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China tries for 2012 WORLD cluster compo DOMINATION

Sends NUDT, UTSC against the world at SC12 cluster-fest

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SC12 According to Chinese astrologers, 2012 is the Year of the Dragon, and it’s certainly been a most auspicious year for Chinese HPC student cluster teams. So far this year*, China has completely dominated the Student Cluster Competition circuit.

China's Tsinghua and NUDT university teams took both the Overall and highest LINPACK awards at ISC’12 in Hamburg. With wins at the upcoming competition at SC12 in Salt Lake City, the teams have a solid chance to finish out the 2012 season undefeated. This hasn’t happened since... well, never. Up until 2012, the only student cluster competitions were held at the annual US-based SC conference. With the addition of a cluster competition at the European ISC shows, we now have a full-fledged circuit, right?

(For details on the competition and rules, click here and here).

China is sending two teams to the Great Salt Lake Siege. Let’s take a closer look at them:

National University of Defense Technology

Team NUDT is one of the two teams traveling from China to compete for cluster glory. NUDT is rapidly becoming a household name due to its success in supercomputing and, arguably more importantly, the world of student cluster competitions. Over just the past year its team has been in more competitions and built a better track record than any other team in Salt Lake.

The team first hit the world stage in 2011 at Seattle’s SC11 “Battle in Seattle”, finishing second with a GPU-heavy system that was just barely topped by Taiwan’s Tsing Hua University. A few months later they made a play for one of China’s two slots in the inaugural ISC 2012 Student Cluster Challenge. But their success at SC11 didn’t give them a bye; NUDT had to face off against six other teams in a brutal inter-China student cluster playoff to earn the right to compete at ISC’12. They didn’t disappoint in Hamburg, finishing first in LINPACK and second in the overall competition.

They’re bringing back the same coaching staff and some of the same players to SC12. They’re also sure to bring another Tianhe-1A inspired GPU-heavy cluster provided by their vendor sponsor Inspur. The NUDT campus is still cluster crazy – they sponsored their own local “Tianhe Cup” cluster competition, which attracted 78 students on 26 teams. This gives the NUDT team a big bench they can draw upon to build international competition teams. Their school motto of “uphold morality and learning; build a strong army and prosperous nation” was penned by Chinese political powerhouse and former president Jiang Zemin.

NUDT shocked student cluster competition followers in 2011 when they proved that they could make their GPU-centric approach pay off on an application set that wasn’t regarded as particularly GPU-friendly. They obviously put a lot of time and effort into optimizing the apps, and they certainly have plenty of competition experience to draw upon. NUDT has to be viewed as a serious contender for both top LINPACK and Overall Winner awards.

University of Science & Technology of China

Team USTC is China’s second entry into this year’s Salt Lake Siege. Located in the city of Hefie (about 650 miles - 1,046km - east of Beijing), USTC was founded in 1958 by the Chinese Academy of Sciences to build a national infrastructure of science and tech talent. Their motto “being both politically sound and professionally competent, and integrating theory with practice” is a bit longer and more complicated than others, perhaps befitting their status as a high-level think tank.

While this is the first time USTC has competed on the pressure-packed international student cluster stage, they’re not complete newbies. Team USTC narrowly lost a chance to play in the ISC’12 cluster competition last summer in Hamburg – finishing barely behind Team NUDT. The team is stocked with junior-level computer science majors, most of whom worked together on the ISC’12 bid earlier this year. Sponsored by China computing giant Dawning, we expect that they’ll bring the now-typical hybrid CPU-GPU clustered system.

So Team USTC has at least dipped its toes into student cluster bouts, but this will be its first big international competition. Will they be able to deal with the pressure of playing on the road? Can they emerge victorious? Time will tell. ®

* Yes, nitpickers, I’m keeping in mind that Chinese New Year began on 2/4/2012.

You can find more coverage of the student cluster competition as well as SC12 supercomputer news right here

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