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The Little Known Story of How India’s First Indigenous Supercomputer Amazed the World in 1991

Discussion in 'Education & Research' started by lca-fan, Feb 19, 2017.

  1. lca-fan

    lca-fan Major SENIOR MEMBER

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    The Little Known Story of How India’s First Indigenous Supercomputer Amazed the World in 1991
    Sanchari Pal

    January 13, 2017

    History, India, Technology

    “Great nations are not built on borrowed technology.” – Vijay Bhatkar, the Father of Indian Supercomputers

    In India, the name C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) has become synonymous with supercomputers, a term that denotes any computing environment which makes use of advanced tools, high computational speeds and efficiency to help researchers in different fields such as scientific R & D, weather forecasting, missile simulation, space science, pharmaceutical research and much more.

    For the uninitiated, what really makes a Supercomputer “super” is a concept called parallel computing. Basically, parallel processing involves the breaking up of tasks into smaller tasks that can be processed in parallel. The end result is obtained by combining outputs from each processor.

    Here is the story of how India’s first-ever indigenous supercomputer was made, a major milestone in modern India’s technological odyssey.
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    The supercomputer effort in India began in the late 1980s, when the US stopped the export of a Cray supercomputer because of continuing technology embargoes. During the 80s, USA and some other European countries had developed super computers, which were critical for developing satellites and nuclear weapons. These countries refused to transfer the knowledge of creating super computers to India, fearing the developing nation might use it to design missiles and warplanes rather than forecast the weather.

    Faced with a technology-denial regime that denied its scientific community access to supercomputers, India set up Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) in March 1988 with the clear mandate to develop an indigenous supercomputer to meet high-speed computational needs in solving scientific and other developmental problems where fast number crunching is a major component.

    Following a specific recommendation of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SAC-PM) to that effect, C-DAC was established as a scientific society of the then Department of Electronics (now the Department of Information Technology (DIT) under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology).

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    To lead the project, PM Rajiv Gandhi turned to a man who hadn’t seen a ‘super’ all his life to build one in double-quick time. But Vijay Pandurang Bhatkar knew all about shortcuts: the country’s top number-cruncher had begun school directly in the 4th standard and still made it to the top. When Rajiv Gandhi met Bhatkar, he asked him three questions:

    “Can we do it?”
    Bhatkar answered, “I have not seen a supercomputer as we have no access to supercomputer, I have only seen a picture of the Cray! But, yes, we can.”

    “How long will it take?”
    Bhatkar promptly replied, “Less than it it will take us in trying to import Cray from US.

    “How much money it would take?
    Bhatkar replied, “The whole effort, including building an institution, developing the technology, commissioning and installing India’s first supercomputer will cost less than the cost of Cray.

    Pleased, the Prime Minister gave the go-ahead for the project. Based in Pune, C-DAC summoned scientists from all over the country to work on one of India’s greatest technology projects.

    Within three years, the extraordinary happened. With everyone involved working their socks off, C-DAC finally completed its work well within the proposed deadline. With components that could be bought off the shelves, in 1991, C-DAC rolled out India’s first indigenous supercomputer: PARAM 8000.

    [​IMG]In pic above: Vijay Bhatkar.

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    For the first time ever, a developing country had pulled off such a feat in advanced computer development. Needless to say, the world was shocked at this achievement. Many were doubtful about PARAM truly being a supercomputer. That’s when Bhatkar decided to take the PARAM prototype to a major international conference and exhibition of supercomputers. Here, it was demonstrated, benchmarked and formally declared a supercomputer. A US Newspapers published the news with headline, “Denied supercomputer, Angry India does it!”

    Also Read: India’s Talented Scientists Are Making a Mark in These Six Global Mega Science Projects

    A multiprocessor machine, PARAM 8000 was benchmarked at 5 Gflops, making it the second fastest supercomputer in the world at that time. It also costed a fraction of what the legendary US machine Cray did and performed just as well. So much so, that the US company which manufactured Cray had to slash prices to woo a nation it spurned just eight years ago!

    PARAM 8000 also set the platform for a whole series of high-performance parallel computers, called the PARAM series. In 2002, PARAM 20000, or PARAM Padma, broke the teraflop (thousand billion flops) barrier with a peak speed of 1 Tflop. The latest machine in the series are the PARAM Ishan and the PARAM Kanchenjunga.

