Updated: March 12, 2020 12:46:54 pm
INDIA HAS produced just three supercomputers since 2015 —less than one a year on average — under the National Supercomputer Mission (NSM), a dedicated programme aimed at boosting the country’s overall computing facilities and launched that year, according to information obtained under the Right to Information Act from the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) and Department of Science and Technology (DST).
The MeitY and DST handle the National Supercomputer Mission, and the mission’s nodal agencies are the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Pune, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru. According to the RTI reply, monetary grants to the tune of Rs 750.97 crore, or just 16.67 per cent of the total budget of Rs 4,500 crore, was disbursed during the last four-and-a-half years to these two agencies. The NSM was conceived as a seven-year mission ending in 2022.
The NSM envisaged setting up a network of 70 high-performance computing facilities. These were to be installed at many of India’s top academic institutions and scientific establishments like IITs, the Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research (IISERs), National Institute of Technology (NITs) among others. It was also an effort to improve the number of supercomputers owned by India viz-a-viz the global leaders.
However, skewed funding for the NSM during the initial years slowed down the overall pace of building supercomputers.
“In the initial years, funds were limited and the mission was making slow progress. That has improved now and the mission has gathered momentum now with government support,” said an official involved in the NSM, who did not wish to be named.
The initial phase, experts say, took additional time as they had to design newer systems in the complete absence of any readily-usable one to assemble softwares on. “As the technology was not available, a lot of work had to be done during the initial months. Later, the servers and networks were built after which the softwares were stacked on to them, thus putting together a supercomputer,” the official explained.
Globally, China continues to lead the supercomputer race. It added eight more supercomputers in the last six months taking its existing numbers to 227. This giant leap helped China retain its top position, followed by the US (119 supercomputers), as per the TOP500 report of November 2019. Other countries in this league are Japan (29), France (18), Germany (16), The Netherlands (15), Ireland (14) and the United Kingdom (11). All other countries, including India, own only one top performing supercomputer, the report said.
NSM’s first supercomputer — PARAM Shivay installed in IIT-BHU, Varanasi, was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in February 2019, nearly four years post the mission-launch. This 837 TeraFlop capacity HPC was built at a cost of Rs 23.50 crore, the RTI reply said.
The second supercomputer with a capacity of 1.66 PetaFlop was installed at IIT-Kharagpur, and cost Rs 47 crore. The third system, PARAM Brahma, installed in September last year at IISER-Pune, has a capacity of 797 TeraFlop, and cost Rs 23.50 crore, the RTI reply said.
This Rs 94 crore has been spent so far for three advanced computing facilities. The balance allotted budget, experts said, was used in building assembly for components and developing indigenous systems to put together these massive High Performance Computing (HPC) systems, officials involved in the NSM, said.
The budget disbursement by both DST and MeitY towards this mission has been uneven during the last four years, the RTI reply revealed. Twice during the last four-and-a-half years, DST failed to sanction any budget either to IISc (2015-16) or C-DAC (2017-18).
So far, C-DAC has received Rs 144.47 crore between 2015 and September 2019 while IISc has been awarded Rs 265.50 crore by DST alone during the period. MeitY has sanctioned Rs 341 crore to C-DAC alone.
“There will soon be 11 supercomputers; expected to be installed by 2020 or latest by March 2021. All will be indigenously manufactured. Besides, the next phase will involve developing capability building, which is an ongoing process,” the official said. Three supercomputers are expected to be installed in the near future, one each in IIT-Kanpur; Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), Bengaluru and IIT-Hyderabad, the RTI reply said.
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