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Supercomputers: The Modern Era Race Towards Supremacy

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“Great nations are not built on borrowed technology”

-Vijay Bhatkar, the Father of Indian supercomputers

Recently, India through its newest Supercomputer ‘Param Siddhi AI’ has secured 63rd rank in the Top 500 most powerful non-distributed computer system list in the world meanwhile, Pratyush, a supercomputer utilized for weather forecasting ranked 78th on the November edition and ranked 66th in the June rankings. Param Siddhi AI is one of the series of supercomputers designed and created by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) located in Pune, India. It has a speed of 5.267 petaflops which is a unit of computing speed. A FLOP (Floating Point Operations) is the number of arithmetic operations per second whereby 1 PETAFLOP= 1,000 million million FLOP.

The supercomputer has been one of the most complex accomplishments of mankind. Their complexity involves high-speed computations, high-performance systems, multiple central processing units (CPUs), circuits instructing and interpreting arithmetic and logic operations, and a large storage capacity. A personal computer would take 30 years what the fastest computer in the world ‘Fugaku’ a Japanese model will perform a function in an hour. These supercomputers have been conceptualized differently right from the laymen thinking of a supercomputer from ‘Koi mil gaya’ to a herculean structure designed for performing complex and advanced tasks. ___Let us understand the nitty-gritty of these supercomputers in India

History of supercomputers in India:

The advent of supercomputers in India dates back to the 1980s when the USA denied the sale of their supercomputers (Cray) due to an arms embargo. Many countries along with the USA denied such sales due to the fear of misusing these supercomputers into making nuclear weapons and warplanes. A blessing in disguise, thereafter, India decided to become Atmanirbhar when it came to designing and manufacturing supercomputers. In 1988, India set up the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and developed its first indigenous supercomputer in 1991- PARAM 8000. In that era, it was the second-fastest supercomputer in the world. Thereafter, a series of PARAM supercomputers began to roll out with the huge strides that C-DAC was making in its cause for developing advanced and superior supercomputers.

National Supercomputing Mission (NSM):

India in 2015, in its venture of scaling more into the field of supercomputing, has had undertaken a whopping 4,500 crore National Supercomputing Mission (NSM) implemented by C-DAC which envisages 50 supercomputers across the country in three phases. NSM looks forward to The second phase is to culminate in April 2021and the third phase itself begins in January 2021 taking the computing speed to 45 petaflops. NSM in its three-phase venture has certainly envisioned ‘Atmanirbharta’ in supercomputing in days to come.

Phase I:

  • Setting up supercomputing facilities in two more institutions.
  • Speed: 6.6 Petaflop

Phase II:

  • To be completed by April 2021
  • Addition of institutions equipped with supercomputing facilities: 8
  • Speed: 10 Petaflop

During Phase II, C-DAC signed  13 MoUs with the premier academic and R&D institutions of India for establishing Supercomputing Infrastructure with Assembly and Manufacturing in India and Critical Components of NSM in a virtual ceremony held on 12th October 2020.

In recent years efforts have been taken to develop advanced software and hardware components of supercomputers for making India more self-reliant. 

 Phase III:

  • Initiation in January 2021.
  • The three phases are meant to provide access to computing facilities to approximately 75 institutions
  • Speed: 45 Petaflops

Indigenous capacity: Phase III has marked its importance by Indigenously designing and developing principal parts of the supercomputer, making our way towards ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ a reality indeed. Manufacturing Parts such as interconnect processors, storage, software systems, server board, silicon photonics which are integral parts of a supercomputer will definitely boost India’s self-reliance. The esteemed places resolved to be utilized for the installation of such indigenous parts are IIT-Mumbai, IIT-Chennai, and Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC) at Delhi, C-DAC.

 Racing towards Atmanibharta?

  • Less import:

The indigenous manufacturing of supercomputers naturally reduces the economic burden of importing multifarious parts required for constructing supercomputers. Self-reliance lessens the dependency on countries, improves value in the eyes of other countries, and make more technological advancement.

  •  Scientific advancement:

Supercomputers are instrumental for scientific and technological development. The High-Performance Computations, arithmetic calculations, and expeditious task solving techniques pave the way for scientific advancement. Supercomputers carry out a wide range of tasks- climate research, oil and gas exploration, physical simulations (airplane and spacecraft), nuclear weapons. Advancement in these tasks is fundamental for a country to progress and have a neck and nack competition viz a viz other countries.

  •  Defense:

In today’s world having a strong defense is a bridge to advanced security and international prowess. An array of tasks- simulation of nuclear weapons, biological warfare testing, data mining are performed by supercomputers. The very reason various countries like China, Japan, Russia, etc are funding more for the purpose of building supercomputers which would be the state of the art. Recently, in 2019, the US Air Force and Oak Ridge National Lab acquired a Cray inc. supercomputer in order to improve weather forecasting for Air Force and Army operations which are threatened by climate change. Having an advanced supercomputer surely gives an edge to India to defend itself staunchly and effectively.

  •  Discovering and Extracting new resources of oil and gas:

Extracting oil and gas is no new story to us. Yet in a neck-and-neck competition that the countries have been facing in this field, innovation is a necessity, and supercomputers with their advanced compute capabilities have made the task easy and efficient. Indian oil and gas companies too in view of discovering and extracting oil and gas have started considering designing advanced supercomputers. Indian supercomputers through Remote 3D visualization, precise sensors, reservoir modeling have made innovation, exploration possible.

  •  Health benefits:

Supercomputers are progressively ahead when it comes to detecting tumours, genetic disorders as well as diseases ranging from mere cold to rare or deadly diseases. Ideal examples of this should be the Centre for Disease Control (CDC)- they used a supercomputer to understand and combat the liver disease caused due to Hepatitis C virus, researchers at San Diego have had used supercomputers to understand how the brain functions to help patients suffering from Alzheimer, schizophrenia and other mental disorders.

Moreover, in the COVID-19 situation, there is a lot of attention drawn towards supercomputers to find a solution to this ever-increasing crisis. Research and drug discovery for Covid-19 have been accelerated due to the presence of supercomputers. 

  • Weather forecasting:

Supercomputers can predict accurately about any calamity be its severe storms, hurricanes, heavy rains, etc. The accuracy of their prediction makes mitigation of the loss, evacuation of people, and property easier. The predictions by the supercomputers about the same were made about Cyclone ‘Nisarga’ which hit the western coast of Maharashtra severely in June 2020. Mitigation of loss was taken into account and evacuation plans were also executed.

Conclusion:

The modern era avant-garde supercomputers are one of the many deciding factors of a country’s supremacy, influence over other countries. Supercomputers in the coming decades would work wonders and dynamically impact the way science and technology functioned. These computers are instrumental for every country’s development with respect to defense, industries, health, agriculture, mitigation of climate change etc; which would eventually also influence the economy as a whole. Thus, even though India has marked its presence in the list of world’s most powerful supercomputers; it should focus more on investing, developing supercomputers which are as competent as the leading supercomputers (Japanese Fugaku, USA’s Summit, China’s Sunways TaihuLight) in the world today.

– Manasi Joglekar,

Writer, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata

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