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Student Cluster Competition: The runners and riders

Checking out the form book

DVD it in many colours

SC10 Eight university teams - six from the US, one from Russia and one from Taiwan descend on the SC10 supercomputing show in New Orleans next week to take part in the Student Cluster Competition (SCC).

The students bring their own self-designed and built clusters to the show, re-assemble them, and race to complete a set of benchmarks and workloads in the quickest time.

The competition tests their system design skills, their aptitude for learning new programs and new methods, and ability to optimize code to produce more (and better) output than their rivals.

El Reg is covering the competition from the show floor. To give you a taster, we have compiled profiles of the eight teams.

Purdue

Experience + Hunger = SCC Success?

Hear the Purdue fight song as you read about the team.

Purdue logoIf the Student Cluster Competition (SCC) were a table, then the team from Purdue would bring a lot of experience to it. But, then again, the table might not survive, because the Boilermakers will be bringing their trademark hard hat and sledgehammer to their SCC booth in New Orleans.

Purdue, along with Colorado, have competed in every SCC - four in all. But in each bout, they failed to win the big prize. In 2009, they won recognition for achieving the most flops per watt; but this year in New Orleans, they're looking to win the grand prize.

They've boxed up their system, and it's now on the way to New Orleans. This box is 'significantly bigger' than the system they took to Portland last year - large enough and fast enough to give them confidence that this time they could walk away with all the marbles (though there aren't any actual marbles to walk away with).

They're one of two teams co-sponsored by AMD, so I assume they are bringing the latest and greatest AMD processors. The Purdue boys (yep -all guys) will face off against teams armed with Intel's best. We'll see what happens in little more than a week.

Teamwork

As we heard from former competitor Dustin in our recent SCC overview , the SCC isn't just about the hardware. Knowing your system, knowing your benchmarks, using your time well, and having a solid team makes the difference between being competitive and winning it all. This is where Purdue might have an advantage.

One team member has participated in all four SCCs, beginning as a freshman in 2007. Other members work part time in Purdue's research data center, where they have daily hands-on contact with the same HP gear as they are running at the show. The team has also made good use of access to professors and other researchers for tips and tricks to maximize performance for specific benchmarks.

The Boilermakers are also organized. Each benchmark has been assigned to a senior team leader who works with younger students to wring out maximum performance. This helps in a couple of ways: First, the team leads can concentrate on optimizing a single benchmark rather than having to spread their focus. It also helps the younger members learn from the older, more experienced leads -a strategy that may help Purdue build an SCC dynasty. (Okay, they didn't actually say they wanted to build a dynasty -that's my hyperbole.)

Purdue's SCC application reads like an academic paper (it even has footnotes!), but the program has a lighter side. In 2007 they posted an innovative comic book to publicize their participation in the SC07 Bandwidth Challenge and the first Student Cluster Competition. So does Purdue have what it takes this year? Will they bring that golden trophy home to West Lafayette? (No, there isn't really a trophy, golden or otherwise.)


Louisiana State University

Home Town Tigers Tested

Here’s a link to the LSU fight song for your listening pleasure. It’s a nice accompaniment to the article below.

Louisiana State University logoLouisiana State University, a mere 84 miles away from the site of SC10 in New Orleans, is competing to "bring pride to LSU and the state of Louisiana by showcasing the skills and knowledge that we will acquire through months of vigorous training for the contest:(as they put it). The LSU team is new to the SCC and, for the most part, new to HPC clustering. Like some of the other new teams, LSU has put in extra time to prepare -they started in January.

One of their first tasks was to build a Beowulf cluster and install some HPC apps on it for learning purposes. Judging by their sponsors, they’ll pack HP gear fueled by AMD processors with some Infiniband to tie it together. They didn’t specify much in their contest application about the clustering experience they have, or whether they have access to large clustered systems beyond what they’ve built with their own two hands (well, more like 14 or 16 hands).

Looking at the team you see that four of the six members have provided detailed biographical information including their computing interests and experience. One of the team cites Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park as an inspiration -which makes me feel Jurassic Park-like, given that the movie came out when I was entering the industry. Also, it’s nice to see that these guys picked up a lot of computing knowledge in high school. The closest I came to a computer in high school was video arcade games, with my technical interest limited to: "I wonder if these games would accept a quarter-sized piece of metal instead of a real quarter?" They didn’t.

There are two team members who have blanks next to their names. I’m not sure if this means that they just didn’t hit the deadline for submitting their pics and info, or if their identities are being withheld for competitive reasons. Hmm... hard to imagine a college student missing a deadline. So I’m going to go with the more dramatic and conspiratorial explanation for the missing data. Until I’m proven wrong, these two guys are clustering prodigies who built their first cluster out of a junked set of Nintendo Game Boy handhelds. Sure, it wasn’t a great LINPACK, but they got a number.

The bottom line on the Tiger team is that they’re enthusiastic and motivated, plus they probably feel a bit more pressure due to being the hometown favorites. Is this enough to drive them past the other teams and into the winner’s circle? (Note: there isn’t an actual winner’s circle at the SCC.) Time will tell..

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