in China to Rival ‘Made in China’

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Harnessing the power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is a critical component of successful economic development. And the high export value of designing and making “computer equipment, office equipment, telecommunication equipment, electric circuit equipment, and valves and transistors” was flagged up as a priority for developing nations back in 2005 at a meeting looking for “New and Dynamic Sectors of World Trade” (UNCTAD).

One country taking up this challenge is China. It now boasts twice as many Internet users as the United States, and is the main global maker of computers and consumer electronics, from toys to games consoles to digital everything.

China is also on course to become the world’s largest market for Internet commerce and computing.

The centre of gravity is very much moving China’s way: One study of 769 firms investing in 2,203 Chinese companies by Stanford University in California, found “the same firms that were successful in Silicon Valley … have transplanted their expertise to China,” according to Marguerite Gong Hancock in The New York Times.

But the country wants to move from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Designed in China’. This is critical because the majority of the profits to be made are actually in the designing, patenting and marketing of products. Manufacturing, as has been shown in the recent media controversy over the products made by Apple (apple.com), is not the main profit centre.

Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas. But through its network of sub-contractors,the number employed overseas in Asia, Europe and elsewhere is around 700,000 (The New York Times). This includes around 200,000 assembly jobs in China. These workers can make US $17 a day or less.

Apple makes hundreds of dollars in profit for each of its iPhones. Apple can do this because it is the designer of the phones and holds the copyright, and it is the branded company that has built up its reputation and developed a highly sophisticated marketing and distribution network around the world. Through clever use of design, Apple created products that look distinctive in the marketplace. And those are the factors that determine the ability to make this profit. As has been noted, it isn’t just cheap wages that keep Apple’s profits high.

Getting consumers to desire and buy your products is a challenge for any company. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design and is produced efficiently will generate a good profit.

The classic example from the past is Japan. Devastated during World War II, Japan set about re-building its manufacturing prowess from scratch. It brought in American innovators to introduce new concepts in manufacturing.

Japan’s openness to the new ways enabled it to re-fashion its manufacturing industries to exporting to the developed Western nations, in particular the United States. At first, quality control was an issue and Japan was mocked for making cheap quality trinkets, toys, automobiles and motorcycles. But it quickly changed from this to a reputation for making quality, affordable products and moving quickly into the burgeoning micro-electronics and consumer products markets. It also was a pioneer in computer gaming and entertainment.

The recent achievements in supercomputing in China are pointing to where things can go. China has developed the Sunway Bluelight MPP supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShenWei). It is able to do a quadrillion calculations per second: making the Sunway Bluelight one of the 20 fastest supercomputers in the world. It was built with a Chinese-made microprocessor, and importantly, uses lower amounts of power than other supercomputers.

The clever bit is the ratio of computing power to wattage used. Energy-efficient computing is critical if computers are to make the jump to the next level in processing power.

All these trends coming together hint at big changes in the coming years.

In the past two decades, the electronics sector has enabled a number of developing countries to improve trade performance, in particular East and Southeast Asian nations.

Improving education is critical to the growth strategy. Improving education, like encouraging the pursuit of engineering as a profession, as China has done – it now has more than half a million estimated graduates, the most in the world – means new skills and ideas are coming to the industry (engineeringinchina.net).

But this is not enough. New ideas are essentially a creative process and this needs connections to business and the ability to experiment and play with ideas. Start-up incubators have proven a successful way to do this.

Thailand is a good example: Around US $4.5 billion was invested in the country’s electronics industry between 1986 and 2001. This created 300,000 jobs. The sector became so important it made up a third of the country’s exports.

Realizing that much of the work was assembly manufacturing, the government set up the Thailand IC Design Incubator (http://www.nectec.or.th/rd/electronics/be204-45/be204-45.php) to work on hard disk drive development and move up the value chain.

“In 1978, I saw workers stringing together computer memories with sewing needles,” Patrick J. McGovern explained to The New York Times. McGovern is the founder of the International Data Group, which invests in Chinese enterprises.

“Now innovation is accelerating, and in the future, patents on smartphones and tablets will be originated by the Chinese people.”

In the past, China was not able to make significant progress on this development for two main reasons. The first is copyright piracy and theft of intellectual property rights. During China’s economic rise, this theft was rampant and the country developed a reputation for being home to a vast marketplace of knock-offs of major Western brands. And the second reason was the heavy hand of the government, which scared off many entrepreneurs.

But China is re-structuring its industries to focus on innovation. In 2011, China surpassed South Korea and Europe in total patents and was in a neck and neck race with Japan and the United States. As fuel for the innovation rocket,venture capital is critical. And China is now the world’s second largest venture capital market, with the total jumping from US $2.2 billion in 2005 to US $7.6 billion in 2011.

It is this journey up the manufacturing ‘value chain’ that many countries look to with admiration and jealousy. And the secret to being able to move up this value chain is design – savvy product design combined with savvy design of manufacturing methods to continually drive down costs and drive up quality. How long until China has its own Apple and not just an Apple knock-off (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-14503724)?

Resources 

1) Red Dot: The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognised quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design.Website: http://www.red-dot.de

2) Dutch Design in Development: DDiD is the agency for eco design, sustainable production and fair trade. They work with Dutch importers and designers and connect them to local producers in developing countries and emerging markets. Together products are made that are both profitable and socially and environmentally sustainable. Website: http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html

3) C3: C3 offers product design and product engineering services in Shanghai, China. Their strong point is managing innovative design processes from scratch (market research) until production: a one shop service: Website: chinacreativecompany.com

4) Dahua: Zhejiang Dahua Technology Co., Ltd. is a partially state-owned publicly traded company based in Hangzhou which sells video surveillance products and services.  Leading video surveillance product and solution provider in IP camera, NVR, HD cctv camera, Analog, PTZ and other vertical solutions. Website: https://www.dahuasecurity.com/uk

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This work is licensed under a
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The NEEMIC brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China. 

Read more here: Creating Green Fashion in China

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021