India set to build supercomputer grid

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Hindustan Times
October 06, 2014

Determined to raise India’s ranking in the world of high-performance computers, the government is set to clear a Rs. 4,500-crore ($730 million) mission this month to build supercomputers nearly 40 times quicker than our fastest one.

A finance ministry panel mandated to clear all big-ticket investments recently okayed the National Supercomputing Mission, jointly steered by the department of science and technology and the department of electronics and information technology.

"The seven-year-long project would be placed before cabinet soon," a top government source told HT.

The mission intends to set up 73 supercomputing facilities on a buy-and-build approach at academic and research institutions across the country and network them into a grid. Three of them — the first ones to be set up over the first three years — would be India’s first supercomputers capable of peta-scale computing and would join a global league of just 37 such machines.

Peta-scale computing refers to the ability to add at least a quadrillion (1,000 trillion) real numbers in a second. “This speed is equivalent to 5,000-6,000 high-end laptops working in tandem,” said Professor Rajat Moona, director general of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing that gave India her first supercomputer.

"This would boost high-performance computing for India several fold," added K VijayRaghavan, secretary, science and technology department.

The seven-year plan has been divided into two phases - the first three years for construction of the machines and the next four for the applications that will use this grid. The supercomputers will occupy a space of over 20,000 square feet, or the size of 10 three-bedroom apartments.

At present, India has two supercomputing machines in the world’s top 100, and nine in the top 500.

Its fastest supercomputer at the Pune-based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology is ranked 52.

A little less than half of all supercomputers in the top 500 - 233 - are in the US. But the world's fastest, Tianhe-2 (MilkyWay-2), belongs to China’s National University of Defense Technology. A late entrant, China has 75 other supercomputers on the list - nearly as many as Japan (30), France (27) and Germany (23) put together.

"The new grid could be the first step in our desire to have a supercomputer machine in the top 20 list," said Moona, pointing out that this could make a world of difference to the quality of research in the country.

"This can be transformative for our high-end training efforts and for developing home-grown applications for our needs in basic science and in applications in medicine, agriculture and technology," said Vijay Raghavan.

"Engineering problems such as weather and climate modelling, computational fluid dynamics, computational structural mechanisms are other areas of applications. Space research can also get a boost," added Moona.