Iran is said to be developing domestic supercomputing technology to advance the processing of scientific, economic, political and military data, and to strengthen the nation’s position in the age of AI and big data.
On Sunday, Iran unveiled the Simorgh supercomputer, which will deliver 1 petaflops of performance, according to state-run news outlet IRNA.
The system was designed by Tehran’s Amirkabir University of Technology (AUT) at a cost of 1 trillion Iranian rials (~$4.5 million). Development on Simorgh began over a year ago, leveraging the knowledge and capabilities of Iranian scientists, however at least some of the hardware was imported, IRNA stated, but did not disclose the details or origin of that hardware.
Al Jazeera reported that the initial installation of Simorgh (named after a mythical Persian bird) spans 42 racks, providing 560 teraflops. In two months, the system will double its capacity, expanding to 84 racks, occupying 4,305 square feet of datacenter space.
The AUT installation supports additional upgrades up to a potential 10 petaflops, Al Jazeera further reported citing IRNA, which if completed would put Simorgh on the same standing as world leading systems.
Development of a follow-on supercomputer, 100x more powerful than Simorgh, also began this week, the state media outfit stated. The next-generation supercomputer will be named Maryam in honor of Iranian scientist and mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani. Mirzakhani was the first woman and the first Iranian to win the Fields Medal, often described as the Nobel Prize in Mathematics.
“Having a supercomputer is one of the components of soft power for any country and Iran will enter the club of limited countries with supercomputing [prowess] by launching this supercomputer,” said Vahid Yazdanian, director of Iran’s Information and Communication Technology Research Institute, referring to the launch of Simorgh.
“Currently, researchers in the country must send their data abroad to be analyzed, and sometimes they wait for months to receive the results of the processing,” he said.
The new supercomputer will support a wide range of workloads, encompassing weather, transportation, IOT, animation and computer game industries, according to IRNA.
The state media agency also reported on the establishment of an artificial intelligence center at the Information and Communication Technology Research Institute and indicated that artificial intelligence is a priority research focus for the country.
“Artificial intelligence has been a research island,” said Yazdanian (via translation). “In different centers and universities, projects have been worked on separately and have not been convergent, and there has been no suitable infrastructure for processing in this field. By launching an artificial intelligence center in the Information and Communication Technology Research Institute, we are broadly seeking to create a culture in this field, which will explain the benefits of artificial intelligence through courses and workshops for the private and public sectors.”
Iran’s HPC program dates back to the early 2000s. An AMD Opteron system comprising 216 Opteron cores was deployed at AUT in 2007, and the university built two Pentium-based clusters in the 2001-2002 timeframe, according to a 2007 ComputerWorld report.
Decades of U.S. sanctions against Iran – aimed at suppressing its military and nuclear capabilities – have stymied the country’s technological development and slowed its supercomputing progress. Those sanctions bar access to U.S.-based advanced computing technologies. Iran most likely acquired Simorgh’s hardware, and in particular its processing elements, through the black market or via a trading partner, such as China.