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Harness the power of Big Data through high performance computing

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Owing to the evolution of Information Technology and Computer Science in the recent past, the world has entered the 4th industrial revolution centered on Big Data. However, transforming Big Data into big knowledge and developing a knowledge-based economy require investments in the requisite infrastructure such as High Performance Computing (HPC).

HPC is the practice of aggregating computing power in such a way that much higher performance can be achieved.  The computing speeds availed by HPC combined with its ability to analyze new sources of structured and/or unstructured data, organizations are able to analyze information immediately and make decisions based on the trends learned.

HPC also makes it possible to develop relevant products and services because with the ability to gauge customer needs and satisfaction through analytics comes the power to give customers what they want.

Big Data can be used in almost every facet of our lives from governance to health, agriculture, education, commerce and manufacturing. Data processed by HPCs can help fight hunger by developing drought-resistant crop breeds. It can also help us better understand climate change which is posing a crisis the world over.

HPC can also enable economic modeling for both county and national governments by processing big and open data, thereby providing insights that directly contribute to evidence based policy making. In medicine, advancements such as gene sequencing, molecular research and bio-physical simulations can all support development of effective medicine and vaccines for diseases like Malaria and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) AIDS.

Africa lags behind in high performance computing which is essential for the digital revolution. For our scientists to contribute to research and innovation and find home grown solutions to our socio-economic challenges, it is important that governments take measures to provide access to cutting-edge computing technologies essential for research, innovation, growth and job creation.

Currently, the world is a highly connected global village and having local high-performance computing capacity means our researchers and scientists can better contribute to the global research agenda as well as provide tools for wider collaboration with colleagues globally.

Currently, the only country in Africa that has a semblance of reasonable high performance computing is South Africa. This puts them miles ahead of us in terms of scientific research, development and digital evolution.

Among only a handful of organizations with the capacity to offer HPC services in Kenya are the United States International University-Africa (USIU-Africa) which hosts a mini-HPC courtesy of a partnership with Intel and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). However, the HPC facility hosted by ILRI is used mainly by researchers in the agricultural and livestock sectors leaving out a huge chunk of businesses and institutions that can gain from HPC.

[ READ: The young man making it big in poultry farming ]

The mini-HPC facility at the USIU-Africa can be used in capacity building in several areas including high performance spatial analysis, high performance business analytics and high performance data analytics. It can, therefore, provide solutions across sectors like national security through face recognition for close circuit television (CCTV), internet traffic analytics and fraud detection.

It can also produce technical analysis in the health, energy and transport sectors while generating business analytics on consumer products, customer acquisition and retention, financial services and online and social media sentiment analysis.

Specific ways in which this data can be used to turn around some of challenges include the use of spatial analytics in energy and climate modeling. The USIU-Africa HPC not only supports the forecasting of weather, but pushes the limits further by enabling air quality monitoring for both synoptic and qualitative analysis.

In business, it can be used for handling Big Data from social media by corporates and even government entities as is currently the case at the University’s SIMELab project.

The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, though currently used for climate & weather prediction, can be utilized on a HPC platform for health analytics in conjunction with citizen science to achieve health goals like community based mapping of diseases and determination of the national burden of diseases to achieve Kenya’s Vision 2030 health goals.

In the creative industry, HPC platforms can support the study of how to leverage human computer interaction, computer graphics, and developments in compute-intensive simulation modeling, computer hardware, computer software and mobile technologies in the gaming and film industries.

In business, it can be used for handling Big Data from social media by corporates and even government entities as is currently the case at the University’s SIMELab project. In research and innovation, the HPC has the potential of solving perennial problems we face like air, soil and water pollution.

Analyzing data

Following the migration of most services onto digital platforms, data is being generated every second. Every time we log onto social media, visit a Huduma Centre facility or a student borrows a book at the University library, huge chunks of digital data are generated and stored. The challenge lies in interpreting and analyzing this data computationally to reveal patterns, trends, and associations, especially relating to human behaviour and interactions.

With such a groundbreaking opportunity staring us, the under-investment in HPC platforms both by the public and private sectors in Kenya is underwhelming for a country that claims to be a technological powerhouse on the continent. The 5G network technology is on the horizon and we should not find ourselves playing catch-up in the adoption of HPCs to make use of Big Data.

[ NEXT: Institute moves to counter threats of  cyber-security ]

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Paul Okanda, PhD, is the Director, ICT & Associate Professor of Computing, USIU-Africa. Email: [email protected]
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