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View from India: Country's mission to develop supercomputing processors

As a technology, high-performance computing can contribute towards the vision of making India Self Reliant, or Atma Nirbhar Bharat. The country is preparing the ground through national initiatives.

The computational needs of various industries such as MSMEs, startups, genomics and drug discovery, is increasing by the day. To meet the growing demand, the Government of India has instituted a Rs 4,500-crore project to make high-performance computing (HPC) technology accessible nationally. Titled National Supercomputing Mission (NSM), it is being jointly steered by the Department of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY). It is implemented by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and the Indian Institute of Science.

“NSM has given impetus to work on HPC. We are designing basic building blocks of HPC. Around 80 per cent of the work is being executed by C-DAC,” said SA Kumar, Scientist F & HOD, HPC Division, MeitY. He was speaking at the CII Session on HPC for Atma Nirbhar Bharat.

The pilot cluster is expected to roll out by the first quarter of 2024. Indian processors that support the supercomputers are being developed through the project. The processor is expected to open up the domestic market and is meant for complete indigenisation of the HPC System development. 

As NSM continues to harness HPC’s potential, key persons involved put on their thinking hats and explored a new dimension, which turned out to be the AI-HPC combination. A supercomputer envisioned as PARAM Siddhi is the outcome of this convergence. PARAM Siddhi, installed in C-DAC, has been created with AI of 210 AI Petaflops (PF), a measure of the computer’s processing speed. The speed of computing-related AI is increased considerably several times to handle incredibly large-scale AI workloads. In November 2020, PARAM Siddhi made it to the 62nd position in the TOP500 Supercomputer List at the Supercomputing Conference 2020 held virtually in the US.

In the Indian context, PARAM Siddhi can solve specific real-world complex problems related to national security with surveillance and image processing, natural language processing, healthcare, auto, and agriculture. “Numerical simulations can be achieved through supercomputers. This will hasten processes across verticals. HPC solutions will facilitate the process and will have an impact on the industry’s growth,” said Dr Sudhakar Yerneni, chief technical head, HPC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise. 

The NSM vision of building India’s computational needs is being met in a phased-out manner. The infrastructure planned in Phase I has already been installed. Supercomputing facilities have been set up in various IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) such as IIT BHU or Banaras Hindu University, IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur, along with IISER (Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research) and INCASR. Over 1,200 users are using these facilities.

Phase II of NSM is expected to be completed by September 2021. With this, the total computational capacity of the country will be 16PF. This goal is being fulfilled by expanding the applications of supercomputing. Memorandums of understanding have been signed with 14 premier institutions of India for establishing Supercomputing Infrastructure with Assembly and Manufacturing in India. These include IITs, NITs (National Institute of Technology), National Labs and IISER. In this phase, research institutions have collaborated with the industry to scale-up the technology and increase the manufacturing capability to make more and more parts in India.

Phase III, initiated this year, will take the computing speed to around 45PF. This will include three systems of 3PF each and one system of 20PF as a national facility. The three phases will provide access to HPC facilities to around 75 institutions and thousands of active researchers, academicians working through the National Knowledge Network (NKN). Initiated in 2015, NSM aims to enhance the research capabilities by connecting research teams to form a supercomputing grid, with NKN as the backbone. NSM is setting up a grid of supercomputing facilities in academic and research institutions across the country. These collaborative efforts are expected to open up few frontiers in the applications of supercomputers.

HPC can contribute towards the Atma Nirbhar Bharat vision in at least five domains. These include genomics and drug discovery, urban modelling, weather predictions, geo physical, and oil and gas explorations. In turn, urban modelling will address areas such as hydrology and air pollution. “HPC can open out corridors of self reliance by developing hardware in the country. The hardware ecosystem can help customise designs as per client requirements,” added Sanjay Wandhekar, senior director and HoD, HPC tech, C-DAC Pune. This can help lower costs so that its applications find mainstream usage. Right from design to the manufacturing stage, every aspect of the ecosystem needs to be made in India. 

Supercomputers play a critical role in several verticals. In the present situation, let’s look at the healthcare industry in times of the pandemic. “The RNA samples of the nose and throat can be sequenced. The computational power of supercomputers can throw light on the medical condition of the individual and thereby accelerate the genome sequencing process. The computational model and software stack need to be used effectively to achieve the desired clinical results,” explained Manmohan Brahma, Engineering Solutions leader, AMD India Pvt. Ltd.

However, like many other technologies HPC has its downslide too. To harness HPC’s potential, one requires expensive devices. The domestic market should open up before it is scaled for the international market, with the result that people are not just consumers of HPC, but also contributors to the technology. To illustrate, the software-hardware developers and designers, along with the vendors, sales team and maintenance personnel, are all contributors to the value chain. Jobs will be created and new responsibilities will be taken up. The coming together of all this will contribute towards making India Self Reliant.

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