R60 million boost for Karoo’s Square Kilometre Array

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The world’s largest radio telescope, the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), just been given a massive financial boost in South Africa. Technology and network equipment company Cisco announced during a media briefing that it will spend R60 million towards the operation and skills training of SKA.

Randy Pond, senior vice president for Cisco told media that SKA could become one of the biggest points of optical transport of data in the world, as well as one of the biggest big data centres in the world – and somebody has to make sure that the data generated is transported to analysts and scientists.

In terms of the break down in numbers, R1 million of the R60 million will be spent in equipping the SKA project with all the necessary storage, sensors, servers, routers and the like – basic big data infrastructure – that will keep it ticking over.

“It is in Cisco’s DNA to do something like this, as we have a long history in technology and infrastructure,” Pond said. The investment also represents Cisco’s largest single investment in one project that it has made globally.

“Cisco will help SKA to start looking at technology and infrastructure needed to facilitate data collection and management enabling new experiences, improved efficiencies, breakthrough innovations and new economic models for services and growth,” Cisco said in the briefing.

The majority of the investment, R50 million, will be invested in skills training in the town of Carnarvon where the SKA is based, and in research at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).

Cisco explained that it would be really easy for the company to fly international workers in and out of the country, but it is Cisco’s intention to keep the skills local – hence the big investment in skills training.

One of those is the Cisco Knowledge Centre (CKC) set up in the town of Carnarvon in 2013. “CKC is an e-schools and networking skills initiative in Carnarvon, the home town of the SKA. It provides basic and intermediate (ICT) skills to the residents of the town.”

Coupled with that, is the Cisco Networking Academy, also in Carnarvon, to help local community members develop basic and intermediate ICT and networking skills.

“We can’t quantify how many jobs will be created through the project. The project is only in its infancy and the actual SKA will only be online in a number of years. So as the project starts to switch on, more jobs will be created. But right now, we are preparing the skills sets for when those jobs become available.”

In terms of the research with NMMU, Cisco is working with the university to research optical transport.

“Cisco is funding a state of the art research lab and cutting edge research topics relevant to the challenges faced by SKA. Cisco is working with the NMMU Centre of Excellence (CoE) for broadband to solve some of the technology challenges that need to be addressed to ensure the success of the SKA through sponsored research in optical transport,” it said in the media briefing.



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