We too need a Supercomputer

Even though our researchers are doing wonders around the world, they fail to produce the same research output in India. This is partially due to the fact that we don’t have enough state-of-the-art technologies and facilities for such world-class researchers. The progress and productivity of our native research endeavors will be improved if our researchers have access to a supercomputer.


While working as a Computational Scientist in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to work with Chris Jewel, a young researcher at Massey University. His research was to find out the reasons of some commonly noted cattle epidemics. Milk is to New Zealand what petroleum is to the Gulf countries. A country which gets more rainfall than Kerala, and which is more verdant, New Zealand’s economy is closely linked to milk production. However, epidemics in cattle are a common occurrence. Chris Jewel was working on the cattle movements and how the rotation of pastures may influence the spread of  cattle epidemics. For compiling and analyzing his vast research data of millions of cattle movement, Chris Jewel had to rely on a supercomputer set up by the New Zealand government at the University of Auckland.

Every rainy season in Kerala brings in its wake various epidemics like the dengue fever, rat fever and monkey fever. We haven’t found out the reasons let alone the solutions to such conditions yet. Our researchers are not in a position to address these issues without proper research capabilities, which may very well include the availability of a supercomputer. The calculations that take months on the existing systems may require mere seconds on a supercomputer. Imagine the rate at which preventive and eradication measures can be implemented if we had the aid of a supercomputer.


A supercomputer is a network of computers, which can process multiple tasks simultaneously and at a higher speed. A huge building may be required to house a supercomputer. A researcher may be able to access the supercomputer from his laptop or his mobile through the Internet.

At present, the world’s fastest supercomputer is the Tianhe 2 developed by the National University of Defense Technology, Changsha. Tianhe 2 has a speed of 32 petaFLOPS. 33 lakh crores (equivalent to 15 zeros after 30) calculations can be done per second by this machine. In the top 500 list of supercomputers in the world, India has got 12 in it. The supercomputer at Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandrum occupies the 279th position in the world. Since this supercomputer handles defense related information, it would not be advisable to make it available for other research purposes. This leads us to consider the question of setting up a supercomputer for other purposes in Kerala. The benefits it is bound to reap in the research sector are beyond our imagination.



New Zealand is a country with a population size of Ernakulam district of Kerala. In New Zealand, the needs of the higher education sector and research agencies are met by the supercomputer set up by the government through an agency called New Zealand eSceince Infrastructure. We can implement a similar model in Kerala. This is because a single agency or an organization do not have research depth to have a supercomputer. Moreover, the expenditure to set up one will not be affordable for a single agency or organization. The supercomputer set up iat VSSC Trivandrum cost around 15 crores. The government could utilize the taxes from professional colleges to set up a supercomputer as a value added service to the people. It could also collaborate with institutions and agencies willing to partner with this venture. The Central Government’s declaration to set up a network of 70 medium-range supercomputers within the next five years provides a condusive environment for such an endeavor.

With the right planning and implementation, a supercomputer can be set up within a year and a half. Proficient researchers from the higher education and research sectors could be given the opportunity to utilize this supercomputer for free. IT parks, entrepreneurs, and industries could be given access to the same at fixed fees. Thereby we will make history as the first state in India to have its own supercomputer.


An independent translation of my (Malayalam) article in Malayala Manorama Daily (Sept 6, 2014) by Mrs Sonia Paul, Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology, Kochi.

Link to original article: http://goo.gl/t4G9QD



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