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HPC student cluster WAR begins

Let slip the dogs of clustering

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SC11 The ultimate competition for student techies has begun.

To be more precise, the starting gate is in sight: submissions for the 2011 Student Cluster Competition (SCC) are now open.

The SCC is the ultimate challenge – pitting student teams against hardware, software, electricity, heat - and each other. This year, the SCC committee will invite eight teams to put it all on the line in Seattle, live at SC11.

At the Supercomputing Conference, teams from universities around the world build clusters that run a set of high-performance computing (HPC) workloads and solve problems as quickly and accurately as possible. Equipment is borrowed from team sponsors, typically big computing vendors, which also help teams meet travel expenses.

Sponsors and university faculty can also teach teams how to put together a competitive system and optimise it for the workloads they'll run in the competition.

Student teams bring their creations to the SC show and compete live on the show floor for all to see. They are limited by the clock and a hard limit of 26 amps. Last year in New Orleans, it was a 48-hour marathon session of coding, debugging, monitoring, and finding the most comfy couches in vendor booths for catching a quick nap.

The teams turned in quite a performance last year, with three breaking through the TFLOP barrier for the first time in SCC history. Another team didn't get their systems in time and was forced to throw together a cluster at the last minute using gear borrowed from other teams and vendors.

Sleepless in Seattle

I reported on the 2010 competition with team profiles, video blogs, and articles covering the results. This year, I will cover the entire process from submission to team selection, benchmark announcements and, of course, the contest in Seattle in November.

The students must do a lot of prepping before showing up in Seattle. In addition to putting together a competitive system, they must carefully consider their approach to the various workloads and work out plans of attack.

At the same time, they need to think about contingency plans to handle conditions outside their control, such as receiving datasets that are different from those anticipated, or hardware problems.

SCC is in its fifth year and it is a compelling event. The "kids" on these teams give up a huge amount of personal time to learn about and build HPC clusters. This is time that they could be using to play video games, text partial words and sentence fragments to each other, and get into trouble, so it's some sacrifice.

If you're interested in assembling a team and competing this year, you can find the application here. Clicking on the link will take you to the SC11 general registration site, so your first technical task is to establish an account and then navigate to the Student Cluster Competition entry form. The SCC committee can answer questions and help set up your team with interested sponsors.

Team submissions are open from now until 15 April; winning submissions and invitations to Seattle will be announced in early May. ®

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