Pimp my cluster: GPUs, liquid nitrogen and AAAAAH! ..that new compiler smell

Vets, first timers face off at supercomputing compo

HPC Blog In this article, we're going to take a closer look at the teams that competed in the historic SC14 Student Cluster Competition. As usual, it's a wide mix of returning champions, veteran teams pushing to join the elite, and completely new teams who are trying to figure out what they hell they're doing.

(For some background, click here to see the apps they had to run in this edition of the competition and/or click here to see how their homemade systems are configured.)

Let's take a look at the home field US based teams first:

Team Longhorn (University of Texas, Austin): No team had more pressure on them than the Texas Longhorns. They were attempting to complete the hat trick - a three-peat victory at SC.

As you'll see in the video, they're a bit nervous. In fact, it’s the first time in four competitions that I’ve ever heard them admit they felt any pressure or jitters, which tells you just how much pressure they’re feeling.

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We talk about their team composition (they lost some team members to the pro ranks) and their system config. They're pretty fired up about their box this year. Even though they have fewer nodes, they figure they're about 30 per cent faster due to more advanced CPUs.

They also talk about their move to eschew GPUs in this year's box. According to the team, they don't see much value in them for the slate of apps at SCC'14. (In our upcoming comprehensive results blog, we'll examine that contention to see if there's any truth to it.)

This competition is unique because the Texas' arch-rival, University of Oklahoma, is also competing in New Orleans. I couldn't resist trying to get a little range war started between the two teams. The Texas guys were gracious, but still lobbed a few shots towards the kids from Norman.

In the background of this and other videos, you'll occasionally hear what I've dubbed the "Siren of Shame", which is the signal that some hapless team has gone over the 3,000 watt power cap. Competition organisers this year are taking a harder line on power cap violations - even assessing penalties for teams that go over the cap for too long or too often.

Mass Green: is an amalgam of serveral Boston area universities, which, when combined with alcohol (or even soft drinks) is usually a sure-fire recipe for a fight.

However, things are peaceful at the Mass Green booth, at least so far. The team is a combination of vets from SC13 and ISC14, plus four new members. In this early competition video, they're liking their chances to win the cluster crown this year.

Early confidence isn't atypical for Mass Green teams, even though they've competed in five major bouts and have yet to take home the cheese. But it's a team that has steadily improved over the years and moved up the ranks.

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In the video they discuss what they're doing differently this time - including dynamic power management, new libraries, compilers that still have that "new compiler" smell, and the like.

Team Calderero (Purdue/EAFIT): So what's a 'Caldero'? It's the Spanish term for 'Boilermaker', as in Purdue Boilermaker. This team is a blend of traditional Purdue cluster kids with an infusion of students from their sister school, Columbia's EAFIT.

In the video, we talk about how the team came together and how the cross-border partnership worked. As it turns out, one of the EAFIT team members was studying on location at Purdue, leaving only two members that had to communicate remotely. One of the EAFIT members was spending time at Purdue, but two other Colombian members were remote.

Youtube Video

We also had a good discussion surrounding their hardware config for SC14. They looked at a bunch of different configurations, including straight traditional cluster, adding in some Phi co-processors, or powering up with some GPUs.

Eventually, their choice was dictated by the physical constraints of their chassis. So for the first time ever, Purdue is driving NVIDIA GPUs in a cluster competition. And so far, they're liking it.

At this early point in the competition, the team was looking into how they'd pack the apps on their system in order to ensure maximum utilisation and throughput.

You'll notice that the siren of shame went off a few times during the interview, but it wasn't caused by the Team Calderero.

Team Sooner (University of Oklahoma): Immersive liquid cooling makes another appearance at a student cluster competition. Yay! Team Sooner brought the big Green Revolution mineral oil vat to cool their small collection of nodes.

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