This year, a supercomputer from India took 39th position in the TOP500 list, the highest-ever position achieved by the country. And, if an ambitious project by the Centre goes as planned, within the next five years, an army of 20,000 technology experts from India will form one of the world’s strongest human networks to handle the challenges of supercomputers. The Indian Express explains India’s strategy to amp up its presence in the world of supercomputers, and the challenges in its way.
National Supercomputing Mission (NSM)
Launched in 2015, NSM is the only dedicated programme launched to boost India’s supercomputing capacity. The Rs 4,500-crore, seven-year-long programme is spearheaded by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), under the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). As part of the programme, a network of over 70 supercomputers will be installed in multiple national-level research and academic institutions. These machines will be part of the National Supercomputing grid over the National Knowledge Network (NKN), which will have wide-scale applications in the fields of climate modelling, weather prediction, aerospace engineering , computational biology, molecular dynamics, atomic energy simulations, national security and defence applications, seismic analysis, disaster prediction and management, computational chemistry, big data analytics, finance and more. By March next year, the first three supercomputers under NSM will be operational at Banaras Hindu University (IIT), Indian Institute of Science, Education and Research (IISER),Pune and IIT-Kharagpur.
Largest trained manpower for supercomputers
Under NSM, the long-term plan is to build a strong base of 20,000 skilled persons who will be equipped to handle the complexities of supercomputers. They will be trained over the next five years and will become one of the largest ever dedicated human resource bases equipped to use these mighty computers. Several IITs and NITs, along with the C-DAC, are presently conducting courses and training sessions for the mission, and about 2,000 people have already been trained.
PARAM Shavak is one such machine that has been deployed to provide training. So far, 2,000 people have been successfully trained and over 100 courses are being conducted for this purpose. PARAM Shavak, which is best suited for research or academic institutions, will soon switch to using advanced computational facilities for research purposes.
How India fares in the world of supercomputers
Presently, Pratyush, installed at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune, is the fastest supercomputer in India and ranks 39th in the world. Launched in January 2018, it is the fourth fastest High Performance Computer (HPC) dedicated to climate modelling in the world. Its peak capacity is 4 Petaflops in compute, it has 9 Petabytes of storage capacity and 30 Petabytes of archival capacity.
According to the latest TOP500 list of fastest supercomputers in the world, India has four systems among the world’s fastest 500 systems. Mihir, ranked 66th, has been installed at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), New Delhi. Two other systems, ranked 206th and 497th, are presently operating at a software company and at IITM, respectively. Though India may not be at par with the US or China when it comes to supercomputers, experts feel that India is definitely among the top ranking countries, and is at par with Russia and some European countries. In collective capacity building terms, India’s supercomputers offer a wide range of applications and usage.
Key challenges and future plans
The biggest challenge for India, according to tech experts, is limited funding. Even though India took its first steps in supercomputer programming during the late 1980s, it made slow progress in the following three decades. Limited investments and delayed release of funds slowed things down further. This is one of the main reasons why India, which has the capacity to build a world-class system, has never reached the top position in the rankings. Only 10 per cent of its total budget for NSM has been released at the end of three years. While India’s stronghold is in the field of software development, it has to depend on imports to procure the hardware components required for building supercomputers.
But the situation is changing, with India now venturing into design, manufacture and assembly of hardware components. This will not only cut down import costs, it will also ensure that while assembling supercomputers, applications are tailored to address problems that are specific to India.