The Forgotten story of the first Indian Supercomputer

It was the fall of 1985 and the Prime Minister of India had returned from USA, red faced. His first attempt at purchasing a supercomputer had failed. Ronald Reagan had politely rejected his plea. Rajiv Gandhi’s dream to take India into the 21st century as an improved country had suffered a major setback. Multiple attempts to convince the US President failed one final time in 1987, which was the moment when our Prime Minister clearly saw closed doors on the American side. India, at the international circuit, appeared as an entity that had to ask for a living.

Indian diplomats had foreseen this. They knew American policy. America would never sell latest technology to anyone and especially not to a developing country like India. Rajiv Gandhi had to face the music for believing in the uncertain. Ronald Reagan’s statements made the people believe that he would grant India to purchase the Supercomputer, but never did he actually commit on doing so. Eventually the dream was over. Indian Scientists always condemned this decision of the then Prime Minister.

Roadblocks created by America

Rajiv Gandhi with Ronald ReaganForeign Affairs executives and the Ministry itself suggested that Russia may sell its Supercomputers to India. India-Russia had good relationships so there was an added benefit. The deal went through smoothly but, before it could be completed America intervened. USSR was in process of disintegration and many countries broken out of USSR were being formed. America supported these states and also encouraged more fragmentation. On American intervention, Russia realized that the former did not want it to lend India the Supercomputer and withdrew the deal.
Meanwhile, a popular computer business firm, IBM wanted to setup equipment in India and planned on developing a supercomputer. This seemed to be the perfect deal but, again American government entered the fray. They kept on claiming that they don’t want to sell the Supercomputer to India because they see it as a threat to their technological security. Their claim was rubbish as India had made it very clear that it wanted to monitor weather conditions using the machine. The deal with IBM also dissolved.

Indian Scientist’s initiative

At a conference at CSIR (Council of Scientific and Industrial Research), in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi was discussing this problem with many renowned Indian scientists. They expressed their discontent on the PM asking other countries to setup India’s supercomputer. CSIR think tanks proposed that Indian brains are equally potent as American and European ones and an indigenous Supercomputer could be made. Rajiv Gandhi was not convinced at all. He doubted Indian scientists’ ability initially. But, looking at the gravity of the situation, he agreed on the proposal.

The Role of CDAC

CSIR transferred the project to CDAC (Center for Development and Advanced Computing) immediately. Based in Pune, CDAC summoned scientists from all over the country to work on India’s greatest ever project. The response was overwhelming. Every scientist, with great motivation of initiating an advanced technology, commenced work on the complicated project. $30 million was the fund provided for the entire project. Although the amount seems massive, it was a petty chunk of money that was invested. Within three years, the extraordinary happened. CDAC finally completed its work well within the proposed deadline. All the computer analysts, experts and scientists involved had worked their socks off. The sweat on their brow had created history. For the first time ever, a developing country had pulled off such a miracle in advanced computer development. Needless to say, the world was shocked at this achievement. The first indigenous supercomputer created by India was named ‘PARAM 8000’.

Dr. Vijay Bhatkar

Padmashre Vijay Bhatkar Dr. Vijay Bhatkar is known as the architect of this project. He was one of the strongest protestors against India begging for a Supercomputer. He was also one of the forward speakers who insisted that Indian’s can make their own advanced technology. It was his belief in Indian brains that made us achieve this incredible feat.
Dr. Bhatkar went on to lead CDAC to create ‘PARAM 10000’- India’s second Supercomputer in 1998. He also built National Param Super-computing Facility (NPSF) which now functions as the foundation to High Performance Computing (HPC) in India

Facts about the PARAM series

PARAM series was produced using completely indigenous resources.
– Speed of this Supercomputer is equivalent to any other such machine in the world
– PARAM series has the most reasonable cost of production
– It is the cheapest supercomputer in the World.
– Four major supercomputers have been created since PARAM 8000

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