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Students face off in Hamburg home-cooked cluster clash

Hell on the Elbe: You pick the winners at ISC’12

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HPC blog We’re a little less than two weeks away from the tip-off of the first ISC/HPCAC 2012 Student Cluster Competition. University teams representing the US, China, and host nation Germany will meet in an epic benchmark battle to prove which team can design and build the fastest homemade cluster. The only constraint is electricity – they get only 13 amps to work with. (For full details on the competition and rules, click your mouse here.

Right now, the teams are preparing themselves both physically and mentally for the upcoming challenge. Hamburg will be a trial by fire; contestants will find out whether their hardware, software, and application tuning knowledge is enough to vanquish their competitors. The winning team will claim the Klusterkamph Kup and drink deeply from that highly coveted chalice of victory.

(Unfortunately there isn’t really a kup, or even a cup. Pity. Actually, there ought to be an Airbus Cup – they’re the major corporate sponsor of the event. Wonder if there’s some Airbus employee out there who could amble out to their metal fabrication plant and cobble us a trophy? Something big and gaudy… with winged victory angels and stuff… yeah, that’s the ticket.)

These competitions have become one of my favorite industry events over the past few years. It’s a lot of fun to see what the students put together and to watch them in action as they push to get the most out of their boxes and apps. They all want to win, of course, but what really shines through is how much they enjoy meeting the other teams and learning more about technology and science.

In a bald-faced attempt to pull you readers into the competition, I’ve put together a betting pool so you can lay down wagers on the team you think will win the overall competition (the Klusterkamph Kup) and the team you think will achieve the highest LINPACK score. Here’s a quick pre-competition rundown on their strengths and weaknesses. Clicking on the team links will take you to a slightly lengthier profile.

Team USA: The US will be represented by the University of Colorado and Stony Brook University. Colorado has the most experience, having competed in at least five previous editions of the annual cluster challenge sponsored by the US-based SC conference. While Colorado has always been a favorite of the fans, they have yet to win a performance prize. Are they due? Stony Brook has competed in a few of the SC cluster competitions and won it once. They were one of the first teams to utilize GPUs in their Cray-sponsored 2010 Bear-O-Dactyl system (an effort that came up short). It’ll be interesting to see what they bring to Hamburg.

Team China: China was granted two slots in the Hamburg competition, but they had a problem: almost 30 universities felt they could field the most competitive team. The solution? An intra-China playoff round that winnowed the field down to two finalists. After four days of grueling competition, Beijing’s Tsinghua University emerged on top as China’s A-team in Hamburg. Second place went to the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT), an experienced team that competed at the SC11 cluster competition in Seattle last year. NUDT came within a hair's breadth of winning it all in Seattle but was aced out by, coincidentally, another Tsinghua University – the one in Taiwan.

We don’t know much about Beijing’s Tsinghua U, aside from the fact that they’ve got the best rep in China when it comes to science and technology. We know a bit more about NUDT – their parent organisation built and operates the former Top500-topping Tianhe-1A supercomputer. We also know that the NUDT kids know their way around GPUs; they brought more GPUs to SC11 than any other team and used them to great effect. We’ll see what happens, but these teams can’t be underestimated.

Team Germany: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) will be representing Germany and Europe in the competition. The home team is one of Germany’s premier technical and science universities and one of the oldest (dating back to 1825). They have a long list of famous alums, including the guy who discovered electromagnetic waves (the Hertz measure is named after him). This will be their first time in this sort of competition, so it’s hard to know what they’ll bring or how they’ll do under game conditions. They’ve been quiet so far. Maybe too quiet? Could they be preparing a surprise for the other competitors? Something more than a gift basket full of sauerkraut, wurst, and schnitzel? We’ll see.

So who do you think will post the highest LINPACK score? Which team will win it all? We’re giving you $1,000 in virtual cash to bet on the team or teams you think will win in each of these categories. Click here to let us know what you think. I’ll total up the bets and post the odds on each team in a future story. ®

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