Experienced HPC compo kids welcome eager Brazilians to cluster-wrestling match

Foreign interlopers aim for China Cluster Crown

HPC blog In our last story, we looked at the local Chinese undergrads who are competing for cluster-building glory at the Asian Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC14) in Guangzhou, but there are plenty of competitors who are keen to grab the title and take it home – to the United States, steamy Brazil or even to the slopes of the Urals in Yekaterinburg.

The rivals span the range of old-hand cluster competition veterans to complete newbies from almost every continent.

Nanyang Technological University (Singapore, Nanyang Tech): One of the largest universities in Singapore, with close to 35,000 students. Established in 1981, it’s one of the youngest schools in the competition, but don’t let its youth fool you. Nanyang Tech brings some serious intellectual heft to the table. The worldwide QS university rankings peg Nanyang Tech as the 41st best university in the world, the eighth best in Asia and the second best university under the age of 50. When it comes to Computer Science, QS rates Nanyang Tech as the 22nd best in the world and sixth in Asia.

Rankings aside, Singapore is investing heavily in supercomputing resources and advanced technology training. The country sees this as vital part of maintaining and enhancing competitiveness and the Singapore way of life. This team could be a dark horse at ASC14 and is certainly a team to watch.

National Tsing Hua University (NTHU Taiwan): A long-time Student Cluster Competition participant, dating all the way back to 2008, when it took home the "Highest LINPACK" (benchmark which measures the performance of supercomputers) award. The institution took 2009 off, then came roaring back in 2010 to take the Overall Championship at the 2010 Supercomputing Conference (SC10) in New Orleans. NTHU secured its second consecutive SC victory at SC11 in Seattle, barely edging out a surging NUDT team.

In 2012, the team attempted to score an unprecedented “three-peat”, but finished second to University of Texas in a closely fought battle. After a disappointing fourth place finish at ASC13, the team has been entirely retooled and it is looking to fight its way back into the top echelon of international competitors. A victory at ASC14 could be just what the doctor ordered.

Purdue University (Team Boilermaker, US): Student Cluster Competition aficionados already know Team Boilermaker. The team from West Lafayette has been a fixture at cluster competitions since they began in 2007. The team has been a steady competitor over the years, usually finishing in the middle of the pack, but always competitive. What sets them apart is their commitment to HPC education and the depth of knowledge and skills of their team members.

Team Boilermaker has received a makeover since its last outing. Gone are the familiar faces that populated its bench for so many years. It is fielding an entirely new team this year, one that seems more enthusiastic and bright-eyed. (I’ll try to measure their eye-brightness some time during the competition.)

There are rumours on the cluster circuit that longtime Purdue coach Steven Harrell, might be looking to put together a Big 10 cluster competition, with the winner (or an all-star team) competing at a major international cluster-fest. I’m all for that, and hope it happens. More cluster competitions means more fun, at least as far as I’m concerned.

And in the newbie corner

University of São Paulo (Team Brazil): Finally, after all these years, we have a cluster competition entrant from South America. We had Costa Rica in the ISC competitions, but the Rainforest Eagles hailed from Central America. I briefly met the team (video on the way) and talked with its coach, and I’m impressed by the students' attitudes and enthusiasm for the competition. Brazil is working hard to increase its in-country HPC resources, which doesn’t only include supercomputers, but the people to design, build, and run them.

Participating in a Student Cluster Competition is a good way to attract student interest and give them some real world experience at the same time. Along those lines, University of São Paulo will be hosting the upcoming HPC Advisory Council Conference and Exascale Workshop in May.

The Team Brazil coach was both impressed and touched by how his team is responding to its first international cluster competition. The team has overcome many hurdles in this process, including topping 66 other teams in the grueling preliminary competition to win a slot in the ASC14 final. While it might not win a major ASC14 award, the team is going to gain valuable experience, learn more than they thought possible, and have a great time to boot. It’s a big win no matter what happens.

Ulsan University of Science and Technology (South Korea): was founded in 1969 as a technical institute and converted to a full university in 1985. It’s located in Ulsan, which is city built around Hyundai Heavy Industries (pre-break up). Hyundai is a major patron of the university, with plans to dedicate 40 billion won to fund joint projects. (That’s nearly $40m.)

This is the second major cluster competition for Team Korea. They played the game at ASC13, but didn’t finish in the money. But with another year of practice under its belt, maybe we’ll see Team Korea start to make its first steps towards the elite level of student clustering.

University of Miskolc (Hungary, Team Hungary): founded as a school of mining and metallurgy in 1735, it was one of the first independent universities in the Habsburg Empire. A lot of things have happened since then: wars, mining, mining research, smelting research, communism, the end of communism, and more mining.

Over the years, Miskolc has become a full-fledged university with schools of law, business, science, and the like. At 15,000 students, it’s the largest university in Northern Hungary.

This is team Hungary’s first student cluster competition. As a rookie team, it’s hard to imagine it could win one of the major awards, but anything is possible in this game. If it were to snare one of the top prizes, it could fuel a large HPC surge in Hungary and vault the students on the winning team to Gabor-like fame.

Ural Federal University (Russia, Team Ural): The institution, located on the eastern slope of the Ural Mountains, was the alma mater of Yeltsin, a 1955 graduate of the university. It was originally created in 1920 by an official decree from none other than Vladimir Lenin himself. The school is located in Yekaterinburg and has 57,000 students. It’s a big school, with 67 academic majors, including a full slate of science and computer science majors.

This is the first cluster competition for Team Ural, but hopefully not its last.

We wish all 16 teams the best of luck. In the next few blogs, you can look forward to interviews with the teams (with the help of plucky interpreter Clair) in order to get a better feel for how they’re going to fare in the competition. Stay tuned for those. ®

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