Powering up India’s supercomputing ambitions

Context: Indigenous development of supercomputers touches new highs in India but the country still greatly lags behind global peers.

Development of supercomputers in India:

  • The indigenous development of supercomputers in India began in 1980 with the involvement of organisations such as BARC, C-DAC and C-DOT, among others.
  • The launch of the National Supercomputing Mission (NSM) in 2015 has accelerated the efforts.
    • Under the NSM scheme, C-DAC is aiming to install 70 supercomputers pan India.
  • Presently, India has 23 supercomputers — powerful computers that are primarily used for scientific and engineering work that demands ultra-high-speed computations.
  • The Indian government has initiated efforts to develop indigenous exascale computing capabilities through NSM by 2024.
    • Param-Shankh, India’s new indigenous exascale supercomputing monster from C-DAC, is set to launch in 2024.
  • India has developed an indigenous server, Rudra, which can meet the high-performance computing needs of government bodies and public sector undertakings.

Challenges: 

  • In terms of supercomputing capacity, India has made commendable progress, though it still lags behind other leading nations. 
  • As of June 2022, China boasted a staggering 173 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers, while the US had 128. From India, only three systems — Param Siddhi AI (ranked 111), Pratyush (132), and Mihir (249) — made it to the list.
  • While exascale computing is evolving rapidly, India has no exascale supercomputers yet. India is still looking at petaflops, while India should be looking at exaflops.
    • Petaflops is a unit of measurement used to quantify the computational speed of a computer system. It represents the number of floating-point operations (flop) a computer can perform in one second.
      • One petaflop is equal to one quadrillion (10^15) floating-point operations per second.
      • One exaflop represents one quintillion (10^18) floating-point operations per second.
  • The use of supercomputers in India is currently limited to research institutions. Beyond research and academia, supercomputers have found limited adoption in the industry.

India currently lacks the infrastructure to produce the semiconductor devices required for the development of supercomputers.

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