Thursday, January 09, 2014

Grid of supercomputers to be set up in top Indian institutions

A grid of dozens of formidable supercomputers is to be set up across India’s finest educational and research institutions beginning this year, placing the nation in the league of leading supercomputing powers.

Government education and research institutions, including Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs), will be able to harness the power of supercomputers for research in advanced technology areas as part of a project proposed by the Departments of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY) and Science and Technology (DST).

The Rs. 4,500 crore (Rs. 45 billion) project proposes a grid of more than 70 supercomputers to be hooked up across these institutions and organizations within five years. This will enable the Indian research community to build applications on the network, as well as to use supercomputing power for research and development (R&D).

India has 12 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers, the largest currently deployed being a 500 teraflops (equivalent to half a petaflop) computer, administered by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), the Pune-based research and development organization of DeitY under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. They are primarily being used for weather forecasting.

A 700 teraflops supercomputer is set to be deployed soon by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
A teraflop is a measure of computing speed equal to one trillion floating point operations per second—that is, it can do a staggering trillion calculations involving numbers with decimal points every second.

“Our actionable plan for this year includes supercomputing mission. We are planning to have a grid of supercomputers across a number of locations. It will equip research and education institutions with supercomputing power,” said J. Satyanarayana, Secretary, DeitY. “At present, institutions doing research work have to ask for computing power from CDAC or IISc (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore). With this set-up, this power will be available to them all the time, so that research can be multiplied manifold.”

The project was given in-principle go-ahead by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago at the National Science Congress, said Rajat Moona, Appellate Authority and Director General, CDAC.

Satyanarayana and Moona both said the project is in its advanced stages and expected to start this year. It is an “actionable object” for the department of information technology this year. “After we got the nod, we worked on the proposal that is being evaluated at present. A joint meeting of the EFC (expenditure finance committee) will be held shortly,” said Moona.

“The work is already in the advanced stages and we expect it to start this year,” he said. “We are looking at 70-plus supercomputing machines in five years’ time. We will start with petaflop supercomputing power (equivalent to a thousand teraflops), but eventually will go beyond that to look at exa-scale supercomputing (one exaflop is equivalent to a thousand petaflops), which is required for research in supercomputer architecture as well as development and deployment of supercomputers,” said Moona.

“This is a long-term strategy. We want to bring supercomputing to people in a major way.” Of the 70 planned machines, around 20 will be in the range of 10 petaflops, which is 15 to 20 times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer currently in India, a 0.5 petaflops (500 teraflop) machine. Several others will be in the 100-500 teraflops range while the rest will be smaller. The supercomputers will be connected in a “grid environment”, while cloud technology will be used to run applications for education.

“The joint proposal was floated by DeitY and DST, which are the project implementing ministries,” said Moona.
“The technical discretion will be provided by CDAC and IISc, like the necessary decisions like procuring machines parts, identifying applications, enabling people to build applications on that, training manpower to use supercomputers and managing the power budget, which is another important issue since these machines will consume a huge amount of power.”

“At present, we see this kind of a set-up in America, some of the European countries, China and Japan. This project is a quantum jump that will enable India to compete with these countries,” Moona added. Globally, the fastest supercomputer runs at around 30 petaflops per second, which is 60 times faster than India’s fastest supercomputer. China’s supercomputer Tianhe-2, developed by the country’s National University of Defence Technology, is ranked the most powerful supercomputer in the world, capable of running at 33.86 petaflops.
Experts say the wide variety of supercomputing applications include climate modelling, bio-informatics, drug discovery, personalized drugs, space research, forecasting natural calamities, engineering design and the study of molecular interactions.

“Super computing is also needed for larger databases like UID (Unique Identification Number). For example, when we need to do a finger print search, since there will be a huge data, it would be impossible to do it in real time. So we need to have supercomputing power for big data analysis,” said Moona.

“Internal security can also be looked at. We can use it in tracking terror attacks.”
According to Moona, the hardware needed for supercomputers is not available in India and there is no semiconductor foundry yet. In the absence of these facilities, the approach will be to “partly procure and partly build”.

Source: Mint, January 9, 2014

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