We all know about Simputer and $10 laptop. Not to mention, they were disasters. And now Government of India is talking about its own microprocessor.
The project to make the India Microprocessor, as it is being tentatively called, will see scientists from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), and IIT Delhi coming together under the aegis of the department of IT.
Well, all one can say is how bigger disaster this one is going to be? If I am not wrong, DRDO already made computers as in 32 bit micro-processors. ABACUS was touted by folks at DRDO as one of the most competent micro-processors of the time. They even made a 32-bit RISC processor called ANUPAMA. It is also available as an IP core. Now the question to be asked is why are these processors not being used to make computers for use atleast in Indian Governmental services? The answer is terribly complicated. But let me explain why from the little knowledge I have about DRDO and computing technologies. DRDO ANURAG is the Hyderabad Center. They have had some interesting projects to their name. ABACUS, ANURAG are its 32 bit micro-processors while ANAMICA is its Medical Imaging Software. They even made some DSP cores. They also made Gigabit Switches and other networking technologies. They also made some equipment for Parallel Computing. But all this sounds state-of-art, doesnt it? Where does it break apart? A visit to ANURAG achievement page reveals this:
1- µ CMOS Fabrication Technology Facility is available to fabricate designs targeted to 1µ technology with following features:
- Cell based designs upto 1,00,000 gates.
- Design support option.
- Full contract design stating from functional description to physical design
- Full ‘customer’ design [upto GDS II tape stage]
- Die sizes upto 14 mm x 14 mm
1 – µ CMOS Fabrication Technology? Seriously? Are you kidding me? 1 – µ CMOS Fabrication Technology is technology of my grandmother’s time! This inevitably brings us to how fast these systems are! ANUPAMA works on a 33 Mega Hertz clock. This means ANUPAMA can execute approximately
30,000 30 million instructions per second. Even an undergrad student with an FPGA development kit could achieve this without any problems whatsoever on a simple microprocessor. Most of students in IITs as well as other premier institutes in India develop such computers for their lab assignments! Today the best of RISC processors can execute several tens of billions of instructions. Comparatively, where is ANUPAMA? Where does ABACUS stand? Does ongoing research on this kind of technology excite a graduate to pursue post graduation in India? Does this kind of technology persuade a post graduate to pursue doctoral studies in India? I dont understand what stops DRDO in working with TSMC/UMCA or other chip manufacturing technology gaints to develop these processors and system components using state-of-art sub nano meter technologies. By not opening up on these technologies, MoD and DRDO are living like frogs in a well! Back in Dec 2005, I attended IMAPS IINC conference on packaging and manufacturing technologies held in IITB, Powai. This was the time ABACUS and ANUPAMA were being developed in ANURAG. Out of the three days, second half of the last day was dedicated to showcase the projects being done at ANURAG and other DRDO centers. ANURAG presented its micro-processors. I am sorry to say but both the projects sounded pathetically over-rated! MoD and DRDO need to get individuals from outside and try to develop business plans so that products could be made and sold to general public! DRDO and MoD should work as independent VCs and let the enterprenuers grow businesses and thus enable employment and research on next generation products! If they say we want to develop indigenous technologies in this field, they are not going to evoke even a speck of interest! Today, we are approaching sub 30nm technologies in building chips, especially micro-processors. As Zerone, they want to take a bite into a plausible $315 million electronics market by 2015.
Demand for microchips from India’s booming technology sector is expected to touch $315 billion by 2015, but a semiconductor policy of previous years to encourage firms to manufacture them locally evoked little interest from the private sector …. The chip could also help India develop a low-cost mobile phone, worth say just Rs 500, high-tech defence precision systems and a host of other applications in areas including healthcare and weather forecasting. “Apart from defence sector, it will be a shot in the arm for the $10-billion IT hardware industry, if the government is successful in its move,” said Vinnie Mehta, executive director of hardware industry body MAIT, who was present at a recent meeting on the issue.
There they go again! Rs 500 worth of mobile phone? Shot in the arm for IT hardware industry? Dude, SPARC as a workstation is long dead! You expect companies to switch to OpenSparc based systems? And even as you are busy doing this, do you expect IBM, Oracle and otehr gaints to be quiet? Get a grip. IT hardware industry is already talking about server sharing, cloud computing? Lets not even get into that now! Well for one thing Zerone wants to use OpenSparc in its efforts.
The India Microprocessor is likely to adopt Sun Microsystem’s Open Sparc open source chip design technology, along with Linux operating system and MySQL database software.
But if they seem to forget the cut-throat competition in this field, they are mistaken! In today’s electronics, systems sell even if chips dont! If MoD and DRDO wants to really make any difference or wants to boost the snail-paced growth in electronics and chip development sector in India, they should
- allow people to leverage on these technologies
- allow enterpenuers to use these technologies in designing products
- stop being a producer of products but start being enabler of products
- stop being proud of 1- µ CMOS Fabrication Technology because seriously, no-body gives a damn if you are not in talking sub micron technology today!
- start guiding the enterprenuers to build systems based on these technologies so that they can sell them in India as well as other countries
“If the protectionist route is followed, newer, more efficient industries will have less scope to expand, and overall output and economic welfare will suffer” – Alan Greenspan