India loses ground in supercomputing

Only two supercomputers from the country have made it to TOP500 list

Published - December 04, 2011 11:51 pm IST - KOCHI:

India's presence in a reputed global list of the world's fastest 500 supercomputers has been dwindling in recent years, with just two from the country finding a place in the latest list released in November.

The annual TOP500 list, updated in June and November, ranks the supercomputers based on their speed.

In the list that is dominated by the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, India has mostly been relegated to the background in recent years.

The two supercomputers from India belong to Tata's Computational Research Laboratories and the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.

In comparison, four Indian systems found a place in the November 2010 list: in addition to the two already mentioned, those of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and the Indian government made it to the top 500.

Though the Indian Space Research Organisation had unveiled a supercomputer in May, said to be India's fastest in terms of theoretical peak performance, it has not been featured in the list, owing to a technicality.

It was in 2006 that the maximum number of supercomputers from India made to the list — 11 in June and 10 in November. Then, India ranked sixth in terms of supercomputing power; this November, it was placed fifth from the bottom in a list of 27 countries.

India's decline may mean that the kind of investments others, especially the Asian countries, are making in high performance computing (HPC) is not made in the country, says Horst Gietl, executive consultant, International Supercomputing Conference.

HPC's role

HPC plays an important role in exploring challenging problems requiring huge volumes of computation and data in such domains as climate modelling, bioinformatics, cosmology and molecular modelling, explains Sathish Vadhiyar, associate professor, Supercomputer Education and Research Centre, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

The number of supercomputers in a country reflected the diversity, significance and magnitude of such problem-solving efforts. “India has definitely lost ground in the supercomputing domain, compared with China.”

This could be attributed to the lack of co-ordinated and integrated efforts between HPC systems researchers and application domain experts in exploring problems of large sizes on a very large number of processors. As a result, there were not enough domain experts interested in scaling their applications to use a large number of processors, and HPC scientists who could help to develop a comprehensive system software. However, the government had taken initiatives to address this situation, which could improve in the near future, he added.

In the world of supercomputing, power is associated with the number of calculations that could be performed a second by a machine. A teraflop equals one trillion floating point operations a second, and a petaflop, a 1000 trillion floating point operations a second.

The K Computer in Japan's RIKEN Advanced Institute for Computational Science, Kobe, with a speed of 10.5 petaflops, has been ranked first in the November list. In comparison, the Tata supercomputer, ranked 85th, has a maximum computational speed of 132.8 teraflops.

Sixteen supercomputers, including those that have found a place in the list, were featured in the June 2011 version of a bi-annual Indian list Dr. Vadhiyar has been preparing in recent years. (The ISRO supercomputer has been categorised separately in this list).

In the first version of this Indian list released in November 2008, 11 supercomputers were selected, with the entry barrier for being counted set at 900 gigaflops. In the list for June this year, the barrier was set at 3.11 teraflops.

So, does speed matter much more than numbers in the supercomputing domain? It is one indicator of the supercomputing resources at the disposal of a country. The more HPC research is done, the greater is the need for faster computers, says Dr. Gietl.

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