South-Africa-Dutch SKA data science partnership seek to address big data conundrum

The visit to South Africa by Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte included a pivotal South African-Dutch data science partnership between key institutions from both countries bringing us closer to understanding the volume of data generated by the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), was signed on Tuesday, 17 November 2015.

Published by the editorial team, 20 November 2015

This signals the unlocking of the hidden secrets in the immense amount of data generated by SKA - the world's biggest radio telescope. The agreement is part of the visit to South Africa by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mr Mark Rutte, and his trade delegation of 75 companies.

SKA South Africa and the University of Cape Town, through the newly established Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with fellow research institutions in the Netherlands, IBM, ASTRON and NWO to collaborate in a ground-breaking research project entitled Precursor Regional Science Data Centres for the SKA (SKA-RSDC).

The MoU will be celebrated as part of ‘House of the Future' - a programme of workshops, seminars, presentations and round tables with South African and Dutch stakeholders, taking place from 16 to 20 November in Turbine Hall, Johannesburg.

The South Africa-Dutch agreement on data science aims to establish national and regional data centres - to tackle one of the most significant challenges presented by the SKA: how to manage, process, and make accessible the immense amount of data the telescope will generate.

The data centres will provide astronomers around the world with access to the large-scale data infrastructures and associated high performance computing (HPC) needed to make sense of the data.

Professor Michael Garrett, ASTRON's general and scientific director says: "The signing of this agreement is a big step - it ensures that the huge amounts of data SKA is expected to generate in South Africa can be fully exploited by Dutch users. It is part of our ambition for Europe to have a regional scientific data centre for SKA, with a central coordinating role for The Netherlands."

Alexander Brink of IBM Science Alliances: "This South African addition to the existing collaboration between IBM Research and ASTRON is a logical step towards a wider application of innovations in handling large amounts of data. Science in the areas of data and IT forms a trinity with infrastructure and the socio-economic ecosystem. Several societal themes, such as life sciences, energy and water management, need IT research. Breakthroughs resulting from this collaboration will have a direct and positive impact in these areas, in terms of innovative power."

Michael Wise, head of the ASTRON group of astronomers, says: "Extracting meaning and knowledge from data is the essence of science. It is also an increasingly important part of social developments. New telescopes will generate ever more and ever more complex data. The challenge is to develop intelligent systems that enable us to find meaning in this overwhelming amount of data. This collaboration between ASTRON, SKA South Africa, the University of Cape Town and IBM gives us the opportunity to develop intelligent systems with data from existing telescopes such as LOFAR and MeerKAT, so we can prepare ourselves for SKA."

The techniques developed can, in turn, be applied in other fields such as big data analytics, high performance computing, green computing and visualisation analytics.

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