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CDAC's 2014 half-a-petaflop Param Yuva supercomputer in 2014 and (inset) the Supercomputer-in-a-box, Param Shavak launched in December 2017
 
 
Indian supercomputing pioneer CDAC now forced to act as a sales agent for imported systems

Why is the nation's premier   institution  for  developing  supercomputers, being  used as a clearing agent for distributing imported systems?
INDIATECHONLINE   C O M M E N T
Bangalore, November 23 2018:  Elsewhere on this page we have  carried a report from Paris, France, about  the  contract with  Atos, makers of the BullSequana  supercomputer and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing headquartered in Pune to supply an unspecified number of  the French  systems for installation at India's leading academic and R&D institutions.  ( Read our story here).
There is  a sad irony in  the  agency that  India's  National Supercomputing Mission  has selected, to   procure and distribute these supercomputers.  C-DAC  has a special place in  the  history of India's indigenous  development of supercomputers. It was  the agency set up in 1988   to  design and develop India's own supercomputer -- when the nation was  denied the import of such high performance computing ( HPC) platforms  by the US government.  Under the leadership of its first director  Dr Vijay Bhatkar, C-DAC  delivered   the first Indian supercomputer in the incredibly short span of 3 years -- Param 8000 --  created by stringing together 8000  pieces of the basic building block, the transputer, in a parallel computing  configuration. The machine  was benchmarked at 5 giga flops in 1991, making it among the world's fastest machines in the world at the time... a triumph of indigenisation in a  high tech arena  throttled by geopolitical  restrictions.
Since then  C-DAC has continued to develop a series of  faster, more efficient Param supercomputers right up to  520 teraflop  Param Yuva II  in 2013-14.   In subsequent years,  indigenous  supercomputers  were largely out of the global Top 500 rankings of the world's fastest computing platforms.... though last year C-DAC  did  roll out an innovative "supercomputer in a box" called Param Shavak. 
The agency  was the natural choice for any new Indian supercomputing initiative. Yet bizarrely  when the National Supercomputing Mission  was  relaunched  in March 2015 by the present government at the centre,  the stated purpose was subtly  changed "to connect national academic and R&D institutions with a grid of over 70 high-performance computing facilities at an estimated cost of Rs 4,500 crore. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi,  approved the launch of the mission that will enable India to leapfrog to the league of world-class computing power nations.  Rs 2,800 crore will come from the Ministry of Science and Technology and the rest, about Rs 1,700 crore, from the IT ministry" 
Since then,  the funds of the NCM have largely if not entirely, gone into the procurement of  supercomputers from abroad: the two    3.7 petaflop  Cray  XC40 machines  being used for weather forecasting and modelling ( see our story here) -- and now the order on Atos for an unstated number of Bull Sequana systems.  Going by past annopuncements of NCM, there will be around  6 systems bought from Atos for   IITs at BHU  Varanasi, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Hyderabad, the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Pune  and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.  The first three will be  outright imports by C-DAC, the next three will be assembled in India under C-DAC supervision. 
There has been no mention of any allocation for C-DAC  or any other Indian institution to develop or enhance   an indigenous system.   It is a sad  descent for C-DAC, from pioneering the nation's first indigenous  supercomputer -- and then    improving the system with multiple iterations for  over 30 years -- to acting as  an agent to buy and redistribute  imported systems.   If not anything else, this is an outrageous  and cynical  misuse of the  hard core of talent in the hardware and software of high performance computing systems that C-DAC has built up  since  1988. It is also a good indication of how the  those at the helm of the NCM today  prioritize the  spending of the Rs 4500 crore kitty at their disposal.  It seems to be 'buy first -- then only ( try to) make'. 
Today's global  market and  political  environment, may allow us to shop for what we want -- supercomputing-wise. How long will it take for these geopolitical winds  to change direction, at the next  international flashpoint? US trade policy is already  seeing the effects of   having at the helm,  a president  whose policies are driven by old fashioned  self interest rather than a nuanced  world view. India has survived  earlier spells of  what used to be known as  the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) when   dozens of  devices and systems  of possible strategic value were denied. 
Who can say with any certainty that  major supplier nations will not  regress again into such trade-limiting regimes? If and when that happens, we will rue the day when  those shaping our supercomputing  policies  decided that it was easier to  be buyers than creators.




    


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Indian supercomputing pioneer CDAC now forced to act as a sales agent for imported systems
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