Indian Supercomputing: Should We Celebrate?

DQI Bureau
New Update

India was one of the first countries to have telegraph lines way back in 1880s. But before the National Telecom Policy of 1999 reallly liberalized Indian telecom, the country had been relegated to one of the worst connected countries in the world. It has happened with us in trade, science, education, sports, you name it. There are just too many areas where we have taken an early lead and have then not been able to keep pace, having willingly surrendered our leadership position.


Supercomputing seems to be the latest example of that.

The media and blogosphere are abuzz with Indias latest achievement in supercomputingthe announcement of the latest ISRO supercomputer and Indias first supercomputer to cross the 200 Tflops mark in peak performanceSAGA-220. The tone is largely celebratory. Of course, there is nothing wrong in that. Credit must be given to those who have worked on it, including ISRO and Wipro. The fact that an Indian vendor has done it gives more reason for Indians to feel good.


However any scientific or technological advancement has little meaning if it is not measured against global benchmarks. Hence, it is important to ask the bigger question: Where does India stand in the global supercomputing scene?

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Going by the November 2010 (latest) ranking of global supercomputers by that publishes the list of top 500 supercomputers in the world twice a year, the fastest supercomputer in India was EKA in Tatas Computational Research Laboratories in Pune. It had a maximal LINPACK performance of 132.8 Tflops that made it the 47th fastest supercomputer in the world. The Top500 ranking is based on LINPACK performance and not the peak performance. EKA has a peak performance of 172.6 Tflops.

While would update its list this monthit had not published June 2011 list at the time of writingone can always compare the performance of the ISRO supercomputer with the last list available. Going roughly by the peak performance ranking, it is not likely to rank among the top 30, even if it were to feature. The LINPACK performance ranking could be a little higher or lower but not likely to be drastically different.


To put it straight, even with this latest achievement, the fastest Indian supercomputer will not be among the top 20-25 supercomputers in the world.

The Slide

However what is doubly embarrassing is how Indias peak performance in the ranking has slipped gradually. When EKA made its debut in the list in November 2007, it made India proud by ranking as the 4th fastest supercomputer in the world. In that list, US dominated with 7 of the top 10 slots while Germany and Sweden each had 1 supercomputer in the top 10 list. In the next ranking, in June 2008, ranking of EKA dropped to 8. At that time too, the top 10 list was dominated by developed countries, with US occupying 7 of the top 10 slots, while Germany and France had 1 each among top 10.

Since then, with each subsequent ranking, EKAs rank has continued to drop, before finally reaching 47 in the November 2010 ranking. When the SAGA-220 gets included, ranking of Indias fastest supercomputer may go up a bit, but surely not significantly.

China provides a contrasting story. While it was way behind India in the November 2007 ranking, with the fastest Chinese supercomputer featuring at #59 in the tableIndia had 2 faster systems than thatit has made constant improvements. It made its top 10 debut a year later in November 2008, when a supercomputer at Shanghai Supercomputer Center featured as the 10th fastest supercomputer. Ironically, that is the ranking when EKA dropped out from the coveted list. Since then, it has rapidly moved up, with 2 of its supercomputers ranking among the top 3 fastest supercomputers in the world. While the one at National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin ranks as the fastest in the world, the one at the National Supercomputing Center in Shenzhen ranks as the 3rd. It has 2 more among the top 50.

While we take solace from the fact that while China has overtaken India in many areas, India always ranks ahead in IT. With China overtaking us in supercomputing, that positioning has got diluted, however little it is.