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Junior gurus go gung-ho in Guangzhou: Meet the students putting a boot in clusters' thrusters

Today, it's ASC14, tomorrow, your supercomputer

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HPC Blog That question everyone is asking: who are the undergrads competing for cluster-building glory at the Asian Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC14) in Guangzhou this week? It’s a mixed slate of former cluster competition champions, wannabes, and newbies from almost every continent on Earth.

First, make sure you're up to speed on what exactly happens in a cluster-building contest (it's exactly what you think it is). Second, let's first check out the nine universities from the home country, China:

Beihang University (Team Beihang or Beihang Bangers, perhaps): A newcomer to cluster competitions, with this being their first international bout. Beihang has 22,000 students at their Beijing campus, which includes 10,000 undergraduates and 12,000 post-grad students. The school was founded in 1952 as Beihang University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. It’s definitely not the oldest university in the competition, but its strong technical heritage makes it one of the most respected engineering programs in the country.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (HK Poly): Has been around in some form or other since it was founded as a government trade school in 1937. Located in Kowloon, it has close to 30,000 students. ASC14 marks the first time the school has ever competed in any cluster battle, which is a big step forward for their computer science department.

Huazhong University of Science & Technology (HUST): The Huazhong ‘Husters’ are cluster competition veterans, scoring a second place finish at ASC13 which gave them an entry into the ISC’13 finals in Leipzig, Germany. At ISC, HUST used their GPU heavy cluster to set a new student cluster LINPACK record (8,455 GFLOPS) and took home the LINPACK crown. Given their experience and past success, HUST is one of the favorites to take home a prize at ASC14.

National University of Defense Technology (NUDT): NUDT is one of the most experienced teams at ASC14. They have the reputation as “LINPACK jockeys”, winning the highest LINPACK awards at previous ISC and SC competitions. The team narrowly missed winning the Overall Championship at SC11 in Seattle. But NUDT is fielding an almost entirely new team at ASC14. Their veteran players either graduated, or joined the professional clustering leagues, or both. This is a team with something to prove. They want to show the world that they have what it takes to win the Overall Championship prize and nail down that trip to the ISC’14 tourney. Their competition experience, along with their familiarity with Tianhe-2 super, makes it hard to be against them.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Team Shanghai): This is the second time that Team Shanghai has gone for the gold at the ASC competition. At ASC13, the team finished in the middle of the pack. But they’re looking at this year’s outing as a chance to prove themselves as a true contender get their ticket punched for ISC this June. And why shouldn’t they expect this? Their college was established in a 1896 imperial edict issued by the Guangxu Emperor, which isn’t too shabby. Today, the school has 16,000 undergrads and around 24,000 post-grad students, all of whom are waiting with baited breath to see how Team Shanghai fares in Guangzhou.

Sun Yat-sen University (Team Sun Yat): Is the host university for ASC14 and the home of the Guangzhou Supercomputer Center. This isn’t the first student cluster rodeo for Team Sun Yat. The team competed at ASC13, beating the rest of the field on the GROMACs application, and turning in a credible performance on everything else. The stakes are higher this year, since the competition is taking place on their home turf. The team is clearly a crowd favorite, with a cluster of well wishers surrounding their booth. Is this enough to drive them to the elite level in student clustering? We’ll see.

Taiyuan University of Technology (Team Taiyuan): Is another newbie team to the cluster wars. The school was established in 1902, and currently has around 26,000 students. Focused on engineering and science, it’s one of China’s elite five “Key Universities” in central China. They’re also famous for dominating surrounding universities in men’s basketball, winning the last seven championships. It’s rumored that they have several players who are over six feet tall, which would help explain their championship run. The university motto of “Pursue Practicality, Create Originality” would certainly serve them well in the cluster competition, where practical solutions tend to rule the day.

Tsinghua University (Team Tsinghua): Team Tsinghua has tasted cluster victory more times than any team in the field of 16. In their first outing, they beat the field at ASC12 and earned a trip to the inaugural ISC competition in Leipzig, where they won the Overall Championship award.

The next year, they achieved a near sweep at ASC13, winning the Overall Championship and the Highest LINPACK awards – a first in Student Cluster Competition history. At ISC’13, Team Tsinghua came in second place, narrowly losing the Overall Championship to a rookie South African team. If there’s a favorite at ASC14, it has to be Team Tsinghua. But it’s a new team for the most part, so it’s an open question as to whether they can perform up to expectations.

Zhejiang University (Team Z): is another first time competitor in the student cluster arena. Team Z hails from the city of Hangzhou, about 100 miles south of Shanghai. It’s one of China’s oldest universities, established in 1897. It’s also one of the largest schools in this year’s crop of competitors, with close to 50,000 students. The Center for Mathematical Sciences, home to the Zhe School of Mathematics and the Chen-Su School of Differential Geometry, is located at Zhejiang University. So it’s probably safe to say that Team Z isn’t going to be thrown by any of the math involved in the competition. We’ll see how they do on the computer science side of the equation.

That's the slate of Chinese teams determined to keep the ASC title in Chinese hands. It also reveals to the rest of the world the sort of young minds putting together high-performance rigs in the Middle Kingdom at the moment.

In part two of this article, we take a look at the universities from Asia, Europe, America, and South America who are trying to wrest away the ASC cluster crown (there isn't an actual crown, unfortunately). ®

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