Data Intensive Research

As complex and large amounts of data become a pervasive aspect of our world, the increasing need for data-intensive research (DIR) has propelled scientists to re-think the ways in which their research is carried out. Advances in digital hardware and software technologies continue to accelerate, and researchers nowadays have to grapple with unprecedented amounts of data. This has renewed interest in the field of applied Artificial Intelligence, whereby algorithms can to some extent be trained to mimic human behaviour and intuition in tackling sophisticated tasks.


The UCT High Performance Computing Facility provides a reliable, scalable and economic computing facility to UCT’s researchers. UCT HPC is an affordable and environmentally friendly means of granting researchers access to computing resources.

The HPC clusters are housed in the ICTS data centres in order to make use of existing support infrastructures such as UPS, generators, cooling, fire suppression and secure access. This ensures that UCT’s investment in the HPC facility is well spent and that the facility can continue to grow according to researchers’ needs. Permanent staff members have also been given extensive training in supporting the HPC infrastructure and researchers’ computing requirements. This training and time is seen as an investment by the university in providing long term HPC support.

Researchers that make use of the HPC resources are bound by the Acceptable Use Policy and are required to reference the HPC resource in their citations. There is currently no service level agreement for HPC resources and user support is on a best effort basis. Should a department or research group need to use specific infrastructure on the HPC facility that does not fall within the generic offering then they need to include it in their budget and engage with ICTS regarding the provisioning thereof.

HPC Costs

Currently, HPC operations are catered for in the budget and maintenance for the standard procurement and life cycle of ICTS equipment, and UCT provides these advanced computing resources to the research community at no extra cost. The long term aim, however, is for the facility's hardware to be sustained through research funding. For more information see

Annually, the Advanced Computing Committee (ACC) reviews the strategic allocation of compute resources to support the University community to acquire large items of compute equipment for research, congruent with the strategic objectives and goals of the University and in line with its vision, mission, and values. Researchers who want to discuss their needs can reach out to the team by logging an eResearch Request


The Inter-University Institute for Data Intensive Astronomy (IDIA) was launched in 2015 as a partnership of South African universities and industry. It was created in response to the emerging challenge of the new era of big data in astronomy. Together, the partner universities (UCT, the University of Pretoria and the University of the Western Cape) established a computational facility that is data-centric and based on cloud technology. This is called the ilifu Facility, which was designed specifically for data-intensive computation in astronomy with a focus on the large science programmes of the South African MeerKAT radio telescope, which is a precursor to the Square Kilometre Array. The facility prioritises MeerKAT projects that are led by or include significant participation by researchers from South Africa belonging to one of the IDIA partner institutions. 

MeerKAT Large Projects with participation from IDIA currently include LADUMA, MIGHTEE, MONGHOOSE, Fornax, ThunderKAT and the related MeerLICHT project. It is open for use by large survey projects from South Africa outside of IDIA and to international collaborators, subject to agreement and provision of resources.

Visit the IDIA website to find out more.


During 2016, UCT led a consortium of institutions in the Western Cape to put in a bid to the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS), supported by the Department of Science and Technology with a goal to build a data-intensive research facility in the Western Cape that would cater explicitly to the needs of researchers working in astronomy and bioinformatics – two areas in which universities in the Western Cape have a strong international presence. The bid was successful; and today, this project is known as ‘Ilifu’ (‘cloud’, in isiXhosa).

Astronomy and bioinformatics are amongst the sciences with the greatest challenges of data intensity. In astronomy, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) drives one of the most significant big-data challenges of the coming decade. Biomedical and other biological research is rapidly adopting high-throughput technologies, driving a growing demand in bioinformatics for expertise and facilities for big data management, storage and analysis. New modalities and technologies are required to empower research and discovery in this data-intensive era, and research organisations and national communities that do not rise to this challenge will be marginalised.

Ilifu addresses the need for support in data-intensive research in South Africa, and is intended to be a research tool that enables South African researchers at partner organisations to be world leaders in the strategic science domains of astronomy and bioinformatics. It is made up of a consortium of Western Cape institutions that established and operate a data-centric, high-performance computing facility for data-intensive research. UCT is the lead institute, and partner institutions are the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Stellenbosch University, Sol Plaatje University, South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO, formerly SKA South Africa), and the University of the Western Cape. 

Learn more on the Ilifu website


Virtual machines abstract underlying hardware to emulate multiple independent operating systems on a single host, creating an environment where those multiple systems can coexist. These software-based emulations of physical computers can create a dynamic and flexible computing environment, allowing for multiple operating systems and applications to be run on a single physical host, which enables efficient resource utilisation as well as an enhanced computing experience. 

We have (limited) capabilities to accommodate workloads that are not suitable for the UCT HPC, and while we do not currently have a fixed pricing structure for virtual machines for research, all requests are handled individually. Please log an eResearch Request for a quote. 


