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Student cluster warriors to face off on new battlefield: ISC

Nearly THIRTY Chinese universities entered heat

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HPC blog I’ve been following the annual SC Student Cluster Competition (SCC) for a few years now. It’s a great programme that pits teams of university undergrads against each other in the quest to design, build, and benchmark their own clustered systems. In the process they learn a lot about HPC, get a lot of exposure to the industry, and generally have a great time.

The profile of the SC event has risen to the level that the Europe-based ISC is getting into the act with its own Student Cluster Challenge that will be featured at its Hamburg show next month.

At SC11 in Seattle, we saw China’s first-ever entry. The country's NUDT (National University of Defense Technology) team came very close to winning it all against much more experienced teams. NUDT's success seems to have sparked a flurry of student clustering activity in anticipation of the ISC competition in June. There was so much interest that an intra-China competition was held in order to select two teams to represent the country in Hamburg.

Amazingly, almost 30 universities submitted applications to participate in the playoff. The field was winnowed to six elite finalist teams, which were announced in March. After a month of preparation, these six finalists were brought together in Beijing for a final battle to determine which teams would make the trip to Hamburg. Inspur provided hardware and will again step up to the plate as gear sponsor for the teams advancing to Hamburg.

The finals were quite elaborate, with an opening ceremony and speeches by representatives of the Chinese Ministry of Science & Technology, the Ministry of Education, and officials from China’s HPC labs. It attracted quite a bit of attention from the industry press, of course, but also was the subject of quite a bit of general news coverage – including China's national television networks.

The six competing universities were put through a cluster torture test. The competition spanned four days as the students submitted run after run in an attempt to post the best scores on same five HPC apps they’d have to run in Hamburg. According to observers, the teams were well matched and worked hard to wring the most performance possible out of their systems.

When the smoke cleared, Beijing’s own Tsinghua University topped the rest of the competitors and nailed down the number one slot in Hamburg. Home field advantage may have played a role, but they still had to run their code and vanquish the other teams in order to advance.

Finishing second was cluster competition veteran NUDT from Changsha (south-central China). Coincidentally, NUDT finished second in the SC competition last November, just barely edged by Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University. They must be thinking, “What the hell do we have to do to beat these ‘F’tsing’ teams, anyway?!!”

These two Chinese teams will compete against US entrants Stony Brook University and the University of Colorado as well as home-country favourite Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. In upcoming articles, I’ll explain the competition and how it’s similar (and quite different) from the SC version. I’ll also take an in-depth look at the teams: their hopes, dreams, aspirations, height, weight, turn-ons, turn-offs, and other vital information. There’ll be an opportunity to bet on your favorite teams too.

The coverage won’t stop there. I’ll be at ISC this year to bring you an up close and personal view of the digital battlefield. Now that the field is complete, let the games begin... ®

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