Exhaustive Profile of SC17 Cluster Competition Teams – Let’s go DEEP…

By Dan Olds

November 11, 2017

Like a fat man at a Vegas buffet, we’re now ready to delve deeply into the SC17 cluster teams. In this article, we’re going to take our initial personal look at the teams… their hopes, their dreams, and even, in some cases, their favorite songs.

First up, the teams from the United States……

Georgia Institute of Technology: The GIT team, or Team Swarm as they call themselves, is a new entrant into the world of high stakes student clustering. The term ‘swarm’ is a reference to their university mascot, the yellow jacket – which is a pretty nasty stinging bug. The team has a wide range of experience including GPU acceleration, IC fabrication, and data analytics.

They believe their unique competitive advantage lies in automation. No, they’re not using The Clapper (although it would be pretty cool to have a “clap on” “clap off” cluster). Team Swarm has assembled a tool stack that automates their system environment and allows them focus on optimizing their apps rather than managing their system. The biggest thing they’re looking forward to? Crushing LINPACK and HPCG, plus meeting the other teams. Their favorite song? “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Damn, just typing that song title has now lodged it in my head.

Northeastern University: They’ve dubbed themselves “Team HACKs”, which stands for “Huskies with Accelerated Computing Kernels” and references NEU’s Husky mascot. This isn’t their first cluster rodeo, they’ve been here before. Last year, they were the victim of a shipping error and had to run competition tasks on a hoopty hodgepodge of components.

To prep for the competition this year, they’ve been working very closely with their vendor partner AMD, plus tapping the brains of the NEU grad students in the research lab. NEU is looking to make a big comeback in this year’s competition, judging by their theme song “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey…damn, another song stuck in my brain. What’s worse is that I also have the mental picture of the kids from Glee performing it. I’m going to go hit myself with a hammer.

San Diego State University/Southwest Oklahoma State University: This is a melded team that has the longest abbreviation in competition history: SDSUSWOKSU. Hmm….not as ungainly as I thought, you can actually pronounce it. To make things easier, they’ve dubbed their team “Thread Weavers”, which refers to the fact that modern computers use threads. They need to take this nickname back into the lab and come up with something better – or just let me give them a nickname.

This is the first major competition for the Oklahoma side of the roster, while the San Diego side has a couple of returning veterans from last year’s competition. The team seems well organized and has been meeting regularly during the summer and fall in preparation for entering the crucible that is the SC17 Student Cluster Competition. They’ve been using Zoom and Slack to facilitate their meet ups and have become a close-knit group.

I listened to their theme song, “Tonight” by Kleeer, and while it’s funky enough, it isn’t rousing. How are you going to rally your cluster troops into frenzy with a funkadelic smooth groove? But I’m old, what the hell do I know about music?

MGHPCC: In the first line of their team profile they say “Our team is called the MGHPCC Green Team. This name was chosen some years ago because all of the competitors came from the universities that founded the Mass Green HPC Center.” No, they’re wrong. Their name is Team Chowder(or Chowdah) or Team Boston, or Team “So you think you’re better than me?” and always has been. I laid those nicknames on them at their first competition and I’m not giving them up.

The team is keeping their secret sauce a secret, maybe even from themselves, but they’ve certainly been putting in the time, meeting for the last nine months in preparation for the competition. They had a very interesting answer to the question about how long it would take them to reach Denver from their base in Boston…

“At an average walking speed of 3.1 miles per hour and an 8 hour break per day, we expect to arrive in 39 days. Walking in parallel (side by side) will not speed up our journey, but walking in a single file reduces air resistance and saves time.”

Nicely done, Team Chowder. I also want to give them some props for their theme song, David Bowie’s “Under Pressure”, very appropriate for the competition. Welcome back, Boston.

Chicago Fusion Team: This is a pretty complicated team. Some members are from the Illinois Institute of Technology, others are from Maine South High School, and still others are representing Adlai Stevenson High School – all located in or near Chicago. They’re being sponsored by an alliance of heavy hitters including Intel, Argonne National Laboratory, Calyos, NVIDIA, and the National Science Foundation.

Since they didn’t complete the team profile paperwork, I don’t have a lot of details about what they do for fun and their favorite song. However, they did submit their final architectural proposal which has all sorts of details about their cluster. We’ll be covering their configuration in more detail as we get into the competition, but they’re bringing a LOT of hardware – enough to consume 8,200 watts if it were all fired up without throttling. That’s nearly three times the 3,000 watt hard cap, so there will be significant throttling and probably even some agonizing reappraisal when it comes to their configuration.

One other interesting point that caught my attention is that they’re going to be running a two-phase liquid cooling on at least some of their components in order to reduce power usage and, hopefully, run in turbo mode as much as possible. We’ll report more details about the team as they become available.

