The Story of the Birth of PARAM – India’s First Supercomputer
February 12, 2016 Leave a comment
In 1985, India wanted a supercomputer for weather forecasting as it was very important for our farmers and for our agriculture at large. Similarly, Indian Institute of Science aspired to have a powerful supercomputer for advanced education and research. At that time, only US had supercomputing capability and Cray was the pioneer of Supercomputers. Japan was trying to follow but was nowhere near, quite lacking in software capabilities. Cray supercomputer that we wanted was denied to us as US considered supercomputing as a strategic and dual-use technology as supercomputers could be used for Defence, Space, and Nuclear programs. When Mr. Rajeev Gandhi became the PM, he took-up the issue with the then US President Ronald Regan. With a lot of negotiations, US agreed but humiliating conditions for its use. Rajeev Gandhi then gave a call to Indian scientists to develop an indigenous supercomputer. The year was 1987. At that time Mr. KPP Nambiar was Secretary of Department of Electronics of Govt. of India and Mr. K. R. Narayanan was the Minister of State for Science and Technology. I was the Director of ER&DC, Trivandrum and Mr. Nambiar was the Chairman from 1980-87. Mr. Nambiar called me to take up the Supercomputing challenge. Earlier, I had taken up similar challenge to develop India’s first fully solid-state colour TV, components and launch of colour broadcast for Asiad at the exhortation of Mrs. Indira Gandhi. I was also given the responsibility of developing a modern security system at ER&DC for Mr. Rajeev Gandhi. So I was called upon to lead India’s national initiative in supercomputers. Rajiv Gandhi had asked me 3 questions:
1) “Can we do it? I said, “I have not seen a supercomputer as we have no access to supercomputer, I only have seen a picture of Cray!”
2) “How long will it take?”, he asked. I promptly replied, “Less than it took for us in trying to import Cray from US. And we could develop the whole technology in less than 3 years. And we could develop the whole technology in less than 3 years!” He smiled and then asked,
3) “How much money it would take?” I replied, “The whole effort, including building an institution, developing technology and delivering India’s first supercomputer of YMP capability would cost less than the cost of Cray YMP, including its site, installation and commissioning!! This immediately pleased the PM and the C-DAC mission was approved on the model of Sam Pitroda’s C-DOT.
We launched C-DAC in Pune on Gudhi Padwa of 1988. First prototype mode was ready in 1990, in spite of the fact that I could not recruit a single person for 6 months, including my secretary, due to bureaucratic hurdles! We called it Param, meaning ‘Supreme’ in Sanskrit. First nobody believed that what we developed was a Supercomputer, as it did not look like the Cray machine, including my computer scientist professors. Then I decided to take the Param prototype to a major international conference and exhibition of supercomputers, where it was demonstrated and benchmarked. And we came next to US and it was declared that India has developed a supercomputer. The following year, we built a full-fledged parallel supercomputer called Param 8000 with one gigaflop per second speed and the US Newspapers had published this news, “Denied supercomputer, Angry India does it!”
As told by Dr. Vijay Bhatkar to www.crazyengineers.com
Dr. Vijay Bhatkar is best known as the architect of India’s first supercomputer and as the founder Executive Director of C-DAC, India’s national initiative in supercomputing. He is credited with the creation of several national institutions, notably amongst them being C-DAC, ER&DC, IIITM-K, I2IT, ETH Research Lab, MKCL and India International Multiversity.