India's powerful supercomputer signals HPC ambitions

Subsidiary of IT offshore provider builds system that ranks as one of world's largest

The US remains by far the global supercomputing leader. But an India-based company that's part of a major IT offshore services firm has just built the world's fourth most powerful supercomputer, according to the just released Top500 supercomputer list.

Rankings on that list, which is maintained by academic researchers and updated every six months, can be notoriously short-lived thanks to the relentless worldwide push to build faster systems. But India's position near the top of this list is a clear signal of its ambitions in information technology.

"We would like to be in the forefront of HPC (high performance computing) research, services," said Ashwin Nanda, who heads Computational Research Laboratories (CRL) in Pune, India, which owns the system. The goal is to "basically bring the analytical brainpower of India to solve the supercomputing, HPC-related problems, that we have in the world," he said.

"This is a completely new market for us," said Nanda, who was attending the Supercomputing 07 conference in Reno, Nevada, where the Top500 list was announced.

CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Tata Sons, which is in turn part of a conglomerate that's one of India's largest IT offshore services providers.

Nanda said its supercomputer, built with Hewlett-Packard Co. servers using Intel chips with a total of 14,240 processor cores, will be used for government scientific research and product development for Tata (which makes automobiles, among other products), as well as to provide services to U.S. customers. The system went operational last month and achieved performance of 117.9 teraflops.

India, China and other countries are increasingly being tapped by U.S. and European firms for research and development. But of the supercomputers powerful enough to make the Top500 supercomputers list, only 9, or just under 2 percent, are in India. The U.S. is home to 283 of the systems, or nearly 57 percent. Next runner up is the United Kingdom, with 48 or nearly 10 percent of the systems powerful enough to make the list.

While India's system ranked high, it's still a distance from the top position. That fastest system, with some 213,000 processing core, is IBM's BlueGene/L System, a joint development of IBM and the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. It achieved a benchmark of 478.2 teraflops.

Horst Simon, associate laboratory director, computing sciences, at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, and one of the Top500 list authors, said it was exciting to see India's entrance into the Top 10 and said the country has "huge potential" as a supercomputing nation.

"India is very well known for having great software engineers and great mathematicians, and having a (HPC) center there is a catalyst for doing more in the high performance computing field," said Simon, who said it brings "a whole new set of players into the supercomputing world."

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