eResearch Report 2017 - 2018 - Page 26

Building the infrastructure to meet our needs
Cloud computing for data-intensive research
Ilifu, which means cloud in isiXhosa, is a shared big-data cloud infrastructure for data-intensive
research. The goal of Ilifu is to enable South African researchers to be global pioneers in the strategic
science domains of astronomy and bioinformatics. Operated by a consortium of universities and
research organisations in the Western Cape and the Northern Cape, Ilifu is a regional node in the
national data infrastructure, partly funded by the Department of Science and Technology, to support
the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS) of South Africa. Ilifu brings together the
existing infrastructure and expertise of the partner institutions and builds on that to create a regional
hub for data-intensive research.
The universe in a cloud
The MeerKAT telescope, a
precursor to the Square Kilometre
Array (SKA) telescope in South
Africa, will enable astronomers to
try to answer age-old questions
about our universe. However,
in order to do that, we have to
solve the accompanying bigdata challenge. To this end, the
Inter-university Institute of DataIntensive Astronomy (IDIA) built
a research cloud, which is the first
building block of Ilifu.
IDIA – a partnership between
UCT, the University of the
Western Cape (UWC) and the
University of Pretoria (UP) – is
an important role player in Ilifu.
The IDIA research cloud served
as a prototype of the technical
foundation of the Ilifu facility.
The IDIA data-intensive research
cloud is tailored to process
the huge data expected from
the MeerKAT radio telescope.
Beyond the mere storage of
raw data, the cloud-computing
facility allows researchers to use
their own tools to process data
on an unprecedented scale.
And as the cloud software
systems are all built on opensource technologies, these tools
can be reused and recreated in
other disciplines.
The original IDIA cloud infrastructure
will now be expanded into a single,
larger data-intensive research cloud
that is Ilifu.
A bioinformatics
investment to expand
Ilifu infrastructure
H3ABioNet, the Pan African
Bioinformatics Network for
H3Africa (Human Heredity and
Health in Africa), is already a
strategic science project on Ilifu.
However, for the project’s principal
investigator, Professor Nicola
Mulder, the value of the shared

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