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Fourth fastest computer in the world

R. Ramachandran


Nine Indian systems included in Top500 list

Only five per cent of Karmarkar’s ideas made use of


New Delhi: A supercomputer developed by the Tata Group’s Pune-based Computational Research Laboratories (CRL), capable of a sustained speed of performing 117.9 trillion floating operations per second (teraflops) and a peak speed of 170.9 teraflops, has been rated as the fourth fastest by the internationally recognized ‘Top500 Listing’ project.

The 30th edition of the Top500 List was released on November 12 at the SC07, the international conference on high performance computing (HPC), networking, storage and analysis in Reno, Nevada, USA. Computer experts have been carrying out this exercise, based on the generally accepted LINPACK benchmark, since 1993 and the Top500 List is issued twice every year, once in June and then in November.

This is the first time that an Indian HPC system has made it to the Top 10 outdoing such countries as Japan, the U.K., France, etc. which are regarded as highly advanced in computer technology. The countries that have made it to the Top 10 are the U. S. – whose seven supercomputing facilities have made the grade – Germany, India and Sweden. This means that the system is the fastest in Asia as of date.

The Tata supercomputer is called EKA, the system uses 14240 Intel’s high-speed (3 giga hertz) ‘quad-core’ Clovertown (Xeon 53xx) processors in nearly 1,800 computing nodes put together on a Hewlett-Packard Cluster Platform 3000 BL460c system. According to the official press release of the rating body, the integration of the system was done using “their own innovative routing technology”. The routing is based on dual-rate Infiniband switches from Mellanox Corp. and Voltaire Corp.

Prime mover

“The supercomputer built at the CRL facility,” said the press release from the Tata Group, “marks a milestone in the Tata Group’s effort at building an indigenous HPC solution. CRL built the supercomputer…using dense data centre layout and novel network routing and parallel processing library technologies developed by its scientists.” It also added that the CRL team had been actively supported by scientists and engineers at the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

“The Tata Group has supported this development actively… I am sure this supercomputer and its successor systems will make a major contribution to India’s ongoing scientific and technological initiatives,” said Ratan Tata, the group chairman.

Interestingly, however, the release from the Tata Group fails to make any mention of the main architect and prime mover of the project, Dr. Narendra Karmarkar, an alumnus of IIT Bombay and formerly of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), who quit last year following lack of adequate financial support (to the tune of Rs. 400 crore) for his supercomputing project from the institute and joined the Tata Group having found the backing of Ratan Tata and the management of the group (see Business Line, May 6, 2006).

The CRL was established in July 2006 by a group of “like-minded alumni of IIT Bombay,” as the CRL website states.

However, earlier this year, Karmarkar left the Tatas (along with his core team) when they fell apart following differences over the overall plan and the set of goals and objectives of the HPC project, which included that the first system should be given to the Indian government.

But there can be little doubt that the basic idea of the architecture that has been used in the system that has been included in Top 10 belongs to Dr. Karmarkar.

According to Dr. Karmarkar, only five percent of his ideas, which he had shared with the Tatas, have been made use of the current architecture. “With even this, if it can make it to the fourth place, the system can surely make it to No.1 when all my ideas are incorporated,” he says.

“The design and concept took nearly four years, much of it was developed during my days at the TIFR. I have a long and complex plan of how to go about putting all my ideas into an HPC system. But I also have a balanced set of objectives. I am looking for a backer who would not only provide the money but should share the vision and the entire objective,” he added.

In the Top500 List, nine Indian systems have been included (marking an 1.8 per cent share).

The other countries in the List include compared 10 of China, 11 of Taiwan, 20 of Japan, 31 of Germany, 17 of France, 9 of Spain, 48 of the U.K. and 283 of the U.S. Interestingly only one Korean system has made the grade.

IISc’s distinction

The other Indian systems include an IBM eServer Blue Gene Solution of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), with 18.7 teraflops sustained performance and 23 teraflops peak performance and ranked 58th, another HP Cluster of Tata-CRL with 1440 processors with 9.3 teraflops sustained performance and 15.4 teraflops peak performance and ranked 179th , and six IBM systems in various industrial enterprises, ranked 152nd, 158th, 336th, 339th, 340th and 371st respectively.

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