University of Colorado

Can veteran team finally Buffalo the competition?

SGI logo hardware close-up

SCC Team Profile The Colorado Buffaloes are one of five teams returning to the fifth annual Student Cluster Challenge in Seattle next month during SC11. Like Purdue, Colorado has participated in every challenge but has yet to take home the gold medal. (There aren’t any gold medals awarded. Pity.)

The Buffaloes have won some awards and plaudits along the way. In 2008, they received a special Spirit Award for overcoming adversity outside their control. One of the requirements of the competition is that the systems the students use must be commercially available. When Intel slipped the launch date of their newest processor, Colorado’s configuration was disqualified.

The team was forced to scramble to find older CPUs, rebuild their cluster from scratch, and submit a LINPACK score – within four hours. Despite the problems, their LINPACK score finished a respectable fourth highest that year.

They came back to win the LINPACK portion of the competition in 2009, but didn’t capture the overall title. In 2011 we saw another team, Florida A&M, in a difficult situation when their sponsor failed to deliver on their hardware promises. Who jumped in to help out? The Colorado Buffaloes, that’s who.

Colorado contributed some of their spare hardware to the FAMU team and alerted their own sponsors to the situation. As a result, Florida was able to get the necessary gear to build a serviceable cluster and complete the competition.

SCC Team Profile Colorado

Colorado received the “Fan Favorite” award that year, which might be related to helping another team in need, but it was also because of how well the team related to booth visitors and other teams.

This year, five of their six team members have participated in the SCC in previous years. The Buffaloes have significantly more experience than their competition and a faculty coach who has seen plenty of SCC action.

The HPC Advisory Council (led by our pal Gilad Shainer from Mellanox) is Colorado’s lead sponsor once again. They’ll be running Linux on Intel-based Dell hardware with interconnects provided by Mellanox. This year, Colorado will be putting a bit of extra oomph into their design, stretching the envelope compared to what they’ve done in past years.

The team bios reveal an interesting mix of skills, experience, and interests. In addition to the typical computer science backgrounds, the Buffs have other primary or secondary courses of study that are more research oriented, such as Molecular Biology and Applied Mathematics. This may help the team get a better handle on optimizing the scientific domain applications that make up the bulk of the competition.

A couple of team members also have significant real-world, IT-related work experience, which could be helpful when it comes to effectively dealing with the inevitable problems that arise during the competition.

Team Buffalo has also done a great job of documenting their experience from last year. Look at this website where they have pictures, videos, and blogs covering their 2010 SCC experience in New Orleans. It gives you a great feel for the highs and lows of the competition and the atmosphere of the event. It’s competitive, sure; teams want to win. But it’s friendly competition. They really enjoy meeting the other teams.

Plus they learn a lot. In 2010, the Buffs learned about the many uses for vodka from Team Russia. They also reported that the Russian language version of “The Fifth Element” isn’t all that hard to understand. Maybe that’s another power of vodka? Or was it the popcorn?

SC11 Student Cluster Comp profiles

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