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January 3, 2011

New Half-Petaflop Super Will Boost India’s Space Program

Tiffany Trader

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is getting a new first-class supercomputer. The system is currently under construction at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram, India. Once completed, it will be used by the space center to design high-tech launch platforms.

Wipro Ltd., India’s third largest information technology firm, is in charge of the project. The computer will be based on Wipro’s Supernova platform, offered in a partnership with California-based Z Research Inc.

The x86-based machine will have a processing speed in the neighborhood of 200-500 teraflops, making it at least 50 percent more powerful than India’s current fastest, and more than doubling Isro’s current capacity.

India’s current fastest system is Eka at the Computational Research Laboratories Ltd (CRL) in Pune, which runs at 132.8 teraflops. The supercomputer now installed at VSSC tops out at 70 teraflops.

The director of the space center, P.S. Veeraraghavan, told that the supercomputer will be deployment ready in about three months, but remained vague about the project’s overall expense, citing only that it cost “a few crores.”

The associate director and head of the Supercomputing Education and Research Centre (SERC) at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, N. Balakrishnan, expressed frustration at the slow pace of progress for supercomputing in India, stating: “The Eka was made in 2007…we should have doubled our capacity by now, but we’re not making the right investments in terms of money and effort. We should not stop at this now, but go on. We have the capability to go up to petaflops in this country.”

Balakrishnan counsels on the increasing importance of supercomputing, not only for traditionally IT-intense endeavors, such as defense, space and weather, but also for the evolving fields of biology and biotechnology.

Ashok Tripathy, general manager and head of the systems and technology division at Wipro Infotech, expressed his company’s intention to realize a 500-teraflop system for Isro.

A half-petaflop of power will not give the new system top-ten standing on the next TOP500 list, but it will go some way to reestablishing India’s technological capability.

And the system could grow. According to project literature, the Supernova platform is seamlessly scalable up to hundreds of petaflops.

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