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SCC team profile This is the second year the University of Texas Longhorns will compete in the Student Cluster Challenge at the annual Supercomputing Conference. They brought a lot of personality to the competition last year with a “TACC to the Future” theme combining one of their sponsors (University of Texas Advanced Computing Center) with the series of increasingly crappy “Back to the Future” movies.

This Texas team is plenty confident – maybe just this side of cocky. Almost everyone on the team thinks they’re a favorite to win all the marbles (there aren’t any real marbles) or, at the very least, that they’re one of the top teams.

Most of the Longhorns think that they will own the LINPACK part of the competition. They are confident with good reason, as they were one of only three teams to top a TF last year – an SCC first. Neither are they worried about GAGET (the cosmology app) – the team members who answered the survey said either that they own this app, or that they know it well enough to win.

Their level of confidence drops a bit when it comes to PFA (molecular dynamics), MrBayes (stat modeling), and POP (ocean modeling); several team members said they’re not completely sure how these workloads will go.

It’s an entirely new student line-up, but the advisors have been to this particular rodeo at least once before. The team seems to have a smattering of HPC experience, and they’re heavier on computer science and systems experts than they are on science types who are deeply involved in the applications. As one of the team members put it, “This year’s team is geekier than last year’s.”

SCC Team Profile Texas

The Student Cluster Competition, when it begins, is a 48-hour grind that will destroy the souls of teams who aren’t fully prepared in mind and body. (OK, I didn’t see any souls destroyed last year, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen – they did get pretty tired.) I asked Texas team members whether they had any experience with sleep deprivation, or any thoughts on how they’d deal with it…

- Usually if staying up all night, it's because there's a project that needs to be finished or we're playing Starcraft. Some well timed naps the next day work pretty well.

- Being involved in academic classes, computing and programming projects you tend to deal with sleep deprivation regularly. Some of the good tricks to deal with this include coffee, tea, and exercise. But a little bacon will go a long way too ;)

- After taking Operating Systems: Honors, lack of sleep is the least of my worries. Trick 1: Practice makes perfect. When you can do it without caffeine, it's easy with caffeine. Trick 2: Music. Trick 3: Stay busy, not bored.

- My tricks are simple: sleep as much as possible before the competition starts; do not drink too much coffee or energy drinks (you lose focus and get jittery, you make more mistakes); establish shifts so that all members of the team can get some sleep every day; and have a few written checklists for when your focus starts to slide...

- As the student sysadmin in the team, I imagine the tension of making sure our system is alive and running properly will help keep me up for a while. A good many programming sessions taking long nights and consistent focus have probably prepped me decently well for staying up at odd hours while doing lots of work. As for tricks to stay awake, I don't have any.

(Tension? You call it tension? It’s going to be unrelenting, merciless pressure to keep that system running at its best the entire time. A hiccup on the cluster – much less a crash – will result in your team members turning on you like rabid dogs. I don’t mean to crank up the pressure or anything; I’m sure everything will be fine, just fine.)

I gave them a chance to anonymously criticize and make fun of their teammates. I hoped that they’d make the most of this opportunity, but they mostly talked about how much they’ve enjoyed the experience so far and how much they’ve learned.

One of the things they’ll enjoy most, I think, is the fact that neither Oklahoma nor Oklahoma State universities are fielding teams at SCC this year. Based on recent Texas Longhorn football results, it looks like the state of Oklahoma has their number. If they were at SCC, we might see Oklahoma post a 3.24 TF LINPACK and Oklahoma State paste Texas with a 1.46 TF number. Rumor has it that Texas is shopping around a LCS (Longhorn Computer Sports) television package that will give networks the right to broadcast everything from the SCC to two beardy students debating Linux distributions.

The Longhorns are a serious contender to take the crown (even though there isn’t a crown). They were a standout in their 2010 rookie year. However, this is an entirely new team – the only holdover is their confidence and sense of humor, both of which are welcome additions to the competition.

There are rumors that they might have some hardware innovations up their collective sleeves, but it’s hard to separate fact from fiction at this point in the game. As teams put the finishing touches on their builds and strategies, the grapevine comes alive like a cat in a paint shaker. We’ll see what we see in Seattle.

SC11 Student Cluster Comp profiles

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