The birth of the Research Cloud in South Africa

The birth of the Research Cloud in South Africa

When IDIA launched the Africa Research Cloud (ARC) in November 2016, it was the first African institute to launch a cloud-based data centre. Two proof of concept projects were run on the ARC facility; radio astronomy in the Western Cape and genomics at North West University. The radio astronomy pilot was called ARCADE, “African Resource Cloud Astronomy Development”. It was used for astronomy data processing and training, being used in UCT classrooms as part of students’ education.


In the following year, the IDIA research cloud was designed and the equipment purchased. This became the platform used by IDIA researchers for early MeerKAT data, and for MeerLICHT observations. Officially launched in July 2018, the IDIA research cloud is currently used by researchers across seven countries to collaborate on very large data sets coming from the MeerKAT telescope.


Since 2016, IDIA has driven the development of the next generation of research cloud. As science projects are being commissioned on MeerKAT and SKA, the telescopes are producing data sets even bigger than currently available. Biological data sets are undergoing a similar exponential growth. Joining forces with the bioinformatics community, IDIA has led the establishment of ilifu, a bigger research cloud infrastructure designed and built to service the astronomy and bioinformatics research communities. ilifu is a partnership of the following institutions:

  • University of Cape Town
  • University of the Western Cape
  • Sol Plaatje University
  • University of Stellenbosch
  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology
  • South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO)


Since 2019, the IDIA research cloud is fully integrated into ilifu. 2019 will also see the first attempts to create research cloud federation between South Africa (IDIA) and Europe with EGI. EGI is a federated e-Infrastructure set up to provide advanced computing services for research and innovation. The EGI e-infrastructure is publicly-funded and comprises hundreds of data centres and cloud providers spread across Europe and worldwide.