University of Texas/Texas State University: This is the second time this mixed team has competed at a SC Student Cluster Competition. They’ve dubbed themselves “Team Longcats” in a nod to their respective school mascots. This is not to be confused with the term “Long Pork”, which is how cannibals refer to humans.

The team has been working together since last April to prepare for the SC17 cluster competition marathon. They’re backed by the combined might of long time sponsors Dell and the Texas Advanced Computing Center.

This is a team with a gaudy history. The Texas Long Horn team took the SC Student Cluster Competition crown (although there is no actual crown) three times in a row (SC12, SC13, and SC14) – a feat that has not been duplicated. They’re anxious to drink deeply from the Student Cluster Competition chalice of victory yet again.

The Longcats have wide ranging interests that include fencing, music, walking around outside, electrical engineering, and even designing musical shoes.

University of Illinois: This is the second time that the U of I has entered the Student Cluster Competition arena. One of the unique things about this team is that in addition to the normal things a team does to prepare for a competition, like researching the applications, practicing setting up their machine, etc., they’ve also been working out with the staff of hardcore financial services experts at Jump Trading. It’s an unorthodox training method, but those guys definitely know how to get performance out of a system.

The U of I team is looking forward to networking with others in the HPC industry at the show, and hopefully expanding their skill set at the same time. Their profile also made me laugh when they said “Some of our team members attended the “Dinner with interesting people” event at SC16, but ultimately decided to leave and have dinner with some less interesting people.”

Their profile also revealed a strange and horrible coincidence: their team song is “Never Gonna Give You Up” by the highly regarded Rick Astley – the exact same song as the Georgia Institute of Technology team. Yikes.

University of Utah: This is the second time we’re seeing the SupercompUtes from Utah in a SC competition. Last year, at SC16 in Salt Lake City, the team turned in an unprecedented performance, finishing second overall. This is a huge achievement for a first time competitor and makes them a team to be contended with. Four veterans from that team will be returning this year.

The team believes that their secret sauce is that they’ve trained at altitude for the cluster competition. Salt Lake City sits at 4,327 feet above sea level – even higher if you’re lab is on the second or third story of a building. Denver, with an average altitude of 5,280 feet, isn’t all that much higher than Salt Lake, so the Utes should be well accustomed to high altitude clustering – a point in their favor.

They’ve also picked an inspiring song to drive their team: “Warriors” by Imagine Dragons…good choice.

The Utes are excited to meet the other teams and also, like the other teams, wanting to explore possible HPC careers. So if you’re an employer looking to nab high-performance employees or interns, swing by the student cluster competition area at SC17 and talk to the students. They’re highly motivated, highly skilled, and have the drive and initiative that every employer values.

William Henry Harrison High School: They wrote the tersest team profile in the competition, so they’re not giving me a lot to work with. First fact is that they’ve dubbed their team “The Sudo Wrestlers” which is a nice play on a Linux term. They believe that their edge in the competition is that they’re younger than the other competitors – which is absolutely true, given that they are the first all-high school team in the big iron division of the cluster competition.

They’re led by Lev Gorenstein, a veteran coach who has led several teams in the past, which is definitely an advantage for the plucky team of high schoolers. What isn’t an advantage is their team song: “Careless Whisper” by George Michael. Not exactly the song you’d pick to drive top performance, right? What happened? Was “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” already taken by someone?

The SC Student Cluster Competitions are international affairs and this year is no exception. Denver is hosting seven teams from non-US countries, let’s take an up close and personal look at those teams, starting with the teams from Europe….

Friedrich Alexander University/Technical University of Munich: These teams wrote a pun-tastic team profile, chock full of, as they put it, “p(h)uns” and fun. Unfortunately for them, I can’t stand puns – they’re the lowest form of humor, just above limericks.

What isn’t funny (or even phunny, as they’d put it) is the skill and expertise these two teams are bringing to the competition. FAU is coming off of a Highest LINPACK win at the ISC17 competition and TUC finished in the upper echelon of teams at last year’s SC16 competition. Coupled together, this team could really make some waves at SC17.

I’ve had a glimpse of their proposed hardware for this competition and, damn, they’re packing some power. It should be a favorite for the Highest LINPACK award and a solid competitor for the Overall Championship as well. We’ll see what happens.

University of Warsaw: This team is actually an amalgamation of students from Lodz University of Technology, University of Warsaw, and Warsaw University of Technology – but they’ll always be Team Warsaw to me. Team Warsaw burst onto the big league cluster scene at ASC17 in Wuxi, China. They shocked the cluster world by coming out of nowhere to nab second place in the Highest LINPACK portion of the competition.

