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November 26, 2013

India Touts Entry-Level ‘Supercomputer’

Tiffany Trader
C-DAC Onama image

It is widely accepted that HPC provides countries with critical scientific advantages and increased economic standing, yet not everyone signs off on this idea. Supercomputing can be a tough strategy to sell when the expenditures that are required – for hardware, software, expertise and operating expenses – are substantial. India, with a burgeoning HPC ecosystem, recognizes the benefits that come with a solid supercomputing strategy, but still struggles to boost adoption.

These issues – lack of political will, funding constraints and a dearth of HPC professionals – are being managed creatively in India as part of an effort to provide academic institutions with affordable, user-friendly mini-supercomputers. According to an article at Livemint, this scaled-down supercomputer, called Onama, is being deployed to six engineering colleges.

Onama was developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) to serve as a development vehicle for India’s emerging supercomputing ecosystem. By allowing the user to make decisions about the system’s configuration, costs can be kept to a minimum. This lowers the barrier to entry for institutions that may have avoided supercomputing because of budgetary constraints.

C-DAC was tasked with building India’s supercomputing ability, notes Pradeep Sinha, senior director, high performance computing and research and development at C-DAC. But the organization soon realized that building supercomputers wasn’t enough. Computer science students in India were still being taught sequential programming; they weren’t familiar with parallel techniques. So C-DAC refined its strategy to be culturally-relevant and more user-friendly.

“We wanted to address the problem at the grassroots level,” Sinha said. “There are a few high performance computing (HPC) labs in IITs and ISIs. However, when you talk to other engineering colleges, they do not have this facility. Many students in other engineering colleges have never even heard of supercomputing.”

With Onama, C-DAC sought to provide affordable platforms and key software packages to colleges to ease new users into an HPC-type environment. Onama was developed as a small parallel processing system that works like a supercomputer. The system, launched in September 2010, provides a package of open-source serial as well as parallel computing applications and tools across several engineering disciplines, including computer science, mechanical, electrical, electronics, civil and chemical engineering.