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Universities look to the cloud to tackle big data challenges

The University of Cape Town (UCT) and North-West University (NWU) have established a cloud-based data centre - a first for an African institutes.

The move is step towards setting up the African Research Cloud (ARC) for data-intensive research. The data centre was established through Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) which is a partnership between the University of Cape Town (UCT)‚ North West University (NWU)‚ the University of Pretoria (UP) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

IDIA was specifically formed to deal with the big data challenges that will arise from the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

There are currently two initial projects being run at the ARC – radio astronomy by UCT and genomics by NWU.

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UCT said in a statement that these projects are instrumental in developing the technical expertise required to optimise the underlying cloud platform and big data infrastructure for scientific researchers who face the ever-growing big data challenges.

Deputy vice-chancellor for institutional innovation at UCT Professor Francis Petersen said that having a research cloud means that researchers and universities no longer need to have their own on-site servers. “It is critical for the researchers to be ahead of the technology curve and have easy access to well-managed high-powered ICT infrastructure on demand.”

The goals of the projects are to provide a platform for research in other sciences challenged by big data and also create a platform with the capacity to produce collaborative research with big data in radio astronomy among partners in South Africa‚ as well as SKA partners in Africa and Europe.

UCT’s executive director of Information Communication Technology Services (ICTS)‚ Sakkie Janse van Rensburg‚ said that the initiative is a first for Africa and will be a real benefit to researchers on the continent.

“Big data has added a new dimension to the research process across all disciplines. Before the launch of this data centre‚ researchers struggled to manage data-heavy information‚ with significant challenges when it came to storing it in a way that could be quickly accessed‚ analysed‚ visualised and shared‚” Janse van Rensburg said.

The South African “anchor” for the ARC network is a collaboration of universities‚ government institutions and industry. Industry partners Dell and Canonical have been instrumental in the development of the first phase of the ARC.

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