Based on my observations in China, this is a happy team that works together well. They have a finely honed sense of humor and an optimistic outlook. When it comes to this year’s competition, the team says “we want to hear our cluster screeching while running the HPL benchmark.” They’re also looking forward to renewing friendships with other teams from ASC17 as well as making new friendships with other teams.

When they’re not clustering, team members enjoy walking up and down hills and rocks, being underwater, and reading things.

This year’s SC17 competition has a large slate of teams hailing from Asia. Let’s get to know them a bit better….

Nanyang Technological University: This will be the sixth appearance in a major competition for the ‘Pride of Singapore’ NYU. They notched a win in the Highest LINPACK at ASC’15 in Taiyuan, China, but have been shut out of the other major awards. I think this is a team that’s ready to make the move to the next level. They have the experience and are highly motivated. They’ve even named their team “Supernova” with the thought that SC17 could be their time to shine.

They think their edge at SC17 will be the work they’ve done on application optimization, an effort that they didn’t put much time into at SC16, although they took first place on the code optimization task at that competition.

This year they’re going DEEP on the applications, talking to domain experts, combing the web, and actually reading physical books (gasp!). They believe this work will give them unique and comprehensive knowledge of the applications which will translate into a win at SC17. Nice having you back, Nanyang, good luck.

National Tsing Hua University: NTHU is a frequent entrant in major league cluster competitions. Over the years they’ve participated in an amazing 12 Student Cluster Competitions, taking down the Overall Championship or LINPACK Award four times.

This edition of the team has dubbed themselves “./confizure” which, I think, the configure command on Azure. They’re the first team to use Arch Linux in a major cluster competition, which could be an advantage or maybe a disadvantage if things go sideways. When it comes to SC17, they’re looking forward to seeing how the other teams deal with the promised power shutoff event – that should be highly interesting.

When it comes to having fun, this team most enjoys making fun of each other – which almost automatically makes them my favorite team, right? In another humorous twist, their team song is a national health exercise they all had to perform every day in elementary school. Here’s a link, it’s hilarious.  I’m looking forward to making them perform this same exercise every morning before I give them their keyboards.

University of Peking: This is another team that didn’t waste any words when filling out their team profile form. Their nickname is: Team Peking. Their secret sauce is their excellent advisors, solid vendor support, and active team members with different backgrounds.

They’re obviously holding their cards close to their collective vests, not wanting to give anything away. However they did let us know that their team song is “He’s a Pirate” from the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. They also let it drop that one of the major activities is to debate which is the best text editor.

This is the second time we’ve seen Team Peking at a SC cluster competition. Last year, as a newbie team, they managed to land third place for the Overall Championship award, which is quite a feat. They are running new hardware this year, so we’ll see what happens, but this is definitely a team to keep an eye on.

Tsinghua University: Team Tsinghua, or team THU-PACMAN, as they’ve dubbed themselves, is an intensely focused team. This isn’t a surprise when you consider that there is more at stake for them than for perhaps any other team. If Tsinghua can win the Overall Championship at SC17, then they will have completed a record shattering second Student Cluster Competition Grand Slam. This means they would have won all three major competitions (ASC, ISC, and SC) in a single year. The 2015 Tsinghua team is the only other team to have done this in cluster competition history.

There isn’t a whole lot of detail in the Team Tsinghua profile. They like playing online games together during their off time. Their team song is the song that plays during Pac-Man, if you can call a bunch of “waca waca waca” noises a song. But more than anything else, they seem to like winning Student Cluster Competition championships. We’ll see if they can make their 2017 Grand Slam dream come true next week.

University of Science & Technology of China: As the USTC team participated in more competitions, their abilities grew to the point where they took home all the marbles in 2016 and are returning in 2017 to defend their crown (although there isn’t an actual crown).
Most of the team this year is new, so this will be their first time competing in the mind-twisting marathon that is the SC17 Student Cluster Competition. The team points to ‘hard work’ as their secret sauce in the competition this year. They’re also the only team to have specified a spirit animal for the competition. For USTC, their spirit animal is the “Swan Goose” which is lauded in Chinese literature for its perseverance and bravery. As they put it in their profile, they intend to soar like a swan goose. Good thing the convention center ceilings are 40 feet high in most places.

Ok, so if you’re still reading, you now have the personal rundown on each team. If a team has captured your fancy, you should lay your (virtual) money on them in our annual betting pool. You can find the betting pool page here, just solve the captcha and you’ll have a chance to lay down a virtual $1,000 on any team (or teams) of your choice. Here’s the link to the pool.

In upcoming articles we’re going to take a look at the applications the students will face during SC17, the configurations of each team, plus video interviews of each team. Stay tuned to HPCwire for more….

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