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All-female code-crunching boffin team aims for cluster compo glory

Comp sci, maths and hard science majors hope to draw more women into tech

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SC12 A couple of new – and quite different – teams are looking to shake things up at next week’s SC12 Student Cluster Competition (SCC) in Salt Lake City. For the first time, we’ll see a coalition of elite schools combine forces to take on their more experienced competitors. We will also see another SCC first: an all-female team.

Click here for more details on competition rules and here to take a look at what they’ll be doing.

Team Chowdah

This team is competing under the banner of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Consortium (MGHPCC) which, even as an abbreviation, is too ungainly to use in multiple articles. Since this team is made up of advisors and students from the five MGHPCC partner universities (Boston U, Northeastern University, MIT, UMass Dartmouth, and Harvard) I think “Team Chowdah” is a much better moniker.

I was hoping to be able to set out Boston U and Northeastern as “working stiff” or “lunch bucket” schools vs. the obvious elite institutions of Harvard and MIT, but that didn’t work out. All of these institutions are pretty damned high-end, and they all require sky-high test scores, grades, and tuition checks. So what we have with Team Chowdah is an alliance of elite schools that each have some serious tech brainpower behind them. And they’re bringing much of it, along with some hardware, to Salt Lake City.

These are big teams and big efforts. While most teams have one or two advisors/coaches, Team Chowdah has almost ten. Teams are limited to six undergraduate students, but Team Chowdah will be bringing some extras – perhaps to make morning Dunks or Crumbies runs. (They’re going to have to explain to the clerk what the term “Gimme that one with the extra jimmies” means.)

It looks like the bulk of the team will be from the Boston U SC11 Battle in Seattle entry. This team did surprisingly well in the competition, grabbing a fourth-place finish, which was noteworthy given it was their first try. They were also the first team to take advantage of parallelism at the human level – by deploying a set of identical twin team members. The Boston U group was fun to hang around with and observe as they manned their booth, crunched their code, and wandered through the show picking up swag and contacts.

Team Chowdah will be sponsored by Seattle-based HPC reseller Silicon Mechanics with Silicon Mechanics’ Education/Govt./Research Group Manager Art Mann marshaling hardware and support from their OEM partners. The company went above and beyond the call of duty with their support for the Boston University team last year, celebrating the BU finish (and their own 10th anniversary) by donating the BU cluster to a worthy education or non-profit research institution.

Judging by the Team Chowdah SCC application, Art Mann had a very busy summer corralling the vast range of gear that the team needs for Salt Lake. They’re looking to build out a cluster that will break all records for heterogeneity. (I’m not sure that anyone is keeping records for this; if they aren’t, they should start.) It will be interesting to see whether they pull off their highly ambitious system design and, more importantly, if their quint-alition partnership gives them the brain power they need to land a victory at SC12.

Team Venus

Team Venus is the first all-female team to enter the SCC. Hailing from University of the Pacific out of Stockton, California, this group of six women all sport high GPAs in computer science, math, and other hard science disciplines. While their school isn’t well known in tech circles, it is the oldest chartered university in California (take that, Stanford) and is ranked as one of the 100 top universities in the US.

The team has partnered with HPC vendor Appro and will be using some of Appro’s unique designs to fuel an HPC cluster that offers high performance with minimal energy use. In their application, they were still pondering whether or not to use accelerators. From what I could see, they were considering the trade-offs of traditional vs. hybrid systems and taking some time to evaluate their options. They’ve also made some other canny hardware choices to minimize their power draw and thus maximize the number of cores they can devote to useful work.

Team Venus is also paying attention to the outreach part of the competition. They plan to document their experience via video including team meetings, calls, and the work they’re performing. They’re also going to broadcast their activities and updates on both Facebook and Twitter to keep their fans up-to-date. In addition, they plan to invite key female CTOs, CEOs, and tech experts to stop by the Team Venus booth and share their thoughts on women in technical fields, which will hopefully help attract more women to computer science. ®

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

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