Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge Emphasizes Applications, Scalability

By Tiffany Trader

April 21, 2014

This morning at 8am local time, the final round of the 2014 Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC14) commenced in Guangzhou, China. The setting for the challenge is the Guangzhou Supercomputer Center, part of the Sun Yat-sen University campus and home to the world’s fastest supercomputer Tianhe-2.

According to its backers, ASC14 aims to “promote the fundamental and applicable technology; improve students’ ability to tackle actual problems; motivate student’ interests to study supercomputing; meet with international peers, and probably find their next step to higher education or explore job opportunities.”

Billed as the world’s largest supercomputer competition, ASC14 is organized by the Asia Supercomputer Community, Sun Yat-Sen University, and Inspur Group – a multinational information technology company responsible for building Tianhe-2 along with the National University of Defense Technology (NUDT). The HPC Advisory Council, International Supercomputing (ISC) and China HSS Lab are associate organizers and Sun Yat-sen University and Inspur Group are the primary sponsors.

Preliminary contests that ranked software coding chops were held earlier this year, resulting in sixteen finalists, including:

  • Beihang University (China Mainland)
  • Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China Mainland)
  • Nanyang Technological University (Singapore)
  • National University of Defense Technology (China Mainland)
  • National Tsing Hua University (China Taiwan)
  • Purdue University (US)
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University (China Mainland)
  • Sun Yet-Sen University (China Mainland)
  • Taiyuan University of Technology (China Mainland)
  • The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (China Hong Kong)
  • Tsinghua University (China Mainland)
  • Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (Korea)
  • University of Miskolc (Hungary)
  • University of São Paulo (Brazil)
  • Ural Federal University (Russia)
  • Zhejiang University (China Mainland)

Teams are generally comprised of five students and one advisor. As per the rules of the contest, the students, all of whom must be undergraduates, shall in real time build their own mini supercomputer with a 3000w power budget and configure it to run the LINPACK benchmark plus conduct three scientific applications, and then present the results of their work. Aside from the benchmarking program, the application set involves modeling nanoscale materials, a fluid dynamics simulation, and aeronautical design. The committee will also announce a “secret” application once the contest is underway, which the students will have to configure to scale and run on the Tianhe-2 supercomputer, a heterogeneous computing machine with more than 3.1 million processors, a combination of Xeon Ivy Bridge and Xeon Phi chips.

The development of supercomputer applications and talent are main focal points for the event. The team that obtains the highest scalability and performance optimization of supercomputer applications will be awarded with an “e Prize,” which has come to represent the all-important scientific constant as well as the next milestone for computing, i.e., exascale.

The initial rounds of the contest brought together 82 universities from across Asia, North America, South America, Africa, and Europe, setting a new record for any global supercomputer competition, according to event officials. The participating universities include such standouts as Tsinghua University, which has won the consecutive champions of ASC12, ISC12, and ASC13. The Sun Yat-Sen University team obtained the best optimization results of Gromacs in ASC13. The National University of Defense Technology obtained the “Highest Linpack” award at SC and ISC three times. Huazhong University of Science and Technology won the ASC13 prize for “Best MIC application optimization” as well as the ISC13 “Highest Linpack” Award. National Tsing Hua University obtained two champion prizes at SC and won the runner-up at ASC13. The University of Western Cape and Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology are respectively the champions of South Africa and South Korea’s National Supercomputer Challenge.

From the US, the Purdue University team is one of the 16 finalists to make it into the intense five-day finals – the only US team to do so. The “Boilermakers” are one of the most experienced and well-traveled teams and come with a solid foundation of senior leadership, although this is the first time Purdue has made it to the Asian challenge.

Currently, there are three major world-wide student cluster events (SC, ISC and ASC – aka the “triple crown”). The US-based Supercomputing Conference (SC) held the first Student Cluster Competition (SCC) in November 2007, and that event has been held annually ever since. ISC (International Supercomputing Conference) held its first SCC at the June 2012 event in Hamburg and the newest iteration, the Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC), held its inaugural SCC in April 2013 in Shanghai, China. While each site puts its own spin on the event, the main template follows that set by the SC competition.

The main way that ASC14 differs from the other SCC events is that all the teams will assemble clusters from stock parts provided by challenge organizer, Inspur. The similarity in hardware will reorient the contest toward software optimization. The first two days of the contest (Monday and Tuesday) are dedicated to system design, installation and debugging. Days three and four are “official game” days with an application roster that includes HPL, Quantum Espresso, 3D-EW (the MIC application optimization proposition specified by ASC14) and LICOM and SU2. On day four (Thursday, April 24) the teams will execute their mystery application.

On the final day, Friday, April 25, the teams will deliver their presentations. The final ranking will be comprised by scores of each contest element. The latter part of Friday will be dedicated to the closing ceremony and the award ceremony, which will be presided over by an array of distinguished speakers, including the Vice Governor of Guangdong Province and the Mayor of Guangzhou as well as the President of Sun Yat-Sen University and Senior Vice President of Inspur Group. A number of other prominent supercomputing luminaries will also be giving speeches to celebrate the achievements of these remarkably bright young people who are the true stars of this event.

All the teams who participated will have earned the admiration of their peers and the greater HPC community; however, those who make it through with the most points will be recognized with a monetary award as well. The award categories are as follows:

  • Overall Gold Winner: 100K RMB (~16,000 USD)
  • Overall Silver Winner: 50K RMB (~8,000 USD)
  • Highest LINPACK: 10K RMB (~1,600)
  • Heterogeneous computing optimization: 10K RMB (~1,600 USD)
  • Best application performance: 10K RMB (~1,600)
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