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    Installed at IIT Guwahati, PARAM Ishan can be used in the application areas like computational chemistry, computational fluid dynamics, computational electromagnetic, civil engineering structures, nano-block self assemble, climate modeling and seismic data processing. PARAM Kanchenjunga, stationed at NIT Sikkim’s Supercomputing Centre, is expected to be used for engineering research conducted by the faculty and students at the institute as well as researchers across the state. Interestingly, Param in Sanskrit means ‘supreme’!

    Based on the Param series of supercomputers, Bhatkar has also built the National Param Supercomputing Facility (NPSF). This has been now made available as a grid computing facility through Garuda grid on the National Knowledge Network (NKN), providing nationwide access to High Performance Computing (HPC) infrastructure. He also initiated moves to have supercomputing in Indian languages and succeeded in doing so.

    In 2015, Bhatkar was honoured with Padma Bhushan for his immense contribution in the field of science and technology in India.

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    Vijay Bhatkar’s and C-DAC’s efforts in this strategically and economically important area have thus put India on the supercomputing map of the world along with select developed nations of the world. As of 2016, many PARAM systems have been deployed in the country and abroad. Today, India is designing Petascale supercomputers, next only to USA and Japan. The crowning glory of India’s advanced computing and IT capability, once achieved this computer will be a symbol of India’s undeniable position as an IT superpower.

    However, while showing great promise in the field of supercomputing, it’s obvious that India needs to do better and it will. The government of India is working towards this and has initiated the Rs. 4,500-crore National Supercomputing Mission. Under the mission, the Government of India empowers an ambitious target of installing more than 70 high-performance computing facilities in the country. These computers will be connected by the National Knowledge Network. The first of these high-computing machines is being built by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and is expected to be ready by August 2017.
    http://www.thebetterindia.com/82076/india-first-supercomputer-param-cdac-vijay-bhatkar/
     
  2. Ripcord322

    Ripcord322 Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    Well not to take anything away from the man and his team....C-DAC have done a lot for this country...

    But the PARAM series is hardly indigenous...

    The PARAM supercomputer through out its history has used microprocessors/co-processors/transputers from...IBM, Intel , Sun or INMOS....


    Last I checked the TOP 500 list was littered with Chinese and American super Computers....

    The Chinese currently own the top spot I guess....And moreover they claim to have an indigenous microprocessors in it...While I can't check the validity of that claim...They Might as well have done it...They are still far behind the Americans in overall technical ability but they are getting there...They are light years ahead of us btw.


    Even we can make our own chips...What lacks is sustained funding, intrest and vision...Let's follow the Chinese Model....Let's get the Manufacturing scene right First...Then we can think about designing....I will be glad when when I witness a desi Super Computer....On desi software and hardware helping our scientist run a simulation or solve a problem.


    PS : I wouldn't be surprised If the Chinese reverse engineered or hacked out the architecture and working of a foreign chip.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2017
  3. PeegooFeng41

    PeegooFeng41 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    People are too much bothered about producing chips in home. You need not be.

    During my time at IIT-Xxxxxxxxx there is one thing I learned about high performance computing. The hardest problem is seldom of getting faster hardware or chips or interconnects but making compilers and middleware to distribute the task really efficiently on these monstrosities.

    Most of these hardware technologies are very commodity these days. You need high performance multi core processors/Accelerators? Intel can easily sell you XeonPhi. If US blocks Intel, you can get ARM based 100s of core in a chip from Taiwan or South Korea or Japan. You want custom logic for cryptographic problems? You can buy big FPGAs from like of Xilinx and Altera and Intel. You want really fast interconnect? 10 Gbps Ethernet can give a serious competition to Infiniband (a HPC specific standard), there are further speed ups with TCP/IP offloading etc. If there is any rule in computing, it is that commodity hardware will always catchup with speciality hardware. The commodity hardware is massively manufactured, hard to block and you do not really need to manufacture that at home all the times.

    All of these still do not address one single problem. How do I write an algorithm that will run on a huge cluster like this and that is a software problem. This is where most of the innovations are going lately and will keep on going for quite sometime to come. Fortunately, it needs the pen-pusher kind of personality to work on it, something our folks are expert at.
     