Research Systems

The research systems unit ensures that innovative, ICT-based management and information systems – aligned with UCT’s Research Strategy – are implemented to support the UCT research community. The Research Systems team is tasked with working across a range of professional staff departments that support research (Research Office, Postgraduate Studies, International Academic Programmes Office and Research Contracts & Innovation) to ensure integration with other ICT systems, provide business systems leadership for current and possible future research and student mobility requirements, and provide overall management and support coordination of these systems.


UCT is a partner in the REDCap Consortium, and UCT researchers can benefit from the broad range of data collection functionality that REDCap offers. At its most simple, REDCap is a web-based interface that empowers researchers to take control of their data collection work. REDCap is a neutral data collection platform, able to capture any type of data, for any purpose.

REDcap logo

You can access REDcap with your valid UCT login details at You can also aget more information about the platform and request assitence at the same link.


iThenticate is a leading provider of professional plagiarism detection and prevention technology used worldwide by scholarly publishers and research institutions to ensure the orginality of written work before publication. This is an online web-based system that can be used by researchers at UCT. Researchers and institutions can feel confident that their academic reputation will be protected.

iThenticate logo

All UCT staff are able to log into iThenticate directly, using their network credentials, and all support queries can be logged directly with the Research Systems Support team by completing the form in the link provided.

Visit the iThenticate website for more information and resources.


As research contracts are signed and the number of postgraduates and postdoctoral fellows continues to grow each year, UCT continues to increase our publication count and attract more donations and funding. At the same time, the business of research management is rapidly changing with the exponential growth of big data, open access and international collaboration and universities face additional challenges as governments restrict research funding and donors demand more from research groups. It is clear that supporting the research enterprise of a university is becoming an increasingly complex task. In order to remain on top of our game and continue to make our mark both locally and internationally, UCT has implemented an electronic research administration (eRA) system.

The eRA is a ‘one-stop shop’ to manage and track the administrative workflow within a project lifecycle and beyond. The software guides researchers from the point where an idea is born and a funding opportunity identified, through to ethics approval and post-publication. It aims to streamline and automate workflows, where all parties involved (including finance and research contracts) are automatically notified of a project application coming their way. It also gives researchers the opportunity to track their applications through the automated process, reducing the risk of an application lying unseen in an inbox, and it enables researchers to keep on top of their contract compliance requirements. Through its online portal, researchers can create and manage their CV which they can draw on to apply for grants and funding and use to create a publicly visible profile. 

Find out more about eRA or Login to ERA.


Research Data Management

Working with data can be challenging. Research data management (RDM) is the the active curation of data throughout the research life-cycle. It includes various methods of organising and documenting data processes (collection, description, curation, archiving and publication) within a research project, ideally towards making it FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and accessible).

Today, actively managing data has become a very necessary part of research, and it is something that needs to occur within every research event, in every department. 

Even if a researcher cannot make their research data completely open, practising good research data management helps make the research more efficient, searchable and findable. Professional data management practices can make research more coherent and shareable, which translates to research being relevant and valuable. By understanding RDM and using available RDM tools, researchers at UCT can achieve far more efficiency with their data, and thus ensure that their research is far-reaching and impactful.

The UCT Digital Library Services (DLS) team offer a wealth of experience and expertise in Digital Scholarship and Research Data Services at UCT. Their services include ZivaHub, UCT DMP, Geographical Information Systems (GIS) Support, and digitisation.


 ZivaHub is UCT’s institutional data repository. It serves as a publishing and access platform for research data and scholarly outputs. ZivaHub is powered by Figshare for Institutions and is available to all students and staff at UCT. Using ZivaHub simplifies the process of making data FAIR (findable, accessible, interoperable and re-usable), and it has been shown that sharing data increases citations and boosts research metrics.


You can access ZivaHub with your UCT login details at


Increasingly, funding bodies mandate the submission of a Data Management Plan (DMP) to ensure that data can be preserved and shared. By managing your data through a plan, you make it easier to understand the details and procedures relating to your data and data collection throughout the life cycle of the project.

UCT DMP logo

UCT DMP has been developed to help UCT researchers write data management plans. The tool assists with DMP creation by providing questions related to the data and the research life-cycle and gives tips to answering them. There are a number of DMP templates available in UCT DMP, which help with the requirements of specific funders, departments or projects depending on discipline.

UCT DMP can be accessed with UCT credentials.


Frequently asked questions

For specific queries, email


The eResearch Centre was created in order to provide support and services to researchers in the use of resources including (but not limited to) computing, software, data management and storage, digital scholarship and ensuring access and visibility. In an ever-changing and evolving environment, the eResearch Centre helps to ensure that UCT is ready to respond to changes in the global research landscape. It occupies an important space between research and research-supporting PASS (professional, administrative and support staff) to make sure that services match needs.


The eResearch Centre partners with researchers and research groups to accelerate and transform research, connecting you to the most appropriate services to support the research lifecycle.


The ICTS Helpdesk offers a broad scope of support to UCT staff and students, while the eResearch Centre offers specialised support and services, with a focus on computing, software, research data management, digital scholarship and Open Science.