Eka is the one

India breaks the supercomputer glass ceiling

It is indeed a proud moment for India as Tata’s Eka supercomputer has made a spectacular entry as the most powerful computer in Asia. It has also been ranked as the fourth fastest in the world in the Top 500 ranking of supercomputers.
What exactly is a supercomputer, you might well ask. Well, it is a computer that works at many times the speed of normal computer and has immense power compared to the normal computers that we see.
The main use of supercomputers is to perform highly calculation-intensive tasks. They would include problems involving quantum physics, analysing data to forecast weather, research on climate and global warming, molecular modelling, etc. No wonder such computers are to be seen at top universities, or with the defence services, or at research laboratories.
In fact, the Top500 list is released twice a year by the University of Tennessee, USA; Mannheim University, Germany, and at NERSC Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory which together rank supercomputers worldwide. The test is based on the well respected Linpack N*N Benchmark, which checks processor speed and scalability.
The computer was built by Tata engineers at the Computational Research Laboratories (CRL) in Pune. It cost Rs 118.11 crore ($30 million). The supercomputer was designed by Tata engineers and built with off-the-rack hardware sourced from Hewlett Packard that helped keep the cost of the supercomputer relatively low.
Eka performs at 120 teraflops (trillion floating point calculations). The speed of floating point operations, or FLOPS, is of significance in scientific calculations, since it involves numbers with a floating or decimal point.
The top supercomputer, IBM’s Blue Gene/L, which has been installed in the US, beat others by a tremendous margin; it was almost three times faster than any other machine and four times faster than Eka. It performed at 478.2 teraflops. While American supercomputers have dominated the world, now there is a change in the pecking order, and India’s entry into the elite list is a matter of considerable significance.
Of course, a computer is only useful if it has applications that harness its power productively. It is here that Tata’s software muscle comes into play. CRL has said it is developing applications in as diverse areas as neural simulation, molecular simulation, computational fluid dynamics and crash simulation. S. Ramadorai, Chairman, CRL, highlighted the role of the system in earthquake and Tsunami modelling, as well as its usage in understanding the economy and designing drugs.
Earlier, Param supercomputers, developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), also in Pune, had propelled India’s entry into the supercomputer arena and Param Padma was ranked No. 171 on the Top500 list in 2003.
The network-centric storage architecture of Param computers is based on state-of-the-art Storage Area Network (SAN) technologies that ensure high performance, scalability and reliable storage.
There was a time when the US had refused to allow a Cray supercomputer to be sent to India. Today, India is in a position to not only make supercomputers but also export them, if it desires to do so. Eka means one in Sanskrit. It is the one that has showcased of India’s growing computer power to the world.

This article was published in The Tribune on November 16, 2007.

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