Tata’s supercomputer slips in rank, but generates revenue

Tata’s supercomputer slips in rank, but generates revenue

Bangalore: Eka, the supercomputer built by a Tata group subsidiary that surprisingly ranked as the world’s fourth fastest machine last year, slipped several notches in the latest rankings of the top 500 supercomputers.

The machine, built by Pune-based Computational Research Laboratories (CRL), dropped to No.13 on the yearly list compiled by researchers based on performance tests and released annually at the supercomputing conference held in the US.

Roadrunner by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), Jaguar by Cray Inc., and Pleiades developed by SGI Altix secured the top three slots on the latest list of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

Eka was also ousted from the top position in Asia, yielding to China’s Dawning 5000A, which secured the No. 10 rank on the global list.

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The only consolation for India came from Param-NG, a supercomputer developed by Bangalore-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). At 54 teraflop, or a trillion floating point operations per second, Param-NG was the only other entry from India at No. 69.

CRL had been expecting Eka’s slide on the global list.

“After proving our system last year for the enterprise, we have channelled our resources to running real life applications, rather than improving our rank," said N. Seetha Rama Krishna, head of operations at CRL, which serves clients in Europe, the US and the Gulf.

For a system that burns up Rs200,000 worth of electricity per day, its developers are trying to justify the corporate investment, still rare in the supercomputing world. It is currently running 40 client applications in aerospace, automotive, digital entertainment and weather modelling. After rendering animation for Roadside Romeo, India’s first three-dimensional mainstream animated film, CRL has two more Indian film productions in its bag.

Animation is going to be Rs2,000-2,200 crore market in the next two-three years," says S. Ramadorai, chairman of CRL and chief executive of Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. He, however, takes pride in the fact that Eka did weather simulation for India’s moon mission, predicting the weather till Chandrayaan’s take-off. CRL is also talking to the ministry of earth sciences for jointly developing applications in climate research, said Ramadorai.

Incidentally, C-DAC, too, is pinning hopes on atmospheric sciences, where it intends to earn from research collaborations, changing tack from creating capacity to actually using it for revenue generation. “Now, I am pushing my guys to work on mission-specific projects, like in the department of space or material science," said S. Ramakrishnan, director general of C-DAC.

Traditionally, a stronghold of science and research, highperformance computing, or HPC, has evolved to include mainstream industries such as entertainment, manufacturing, engineering, space exploration and financial services, says Pallavi Kathuria, director, server business group, Microsoft India, which has HPC products in both software and hardware segments. According to IT market research firm IDC, Asia, with India as one of the growth drivers, is the fastest growing HPC market in the world.

However, some teething adoption issues remain. “The biggest challenge in the Indian market is integration with IT infrastructure…keeping it competitively priced and getting skilled manpower," says Microsoft’s Kathuria.

But for CRL, the challenge is ground-up. “Unless we involve the research community, unless the industry has a real world problem, or we redefine the problems, for instance, improvement in manufacturing at the nanoscale level, penetration of HPC will take time," says Ramadorai, who is currently talking to Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd for deploying Eka’s services, among other things, for better power transmission and distribution.

Towards that, CRL plans to recruit researchers in international labs and universities to push the boundaries, as basic and applied research remain its two priorities. On its part, promoter Tata Sons is committed to investing more, albeit in phases.

“Our next generation machine will not be only a technical benchmark but will demonstrate applications using the full capacity…today no single application uses our existing capacity of 133 teraflops," said Krishna.

How soon the industry yokes together capacity with creativity remains to be seen, but next on the agenda for both CRL and C-DAC is grid computing, though with varying timelines.