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Comp sci boffins Venus: HPC newbies post respectable score

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SC12 Video We spent a few minutes on the last day of the SC12 Student Cluster Competition (SCC) talking to Team Venus from the University of the Pacific. This is not only their first year in the cluster competition, but also the first time any of the students have done anything at all HPC-related.

Under the mentorship of Oak Ridge National Lab and their hardware sponsor Appro, the team gave it their best against much more experienced competitors. They posted a respectable 2.33 Teraflop/s LINPACK, which was good enough to put them into fourth place going into the application round of the competition.

On the scientific apps, Team Venus was, as they put it, “Either strong or struggling.” While they all have computer science backgrounds, they don’t have much (if any) experience in running large-scale scientific research applications. But they persevered and busily worked to get their ‘struggle’ apps functioning at a reasonable level.

Team Venus is also noteworthy because it’s the first all-female team to compete in an SCC. This attracted a lot of attention and helped shine a brighter light on women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fields, and on the cluster competition in general.

Of course they aren’t the only female competitors. The Asian teams have several women on their teams, and Team Taiwan’s player/spokesperson is usually a female. Team Russia (2010 and 2011) had a female coach and female team members, and quite a few of the teams at the ISC’12 SCC included women competitors.

Although HPC and computing in general is predominantly made up of people of the male persuasion, it’s a mistake to say that it’s completely male-dominated these days. There are many women engineers, researchers, and scientists. The male-female ratio isn’t 50-50, but it’s not 90-10 either, and over time it continues to change.

Aside from Team Venus, I think there were four or five women on the SCC teams this year – about the same number as in 2011 and 2010. I don’t have accurate stats on female participation because it’s not something I’ve been tracking; my coverage focuses on teams and individual personalities, what they’ve built, and how they deal with the challenges presented by the competition. To me, that’s the interesting stuff. And Team Venus, regardless of gender, was an interesting team to observe and definitely added some personality to the 2012 SCC. ®

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