The Computing Super Power!

Posted on Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 by Salik Naqueeb Abbasi

Supercomputing is basically a narrower version of High Performance-Computing.

A supercomputer is a mainframe at the forefront of contemporary processing capacity - where the calculations happen blazingly fast; in a matter of a few nanoseconds. Supercomputers work on the approach in which a large number of dedicated processors are placed in a close proximity to each other resulting in what is known as the "Massively Paralled Processor". This when combined with centralization saves a considerable amount of time. Supercomputers enjoy the privilege of being among the most expensive computers of the world; some costlier than 100 million dollars apiece!

In general supercomputers are divided into three main categories: vector processing machines, commodity computers and tightly connected cluster computers. Vector processing machines involves a CPU that is able to run mathematical operations on a large number of data element very quickly, as opposed to that of a scalar processor which operates on a single element at a time. Cluster computers are a group of connected processors that work together as a unit. They are further subdivided as: director based cluster, two-node cluster, multi-node cluster, and massively paralled cluster. In a Commodity Cluster, a large no of commodity PCs are interconnected by a high bandwidth LAN.

Supercomputers were first developed in late 60's with very few processors, but by the end of the twentieth century massive supercomputers with tens of thousands of shelf processors were developed to the service of mankind. India's supercomputer program started very late, near the close of 80's, after the import ban was lifted.

Our institute has unveiled a new supercomputer on 17th of June 2014. It is the second supercomputer to be developed by our institute. It ranks 5th in the country & 130th in the list of the world’s top 500 supercomputers in terms of performance.

The machine, whose cost has been estimated to be around 48 crores, was assembled by a team of engineers at IITK headed by the Institute’s Deputy Director, Prof. S C SHRIVASTAVA along with Prof. ASHISH DUTTA who heads the IIT-K Computer Centre. The machine operates at the peak performance of 307.2 terraflops and realized performances of 249 terraflops. This HPC machine comprise of 781 nodes of which 768 work as compute nodes. The machine is able to give an efficiency of 96% on LINPACK benchmark. The nodes are connected by Mellanox FDR infiniband chaises bead switches that can provide 56 GBps of throughput. It also has 500 terabytes of storage with an aggregate performances of around 23GBps on write and 15GBps on read. The system is divided into a home (13/7 w/r GBps) and scratch (22/12 w/r GBps) file system. The home file system is around 169 terabytes and the scratch file system is around 332 terabytes. It has a PBS Pro Scheduler divided into ques: large, medium, small, mini, hyperthread, workq, highmem and test.

Supercomputers play a very important role in the field of computational intensive science. It is currently being used in various fields such as quantum mechanics, weather forecast, physical simulations etc. It also plays a strategic role in the defense - for brute force code breaking and simulations of nuclear weapon detonation and nuclear fusion.

The newly launched supercomputer at IITK has the potential to be extremely useful in terms of scientific research, engineering and training. The research projects here that involve the use of the supercomputers are based on the evolution of galaxies, nuclear physics, genetics, medical drug delivery systems, and aerodynamics. The institute is also involved with several other projects, including the design and implementation of an unmanned mechanical bird, which will be immensely benefited by the supercomputer.

In retrospect, when the first supercomputer was invented, the world might have failed to recognize the kind of influence and importance that the supercomputers would happen to yield. Today, a supercomputer is at the core of every molecular modelling. It serves to simulate that which we cannot emulate - the initial stages of the universe. With the advent of new technologies, we can only wonder how the supercomputers would evolve: would it become as affordable as a personal computer or as portable and fashionable as a macbook, or better, how will the superchip influence the super-sized supercomputer?

Isn’t it bizarre that even with such extraordinary technologies, some questions only time can answer!

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