Student Teams Prepare for Cluster Showdown

The annual Supercomputing conference, which will be held this year Nov. 16-21 in New Orleans, Louisiana, is a can’t-miss event for the supercomputing world. It’s five days of exhibits, conferences and networking that showcase current innovations in the industry.

It’s also the forum for the Student Cluster Competition, a 48-hour, nonstop challenge for 12 teams of undergraduate and/or high school students. Their mission: Assemble a small cluster computer and race to demonstrate the greatest sustained performance on several applications, three of which they’ll know in advance and one that’s a mystery until the competition starts. The only restrictions on hardware are that the teams must not exceed the 3,120-watt power limit (gasp!) and that all hardware must be commercially available by the opening day of the competition.  Teams are chosen by a sub-committee of the SC organizing committee based on a written application and having sponsorship.

The SCC is designed to introduce the next generation of students to high performance computing and increase public awareness of this growing industry.

Cray is proud to be a cosponsor (with Mellanox, NVIDIA and Intel) of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville team. Playing on the university’s nickname, the Volunteers, they call themselves Team VIBE (Volunteers in the Big Easy).

Although the actual challenge for the is still a couple months away, Team VIBE has been practicing, testing and learning all about the realm of HPC since January.

Cray offered UT not only hardware but also mentorship for the student team, both on system design and on tuning and optimizing codes. This includes both software options like CrayPAT, an incredibly powerful performance analysis tool, and personal advice from Cray employees Aaron Vose and Alainna White on how they would approach optimizing the known applications for the specific hardware the team has.

The team members were chosen after the coaches, Paul Peltz and Vince Betro, recruited students at UT and area high schools. More than 20 students submitted resumes for the UT team, and after interviewing all applicants, the coaches selected six college students to participate in the live competiton, as well as two high schoolers who joined for a summer of learning as “junior varsity.”

Each SCC team must have an industrial partner/sponsor to enter the competition, and the team’s hardware is provided by these HPC vendors. The teams, which represent universities from around the U.S. and the globe, are led by a team of academic coaches who recruit and guide them through the entire preparation and competition process — from designing the system, assembling and testing the machine, understanding the software, and tuning the software to giving moral support on the show floor, where the students must work completely independently for 48 hours.

Below is a video that introduces Team VIBE and gives a glimpse into the students’ lives over the next few months.

You can stay abreast of the team’s progress by following their Twitter handle (@VolsInBigEasy), where they plan to post the latest news, updates and challenges they face as they prepare for the competition.

On behalf of Cray, to all teams involved in the SCC: Good luck, and may the odds be forever in your favor!


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