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April 9, 2014

Russia, India Take Aim at China’s FLOPS Lead

Tiffany Trader
India Russia collaboration graphic

The race to build the world’s fastest supercomputer – and possibly even the first exascale-class system – just got more interesting. Russia and India are considering an alliance that would enable them to more effectively compete with rival supercomputing powers, in particular China.

Last month, Boris Shabanov of the Russian Academy of Sciences extended an invitation to the Indian Institute of Science and the Karnataka government to explore the possibility of setting up a joint supercomputing center in Bangalore, according to a report in the Economic Times.

“India has many skills for building supercomputers. It is very strong in software,” Alexey Shmelev, cofounder and chief operations officer of RSC group and delegate to the Russian Academy of Sciences, expressed to the paper. “I am ready to share technology with India. I guess there would not be many players who are willing to do so.”

By uniting forces, the two nations would be in a better position to take on elite supercomputing powers like the United States and Japan, and most notably China – which is home to the fastest supercomputer in the world by a signification margin.

China rose to the top of the supercomputing charts in June 2013 with its Tianhe-2 system, operated by the National University of Defense Technology. With 33.86 petaflops as measured by the LINPACK benchmark, the Chinese system beat out second place finisher Titan by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, and has retained its top spot ever since.

Titan, the 17.59 petaflop supercomputer installed at the University of Tennessee, was the list champ from November 2012 until China knocked it off its perch.

The US, EU, Japan, India, Russia and China have all expressed their intentions to reach exascale sometime around the year 2020. Many experts believe the odds are in China’s favor, but the outcome is far from decided. Most of these nations have the talent to get the job done, but the ultimate winner will be the nation that backs up its expressed intentions with a unwavering commitment to funding.

India and Russia should not be discounted. India made a run at supercomputing glory in 2007 with its Eka system (“eka” means number one in Sanskrit). When Eka debuted it was the fourth fastest supercomputer in the world and the fastest in Asia. Since then, China and Japan have pulled ahead.

India’s current top number-cruncher, the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s iDataPlex, has a benchmarked performance of 719 teraflops, earning it a 44 ranking on the TOP500 list. Ranked second with a speed of 386.7 teraflops is PARAM Yuva – II, unveiled by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing in early 2013. Russia’s most powerful system, Lomonosov supercomputer, holds a 37th place ranking with 902 teraflops.

Says Vipin Chaudhary, former chief executive of Computational Research Laboratories, a subsidiary of Tata Sons that built the Eka supercomputer: “We need to catch up first before trying to leapfrog US and China. A lot of training and research needs to be supported for sustained period of time.”

To this end, India has committed about $2 billion dollars (Rs 12,000 crore) to the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Indian Institute of Science to develop a high-performance supercomputer by 2018. India’s government-backed computing agency, C-DAC, also announced a $750 million (Rs 4,500 crore) blueprint to set up 70 supercomputers over the next five years.