Is India at ‘Param’ of Supercomputing?

By : |April 24, 2013 0

India’s supercomputing program which started in late 1980s would always be marked as a proud milestone in India’s scientific and technological achievements. Those were the days of arms embargo imposed on India as an aftermath of India’s nuclear tests and program, because of which India couldn’t import Cray Supercomputers from USA. Due to the sanctions on technology transfer or collaboration with other developed countries, India’s supercomputing ambitions wouldn’t have been achieved had it not been the scientists at Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC); who indigenously built India’s first supercomputer PARAM 8000 in 1990. Over past two decades India’s supercomputing arena has progressed much, and as of November 2012 India had 8 supercomputers listed in Top 500 supercomputers of the world.

High-Performance Computing market in India

The development of supercomputing or high-performance computing has been on steady growth trajectory and the recent deployment of ParamYuva II at C-DAC by Netweb Technologies marks the launch of latest and fastest supercomputer of the PARAM series in India. Interestingly, Netweb had been associated with the HPC in India since 2003, when it had deployed a supercomputer at IMSc Chennai, which was then the number one supercomputing system in India and could deliver a performance of 1 Teraflop and involved hundreds of processor servers. Now days, just a single system can deliver performance upto a few Teraflops. This dramatic increase in performance of processors and affordability has brought supercomputing in reach of many small users, and is now not confined to buyers with deep pockets.

The application avenue for HPCs is not just confined to research and development institutes, but is rapidly being deployed by organizations across various industry verticals. While sectors such as education, R&D, biotechnology, weather forecasting and climate research have taken good lead in adoption of high-performance computing systems; there are many industries like oil & gas, pharmaceuticals etc. which have realized the importance of applications of HPCs in their respective domains. For instance, oil & gas companies are relying on HPCs for evaluating ground sonar data in their quest for oil explorations. Likewise pharmaceutical organizations are using HPCs for molecular modelling to compute structures and properties of chemical compounds. We now see increased usage of HPC in financial analysis markets; especially the interest is coming from algorithmic-trade analysts.

Challenges that HPC market face

The main issue that the industry face today towards the adoption of HPCs is that all the applications today that have been developed are based on serial processing, while to harness real potential of HPCs we need applications that could do parallel processing. The main challenge therefore is largely towards the application side, where home-grown applications for HPCs are required. There is genuine need to focus on code-parallelization to leverage the true power of HPC. Also, the trend in HPC is toward packing more and more power into less and less footprint and at the lowest possible price.Getting people from diverse domains to share and collaborate along one platform is the other challenge facing HPC deployment. Once HPC market participants are able to do this, they can deliver more relevant and robust solutions.Additionally, they could also consider commercializing select products and solutions.

As we mentioned earlier that HPC has become affordable; its deployment and adoption pose some challenges which add up the costs significantly for an organization. When it comes to installation, the major challenge remains power and cooling. A large HPC can be a real power guzzler and the largest ones can consume a few megawatts of power. In a country like India, where we have major power shortage, it can be a spoilsport. To add to the complication, we need to use large generators to take care of the blackouts and brownouts and it goes without saying that we need large UPS systems to switch between the two sources of power without a shutdown. The second challenge is cooling. With the rapid strides in computing capacity in terms to density (we now have more computing capacity per cubic inch than any time in the past); the challenges posed by cooling have also grown. Air based cooling can be effective only up to a certain density and people are now increasingly resorting to new methods such as liquid cooling and immersion cooling to solve these problems. And these are the areas that will see quite a few innovations in the near future which will make the HPC installation simpler and more affordable.

Green Supercomputers

As people have realized that the power is one of the major factors inhibiting the growth of computing, a lot of thinking started in the direction of saving power. Through the dramatic increase in computing capacity over past decade we now have more computing capacity for every watt of power consumed; but the cooling infrastructure for HPC is also a power guzzler. Earlier for every watt of power consumed by the computing infrastructure, the power consumption of the auxiliary infrastructure (such as cooling) was 1 watts leading to a PUE (Power Utilization Effectiveness) of 2.0 watts. By using Green computing solutions the PUE can be dramatically lowered and can be brought down to a ratio of 1:1. The PARAM Yuva II deployment is also a green initiative as it is the first Indian supercomputer that can deliver more than 500 Teraflops and is designed to consume 35% lesser energy as compared to its predecessor PARAM Yuva.

Conclusion

As the supercomputing arena goes on to achieve maximum peak performance, it should be noticed that for the real world scenarios the HPCs installations do not necessarily have to be of supercomputing levels. The Indian market needs HPC installations that would enable their businesses or researches to achieve breakthrough results with innovative high-performance computing solutions. And when more and more researchers will get access to high performance computing, the time required for innovation would come down and India would definitely see many IPs coming from various fields of science and technology.

(The author is VP,Sales & Marketing, Netweb Technologies)

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