Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/21/scc_deadline/

Will world universities step to cluster challenge?

Tautology or just plain taunting

By Dan Olds, Gabriel Consulting

Posted in HPC, 21st March 2011 14:38 GMT

The April 15th team- application deadline for the SC11 Student Cluster Competition (SCC) is fast approaching. The SCC pits eight university teams from around the globe against one another in Seattle (site of Supercomputing 2011 - or SC11) to compete for clustering glory.

Sponsors supply the equipment and advice, but it’s the students who learn the systems and applications, devise competition strategies, and bring it all together in a quest to make their systems perform better than their competitors’ – and drink deeply from the chalice of victory. (There isn’t an actual SCC Chalice of Victory, but maybe I’ll see if I can pick one up. Send me a link if you see a good one online.)

We had a great SCC in New Orleans last year. The teams were highly motivated, and everyone who took the time to visit the competition area came away highly impressed with the students’ talent, their understanding of what they were doing, and their drive to succeed.

The competition paid solid dividends for the students, their schools, and the sponsors alike. Students were being courted by organizations anxious to offer full-time jobs or internships. The computer science programs at their universities gained mindshare from show attendees, bringing more attention to their programs and research. The vendors sponsoring the teams also harvested a slew of publicity and goodwill from their association with the competition.

The competition organizers are expecting to see a larger number of applications from schools representing more geographies this year. I’d like to see that too. Last year, we had two international schools participate: the Nizhni Novgorod State University from Russia and the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan (the overall winners).

The other six schools were US-based, with perennial participants Colorado, Purdue, and Stony Brook joined by newcomers from the University of Texas, Florida A&M University, and the hometown favorite LSU team.


Where are the other international teams? Why aren’t more countries represented in the competition? India made a big push into technology in the 80s and 90s and has become a power in programming and outsourced IT management.

The Indian Institute of Technology schools have a reputation for the toughest entrance exams and acceptance requirements, and for turning out the most successful graduates. Assuming that this is true, you’d think there might be a few students who would be up for a trip to Seattle for some good coffee and fresh salmon, right? So where are they?

Germany has a reputation for deep research, engineering, and technology in general. The Max Planck Institute is a world-renowned research organization located next door to the Saarland University in sunny Saarbrucken. In addition to the Max Planck Institutes for Informatics and Software Systems, the university is also host to the German Center for Artificial Intelligence, the Center for Bioinformatics, and the Visual Computing Institute. Sounds sort of techie to me, but I could be wrong.

A team from Saarland U would have a lot of local experts to draw upon for advice and expertise. There’s still plenty of time to get a team together, pack up the lederhosen, and make plans for Seattle in November. I’m betting that the organizers would even let them bring along their university polka band to provide appropriate background music.

Sleepless in Seattle

And where the hell is the UK in all of this? It has supercomputers, it has university students, and a lot of rain and dank cold – so why not bring some of the first two to Seattle? (They won’t need to bring the rain and stuff; trust me, Seattle has plenty of that in November.)

In asking around, I heard that the University of Edinburgh has teamed up with Cray to found the “Exascale Technology Centre” that will be used to – not surprisingly – push supers to into exascale performance. On their webpage, the University Principal is quoted saying, “The University has been at the forefront of supercomputing research for 20 years…”

Why not prove it in Seattle? While Edinburgh’s motto proclaims that they’ve been influencing the world since 1583, some say that they’ve been coasting for the last 150 years or so. These are probably Cambridge and Imperial college types, both of whom seem to think they have some research heritage of their own.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t know if any university can credibly claim a research heritage until they’ve competed at a Student Cluster Competition. So I’m extending this invitation to our U.K. cousins: Bring your bagpipes and powdered wigs; bring your pop bands that no one has ever heard of; and bring your best to Seattle in November. We’ll supply the fish and chips, with extra vinegar.

There really aren’t any excuses for not participating. It’s good for the students and the schools. Plus the SCC committee can help arrange sponsorships, so money and gear shouldn’t be an issue. Sure, Seattle can be a dreary place in November. But they have the Space Needle, a lot of cool indie bands, and a truly astounding number of coffee shops. Plus it’s the birthplace of grunge.

What’s not to like? You can find all of the information and application materials here.

Happy clustering – see you in Seattle. ®