  4. lca-fan

    lca-fan Major SENIOR MEMBER

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    Frankly speaking Intel Pentium processor was designed by an Indian. We have design talent for microprocessors but we lack fabrication plants as no one wants to invest in it, as it is highly competitive with lower margin with huge R&D cost. But yes GOI has to wake up as we are losing huge amount of forex on semiconductor imports and there is always a chance of technology denial and chips laced with hacking malwares.
     
  5. PeegooFeng41

    PeegooFeng41 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    My point is, why so much obsession with hardware and chips? That market is saturated and there are too many players ready to produce chips that will fit your bill. Tackle the real problem in HPC: Compilers, middleware and languages. They are the slow moving and biggest bottle neck. Just like a jet plane can fly as good as its pilot, a HPC can perform as good as its software.
     
  6. Ripcord322

    Ripcord322 Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    Yeah....Off the shelf chips, boards and parts is one way....But atleast make them locally...How long will we import chips..!?

    We also need Indian designed and manufactured chips.
    What if there is an embargo.


    There is a reason the Chinese are pumping billions into this field
     
  7. PeegooFeng41

    PeegooFeng41 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    Actually I will say, For hardware it does not matter at all. Off the shelf or bespoke. Bottle neck is still software. Unlike hardware that is manufactured, software is handcrafted for most of the part. You cannot put two compilers together and expect to get twice as performant code. You can put two CPUs together and if your software is proper, you can get some speed-up.
     
  8. Ripcord322

    Ripcord322 Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    Super-Computing is a Critical field.
    Import is always bad here.
    What if there is an embargo !?

    I don't know how significantly Chip Import contributes to our trade deficit...But I am sure it does to a certain extent.


    The point that 'Hardware doesn't matter at all' .... Is I guess....Not True.
     
  9. lca-fan

    lca-fan Major SENIOR MEMBER

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    Semiconductors and electronics now are our top imports more than crude oil.
     
  10. PeegooFeng41

    PeegooFeng41 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    Well here is the deal, even US and Europe is importing the chips, from places like Taiwan and packaged in Malaysia. These chips are produced by many manufacturers around the world and are fairly hard to embrago. Producing them in India will be costly at first. You can do this as a part of developing a local semiconductor industry but for the purpose of supercomputing, it is not exactly needed.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2017
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  11. Ripcord322

    Ripcord322 Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    Oh dear...The money we could save....The Jobs we could make...
     
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  12. PeegooFeng41

    PeegooFeng41 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    Where did you get this from?

    http://www.worldstopexports.com/indias-top-10-imports/

    2015 Data
    1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$104.6 billion (26.8% of total imports)
    2. Gems, precious metals: $59.6 billion (15.3%)
    3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $35.9 billion (9.2%)
    4. Machinery including computers: $32 billion (8.2%)
    5. Organic chemicals: $15.9 billion (4.1%)
    6. Iron, steel: $11.7 billion (3%)
    7. Plastics, plastic articles: $11.3 billion (2.9%)
    8. Animal/vegetable fats, oils, waxes: $10.5 billion (2.7%)
    9. Fertilizers: $7.5 billion (1.9%)
    10. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $7.2 billion (1.8%)
    If I were to target one industry it will be electrical and heavy machinery. The industry is somewhat slow moving compared to semiconductors and can accomodate many moderately skilled people.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2017
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  13. Golden_Rule

    Golden_Rule Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    It may be saturated, but there is one hole here .... which is that India does not have state-of-the-art chip manufacturing base. It is definitely desperately needed. Indians are super in work break-down structuring. Whether it is parallel computing or web load-balancing algorithms or Cloud infrastructure - it is all about Sw and Indians can easily outsmart anyone in the world.
     
  14. Golden_Rule

    Golden_Rule Lieutenant FULL MEMBER

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    If I recollect correctly, electronics import is the biggest share in our import bill, next comes oil and third is machinery followed by defense imports
     
  15. PeegooFeng41

    PeegooFeng41 2nd Lieutant FULL MEMBER

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    Here is the big problem with chip manufacturing. Every 2-3 years you have redo the entire fabrication unit to incorporate the latest and greatest fabrication process. This is why it is somewhat of a high risk business. Why to jump in a fast moving business when you have other avenues like electrical and machinery manufacturing? Also semiconductors are now more of a commodity items. They are high-tech yet commodity. So why bother about them at first. Let them remain in imports and come back to them once you have done well elsewhere.
     
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