Top Indian Supercomputer Boots Up at Space Center

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 2, 2011

This morning the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lifted the lid on its recently completed supercomputer, which easily sprints away with the title of the country’s fastest.  Called SAGA-220, (Supercomputer for Aerospace with GPU Architecture-220 teraflops) the Wipro-built  system can be added to the growing ranks of GPU-backed powerhouses that are quickly populating the Top500.

With a combination of 400 NVIDIA Tesla 2070 GPUs and 400 Intel Quad Core Xeon CPUs the compute dynamic duo (CPU-GPU), the complete system delivers a  peak performance of 220 teraflops. Most of  the peak FLOPS are provided by the GPU side. Each Tesla module can theoretically deliver 500 gigaflops to the Xeon CPU’s more modest contribution of 50 gigaflops.

According to an ISRO statement, “the present GPU system offers significant advantage over the conventional CPU-based system in terms of cost, power and space requirements.” Aside from touting the power of the system, officials are slapping the “green” moniker on the new Indian titleholder, estimating energy consumption to be in the 150 kilowatt range.

Reports also indicate that the GPU-CPU combination was selected due to its ability to provide critical power for some of the ISRO’s core space missions. According to a representative from ISRO, the team expects a wide range of their calculations to take far less time with SAGA-220. Following the formal announcement of the new system he stated that it will be “of great use when we start testing our advanced vehicles like Mark III. It will drastically increase speed of calculation and can also evaluate more parameters.”

The SAGA-220 is housed at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC) in Thiruvananthapuram, where a majority of the country’s aerospace research takes place. Initial reports that emerged before construction of the facility noted that the new system would be dedicated to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) applications to help researchers build more complex space launch platforms. At that early point, the scientists were hoping to have increased ability to “build virtual prototypes of a launch system and simulate physical and chemical changes to predict performance.” Reports about the SAGA-220 also hinted at the idea that the system would be used to design a reusable launch vehicle.

India’s new powerhouse eclipses the country’s previous number one system, the Hewlett-Packard-powered Eka at the Computational Research Laboratories in Pune, which maxed out at just over 132 teraflops. That system, which ranks at #47 on the Top500, was designed to provide HPC services for research and development among Indian institutions.

The country’s second most powerful supercomputer is government-owned PARAmcluster, which operates at approximately 38 teraflops in its home at the Center for Development of Advanced Computing, which also in Pune. This far less stellar machine crunches general engineering and science problems in addition to handling a number of internal business applications.

Back in January, Wipro Ltd., which is one of India’s largest IT firms, quietly announced that it had been selected to lend the space agency the “critical muscle to crunch large volumes of data as it designs more complex launch vehicles and sets out on ambitious space programs.” 

Prior to today’s official announcement of the center, Ashok Tripathy who heads the systems and technology division at Wipro Infotech, this new facility would solidify the position of its line of Supernova supercomputers and mark a new era for the company’s presence in India. Interestingly, Wipro, being an Indian company, had no role in India’s existing 19 supercomputers with IBM and HP being the most common, thus the country’s fastest also carries another unique title—the first, fastest  Indian-built supercomputer.

Just as Wipro is making a big debut in India this week, so too has increasing attention been heaped on India’s scientific computing achievements. While the SAGA-220 marks an important milestone for the country, it still has a ways to go to climb into the upper echelon of supercomputing.

According to the the latest TOP500 rankings, India’s combined supercomputing might amounts to 333 peak teraflops, which place it at number 15 of 29 countries that have entries on the list. The addition of the SAGA-220 machine could boost the country’s standing significantly.

To gain a sense of India’s supercomputing history, there is a complementary effort to the TOP500 project that ranks Indian supercomputing efforts. The list presents a thorough performance summary and also provides system vendor information.

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