Student Cluster Competition: The runners and riders
Checking out the form book
Florida A&M Rattlers
Compu-Rattlers and cluster battlers
For your listening pleasure while reading this story, here is a YouTube video of the FAMU marching band.
Another newcomer to the competition this year is a team from Florida A&M. Located in Tallahassee, Florida Aamp;M has an enrollment of 10,200 students, and their mascot is the Rattler -a rattlesnake. This will be the first time the Compu-Rattlers (going to go ahead and coin that nickname for them) will be competing in the SCC.
The Compu-Rattler team is composed of junior and senior computer science students who have a burning (well, maybe not burning) desire to learn about HPC. While they know computing, they don’t have a lot of experience with the care and feeding of clusters.
To help make up for this, they have prepared for the competition since January (longer than many teams). Their training regimen included early experience clustering together Mac Minis and older Power-based Apple servers. The school recently introduced a parallel scientific computing course, complete with its own 26-node cluster for departmental use.
What really comes through with the Compu-Rattlers is their enthusiasm for HPC and the competition. They’ve met weekly since January to work on cluster building and to learn how to use cluster tools so that it will become second nature by competition time. It’s also clear that they are approaching the SCC with the mindset that they aren’t just happy to be there -they want to win.
So will their drive and enthusiasm be enough to top the more experienced competitors? We’ll find out soon enough, as the inexorable march of time takes us ever closer to the crucible that is the SCC.
Real world, not book learnin’
The musical selection for this story is the national anthem for the Republic of China (Taiwan). It takes a while to build but finishes quite nicely.
One quote jumped out at me in the Student Cluster Competition application for the National Tsing Hua University Computer Science (NTHUCS) team team.
In the first paragraph they say: "During the past 2-3 years, we have learned some background knowledge from textbooks. However, instead of sticking our noses on text books, we believe that we should have some experiences on real world applications or implementations." They’ve chosen SC10 and the SCC as their proving ground.
The university competed in the SCC in 2007 and 2008, winning the LINPACK crown in 2007. But the 2010 team doesn’t include any of the students from those teams. Also, as they note in their application, no one on their team has any experience with HPC or clusters. They do have two former competitors to advise and train them during the run-up to the show.
Everyone on their current roster is deep in programming, and one member of is the systems administrator for all of the servers in their department. This could turn out to be a key position, given that teams have been derailed by hardware problems in the past.
Each benchmark has been assigned to primary and secondary application managers, who are responsible for understanding the app inside and out. With this knowledge, they can optimize their schedule to maximize throughput during the marathon 46-hour competition.
With HP as their major sponsor, we can assume that they’ll bring some blade-y type gear to the competition. Their location in Taiwan might be helpful as so much hardware manufacturing is located there; they might be able to snag some advanced parts right off the production lines. The major vendors, including HP, all have research outposts in Taiwan -experts who could help them squeeze every last bit of performance out of the hardware and software.
NTHU has fielded competitive SCC teams in the past and they’re certainly due for a win- but HPC and clustering is a new world to this 2010 team. Have they learned enough over the last 10 months to make 2010 the year they bring the SCC crown to Taiwan? (There isn’t an actual crown, but probably should be.) We’ll soon know. Here are some more details about NTHU’s team and goals for SCC.