Student Supercomputing Competition Embraces GPU-Power

By Tiffany Trader

June 26, 2014

The third and final day of ISC14 concluded with a ceremony honoring one of the week’s most popular events, the Student Cluster Challenge. Taking home first prize for the second straight year was the team from the Centre for HPC (CHPC) in South Africa. Jointly sponsored by Dell, NVIDIA and Mellanox, the undergraduate team relied on NVIDIA Tesla K40 GPUs to provide energy-efficient computing power.

ISC14 SCC first place South AfricaThe event marks eight international student cluster contests in a row that an NVIDIA GPU accelerator-based system has helped power a team to victory, according to NVIDIA’s George Millington. In fact, nine of the 11 teams that participated on the ISC14 show floor used GPU-based systems.

The ISC14 edition of the Student Cluster Competition has grown quickly since it was established two years ago. The event began with just five teams the first year, expanded to eight teams last year, and this year a total of 11 teams from around the world gathered in Germany to take part in this exciting competition.

Competing in the challenge were:

  • Centre for HPC (CHPC), South Africa
  • Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), South Korea
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Bentley University, Northeastern University (NEU), United States
  • EPCC at The University of Edinburgh (EPCC), United Kingdom
  • Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany
  • University of Hamburg, Germany
  • University of São Paulo (USP), Brazil
  • University of Colorado at Boulder, United States
  • University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), China
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU), China
  • Tsinghua University, China

In this real time challenge, the students build a small cluster on the exhibit floor and then run a series of real-world applications, including Quantum ESPRESSO, Open FOAM and GADGET (used in cosmology), and industry benchmarks, like the well-known LINPACK. Awards are given for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place, as well as Highest Linpack Performance and Fan Favorite.

This year, Team South Africa took home first prize for the second year straight. The student team from the University of Science and Technology, China earned second place honors, and the Tsinghua University team received a third place nod. Germany’s Chemnitz University took home “Fan Favorite.”

The University of Edinburgh (EPCC) team snagged the award for highest LINPACK with a remarkable 10.14 teraflops. Led by Xu Guo, the team achieved a score of 3.38 Tflops/kW with the system ranking at an estimated #4 on the Green500 list. It is the first time a team has broken the 10 teraflops barrier within the competition’s 3kW power limit.

The previous record of 9.27 teraflops was set just a few months ago by China’s Sun Yat-sen University team at the Asia student competition, ASC14, also with NVIDIA GPUs.

The University of Edinburgh (EPCC) team was sponsored by Boston. Their cluster achieved its high-efficiency by applying CoolIT’s liquid cooling to NVIDIA K40s.ISC14 EPCC team

“Pairing CoolIT’s Rack DCLC technology with Boston’s HPC servers allowed the team to divert more power for compute and less on cooling,” said Xu Guo. “The student group was able to reduce the power required for cooling by removing a number of fans from the server and allocating more of their resources to compute nodes.”

The Student Cluster Challenges have evolved to introduce students to HPC and to showcase student expertise in a friendly yet spirited competition. Currently there are three such events, at SC, ISC and the most recent addition, the Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge (ASC).

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