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It's a CLUSTER-OFF: Asian students prep for tense, live HPC smackdown

$16k top prize and cluster-boffin glory up for grabs

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HPC blog The first annual Asia Student Cluster Challenge (ASCC) culminates this week with a final round of competition that brings 10 university teams to Shanghai for a live cluster-off. The teams traveling to Shanghai made it past 32 other universities vying to compete in the live finale.

Teams will compete for top benchmark scores on three HPC workloads including the LINPACK benchmark and the Gromacs molecular dynamics package. The third applications, BSDE option pricing (a Monte Carlo calculation), requires students to use Intel’s Phi accelerator to compute results.

This competition, which is the first in the student cluster competition triple crown, is jointly sponsored by the Asian Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC), the HPC Advisory Council, Inspur and Intel. Forty-two universities from far and wide submitted highly detailed competition proposals. The ASC selected the ten best submissions and invited those teams to the final in Shanghai.

Even ardent student cluster competition fans will only recognise only a few of the 10 teams slated to compete in Shanghai this week. We don’t have a lot of information on these schools, but we’ve combed the 'net and, for the first time, are providing comparative overall and Engineering & Technology program rankings provided by the QS World University Rankings. I’m not sure how meaningful these rankings are, but for the sake of continuity, let’s include them. Here’s a look at the field...

  1. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK, Hong Kong): It’s the second oldest university in Hong Kong, founded in 1963 (which isn’t all that old, really). However, they have a very solid academic reputation both worldwide and in Asia. QS World University Rankings puts CUHK at #40 in the world, but gives them only a score of 24.79 (out of 100) on Engineering & Technology. Top rankings might help a school get into the cluster competition, but they’re irrelevant when the electrons start flying at the finals.
  2. Huazhong University of Science & Technology (HUST, China): HUST is a big school with 36,000 undergraduates and more than 20,000 post-grad students. It’s a national "key" university in China, directly affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education. It looks like they offer courses in just about every discipline, but they are designated as a national key laboratory in laser technology, digital manufacturing, coal combustion, material processing/die and mold technology, and electromagnetic engineering. According to QS rankings they fall somewhere around 451-500 in terms of worldwide universities and have an Engineering & Technology score of 14.65.
  3. King Abdulaziz University (KAU, Saudi Arabia): With 42,000 undergrad and grad students, KAU is one of the largest universities in the Middle East. Originally founded as a private school in 1967, it was converted to a state school four years later. KAU’s computer science program used to be a sub-program within their general science program but was split off into a separate college in 2006. The QS rankings put KAU at #334 overall and give their Engineering & Technology program a 10.06 rating. Whatever the rankings, KAU has the resources to mount a credible challenge at the ASCC even though, like most of the other schools competing in Shanghai, this will be the first time the team has faced international cluster competitors.
  4. National Tsing Hua University (NTHU, Taiwan): Here’s a school that cluster competition followers will recognize: our old pals, Team Taiwan. This team has been a fixture at nearly every SC student cluster competition, winning the highest LINPACK award in 2007 and the Overall Award in 2010 and 2011. Team Taiwan is sure to bring back some of their veteran team members and coaches, which will make them a formidable competitor indeed. They have to be considered a favorite to win the inaugural ASCC. However, if you’re sold on the QS ratings as a way to handicap the cluster competition, NTHU’s QS ratings aren’t quite as high (#192 overall and 22.89 for Engineering & Technology) as other schools in the ASCC competition this year.
  5. National University of Defense Technology (NUDT, China): NUDT was the first mainland Chinese team to compete internationally (at SC11 in Seattle). They shocked the student cluster world by coming within a hair’s breadth of winning the Overall Award with their highly tuned GPU-heavy box. But Team NUDT wasn’t a one-hit wonder. They competed in China’s intra-country playoff in the spring of 2012 and won the right to represent China at the first ISC Student Cluster Competition in Hamburg. While they didn’t quite win all the marbles there, Team NUDT did snag the LINPACK crown, and then went on to do the same thing at SC12 in Salt Lake City. In the past couple of years, no team has seen as much competition as NUDT, which has to make them a leading contender in Shanghai this week. NUDT doesn’t have a QS university ranking.
  6. Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU, China): Founded in 1896, SJTU is one of China’s oldest universities. They boast a solid set of alumni, including former President of China Jiang Zemin, and a goodly number of scientific types. QS ranks SJTU in the top 125 worldwide and gives the school a score of 38.03 for Engineering & Technology. As the ASCC home team, they’re sure to be feeling at least some pressure to show the out-of-towners what’s what.
  7. St Petersburg State University (St. Pete U, Russia): St. Pete U in Saint Petersburg might be Russia’s oldest university, tracing its roots back to its founding in 1724 by Peter the Great himself. They have a long list of famous alumni, ranging from Ayn Rand (graduated in 1924 with honors in history) to Vladimir Putin and Dimitry Medvedev, both of whom studied law. Eight St. Pete grads have also received Nobel Prizes. The university is ranked at #253 worldwide, but receives a score of only 9.75 in Engineering & Technology. While this is a first-time team, the Russian team from University of Nizhni Novgorod competed at SC10 and SC11 and won the LINPACK crown in 2011.
  8. Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU, China): SYSU comes to Shanghai from Guangzhou, the largest city (close to 13 million citizens) in Southern China. Part of SYSU is located in Guangzhou’s Higher Education Mega Center, which is a seven square mile island that will eventually host ten or more universities catering to more than 200,000 students. The Chinese strategy of isolating large numbers of college students on their own island might be a worthy idea; I can see some definite advantages. SYSU looks to be an average competitor, with a QS overall ranking of 450 but a reasonably high Engineering & Technology rating of 27.68.
  9. Tsinghua University (TH, China): Located in Beijing, TH is regarded as one of the two best universities in China. Founded in 1911, the school hosts 15,000 undergraduate and 24,000 postgraduate students. The school is the 48th best in the world according to the QS rankings and gets a score of 77.51 on Engineering & Technology (the highest in this year’s ASCC). TH isn’t a newcomer to student cluster competitions. They won the intra-China ‘play-in’ cluster-off in 2012, earning a trip to ISC’12 in Hamburg to face off against an international field. After two days of furious competition, TH won the overall best award. Given their experience and academic pedigree, TU is a serious contender to win at the Shanghai final.
  10. Ulsan National Institute of Science & Technology (UNIST, South Korea): UNIST is the lone entry from South Korea and is unusual in several other respects. From what I can tell, the school was established three years ago and has only 3,000 students. It’s the only Korean university that provides 100% of their lectures in English, making it an attractive destination for foreign students and faculty. UNIST has two new research centers, one focused on Stem Cell research (partnered with the Max Planck Institute), and the other exploring Graphene as a potential ‘dream material’ for solar cells, displays, electrical circuits, and other applications. UNIST has the stated goal of becoming a top 20-ranked science and engineering university by 2020 and breaking into the top 10 by 2030. Very ambitious goals for such a new university, but laudable nonetheless. Scoring a surprise win at ASCC in Shanghai would certainly move the school towards those goals.

ASCC wins will give these teams more than just bragging rights. The team winning the Overall Gold award will receive 100k RMB (about $16,000), and the Silver Winner will receive about $8,000. There are also prizes of $1,600 each for the team (or teams) that post the highest LINPACK score or do the best job at optimizing BDSE on Intel’s Phi co-processor.

There is even more at stake for the Chinese teams. The top two Chinese finishers will get an automatic entry into the ISC’13 Student Cluster Competition in Leipzig this June.

We’ll report competition updates and final results as soon as we receive them. ®

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