The International Race to Exascale

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In this special feature from The Exascale Report, Mike Bernhardt describes how India has entered the race while Russia continues its silent and steady march.

Two of the most interesting competitors in the exascale race are also the most quiet. The government of India has committed close to $ 1 billion (USD) toward an advanced supercomputing program with exascale written all over it. The actual details of the plan have not been disclosed, not even to many of the country’s top scientists. This is the largest research program ever funded in India, and yet it is being handled in deep secrecy.

Skeptics say there is a big difference between committing funds and actually spending the money, and claim the money may not even appear for several years. Sources say the program will be handled by the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

The fist Indian supercomputer, PARAM, a system with 64 CPUs, goes back to 1991, a time when Intel was leading the parallel supercomputing race with the iPSC/860 supercomputer and the new-to-market Paragon. At that time, India was one of a handful of countries to possess supercomputing power. In fact, it would be another ten years before China came on the supercomputing scene. We all know how that turned out. Critics are quick to point out that India does not yet have a petascale computer, stating they would need to conquer petascale before going on to exascale. But I’m not so sure that’s necessarily true. If pride of ownership doesn’t get in the way, India could quickly acquire petascale technology and move on from there. We’ll just have to see if “committed” dollars become actual dollars anytime soon.

What many people don’t remember is that India’s first supercomputing effort was started as a collaboration with Russia. Today, Russia is a supercomputing powerhouse, but rather quiet when it comes to exascale plans. However, don’t let the silence fool you. Rest assured, Russia is a serious contender in this race.

Even within Russia, the competition among HPC players is heating up. T-Platforms, Russia’s leading developer of supercomputers has some real competition now in the form
of RSC Group. The company boasts what they refer to as an energy- efficient architecture called RSC Tornado and has been racking up a number of installation wins with the help of collaborating partner, Intel. While they hang their HPC hat on the Intel platform, they have a long way to go to catch up with the momentum of T-Platforms. T-Platforms is a powerhouse and is well respected on a global scale for their innovation, perseverance, and accomplishments. And most recently, the Russian bank, Vneshekonombank (VEB) announced it had purchased 25% of the shares of T-Platforms.

As part of this move, the company which was previously 100% owned by T-Platforms CEO, Vsevolod Opanasenko, now has a new Board member, VEB deputy chief executive, Anatoly Ballo. Will this change the dynamics of T-Platforms? Many believe it will – and for the better. Despite the efforts of several publications to spin the economic situation of this company in a negative light, T-Platforms appears to be doing quite well. Articles have criticized T- Platforms for declining revenue in 2010.

We asked their Chief Products and Technology Officer, Alexey Komkov about this. Komkov gave us the following perspective: “The company had an unusually high spike in revenue in 2009 – 2010 due to the very large Lomonosov contract. The revenue for the rest of the business, which includes a number of new HPC cluster systems, in 2010 and 2011 was pretty much on track with what we expected, but obviously lower than the previous year because there was no subsequent extremely large system sale on the scale of Lomonosov. Overall, T-Platforms is pleased with our continued growth and expansion efforts and we expect a profitable year in 2012.”

One unique capability offered by T-Platforms is their talent for helping to design highly efficient datacenters to serve as the homes for these massive supercomputers.

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