ISC ’15 Student Cluster Competition: Euro kids answered the calls to arms

Human blood conducts electricity just fine

HPC Blog Eight countries from five continents sent eleven university student teams to do battle at the recently concluded ISC’15 Student Cluster Competition. If you multiply 8 x 5 x 11, you get 440; a number that has no relevance to this article.

Europe was ably represented by four teams. Let’s have a video introduction to each of them:

Team Chemnitz – Germany: Coffee Table of Doom Rides Again, Intel Complier Bug in Frankfurt Messe?

This is the team that deploys the now trademarked “Coffee Table of Doom” series of systems, the first of which was so powerful (with 16 accelerators), that it could be barely powered on without setting off fire suppression devices in the convention hall.

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In the video, we talk to the team and their spokesperson, who I’ve dubbed “Thor”. As team leader, he brings a certain baddassy type of vibe to the group. We also talk about how it's doing with the applications. The team reports good progress with PyFR, getting a 2x speed up.

Finally, we talk about how Octopus didn’t work so well with the Intel compiler. According to the team, the two worked fine together at the Chemnitz home base, but it just didn’t work for them in Frankfurt.

Seems like there’s some sort of geographic problem with the software that didn’t allow it to work in the Frankfurt Messe, which is something that I’ll be sure to bring to Intel’s attention.

Team Tartu – Estonia: Human Blood Conducts Electricity Just Fine

This is the first time that Estonia has been represented in any cluster competition, and they’ve had an ‘interesting’ experience. The first noteworthy item is that they brought the biggest display screen (110”) ever seen at a cluster competition. That’s a very cool thing.

On the ‘not so cool thing’ side of the ledger, the team was struck with huge bad luck on the shipping front. Their cluster consists of 24 small form factor motherboards, each with its own smallish power supply. They shipped 24 power supplies from Estonia, but only TWO made it to Frankfurt by the start of the competition.

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At this point, some teams would have scrounged up a couple more power supplies from the show floor, put together what they could, and called it good. Not Team Tartu.

They went out into Frankfurt and purchased every power supply they could find – probably stripping the entire city. Then, using only pocket knives and box cutters, they built custom cables to connect the PSUs to hall power.

This resulted in an ugly cut on the finger of their team leader and added some quantity of human blood to their cluster mix.

Injuries aside, Team Tartu is what this competition is all about: overcoming problems, challenges, and plain getting screwed over by shipping companies, but getting something running in the end.

Team Hamburg – Germany: Loud System, Low Talkers, Graph500 Power Gap

This is Hamburg’s third cluster competition and, although this crop of students is entirely new to the competition, they’re doing just fine for the most part. My biggest problem when filming the video was that I couldn’t hear them over the horrible yowl of their cluster. So after a few false starts, which I edited out, we did manage to get the interview done.

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The team’s biggest problem was with mystery application Graph500. It wasn't getting the speed up they expected and, more worrying, it wasn't able to use its entire 3,000 watt power allowance. Check out the video for more details.

Team Spain – Tired ARMs, Recompiled Apps, Demonic Fan Noise

This is our first look at the team who brought ARM processors to the world of Student Cluster Competitions. In the video, we talk about how four of their 135 ARM processors got all tuckered out and gave up the ghost.

One thing that many observers were wondering about was the applications: could the team find/build and then optimise versions of the applications for its ARM CPUs and Mali T604 GPUs? The team is confident that it's up to the task and, at least at this point in the competition, it isn't having any problems – other than the demonic sounds coming out of their system.

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While many of these systems are pretty loud, the Spanish system has this varying pitch that is both almost painfully annoying, but kind of creepy too.

I’m going to capture the sound from it, assuming it can be reproduced by human-made equipment, in a later blog entry.

Next up we’ll meet the Asian teams, with the usual powerhouse groupings from China and an entirely new entry from India. Stay tuned... ®


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