2017 Student Cluster Competition Benchmarks, Workloads, and Pre-Planned Disasters

By Dan Olds

November 15, 2017

The students competing in the 2017 Student Cluster Competition in Denver are facing a grueling 48 hour marathon of HPC benchmarks and real scientific applications. There are also a few surprises in store for them. Let’s take a look at what they’ll have to do in order to finish in the winner’s circle (although there isn’t really a circle for them to stand in).

First up on Monday, the teams had to run HPCG, which stresses the systems in brutal fashion. Jack Dongarra’s newest benchmark creation is designed to much more closely mimic how HPC systems are used today and has quickly become a staple for Student Cluster Competitions worldwide.

After the teams submit their best HPCG score, it’s on to the venerable LINPACK. Teams will configure their cluster in its final form for this run and vie to submit the highest score possible. After completing LINPACK, the teams await the Monday evening 7:30 mark when they’ll get the data sets for the scientific applications and the real work begins.

Scientific applications this year include:

LAAMPS: LAAMPS will be used for the “Reproducibility Challenge” where student teams are tasked with reproducing the results from a research paper that was published 2016. The students will have to prove (or disprove) the results in the paper and justify their position. You can read more about this task and the others here .

MrBayes: will be used to help figure out how to reduce the ravages of Cassava Brown Streak virus and Uganda Brown Streak virus on the African food staple cassava. The viruses are transmitted by white flies, and the specific genome of the white fly is under study. In this task, students are working to figure out how to best protect the cassava plant from disease.

Born: is a seismic imaging tool that is used in industry to understand what’s underneath all of the grass, dirt, trees and other stuff on top of the earth. Born can help identify reservoirs of gas and liquids under the earth, both the position and actual size of the deposit. Students will take data sets and propagate the data both forward and backward in time – although I’m pretty sure there isn’t any actual time travel involved in this exercise.

Mystery Application: It is M-Pass Atmosphere, which will be used to study what would happen if we were able to sequester excess CO2 in Antarctica. How would CO2 flow in the norther hemisphere? What would that look like? Students will be coming up with the answers.

New this year is a cloud component to the competition. Students will be given a budget to use with Cycle Computing on the Microsoft Azure Cloud. The teams will have the choice to run their workloads on premise as usual, or to run them on the Azure cloud. However, nothing in the Student Cluster Competition is free. Students have a limited cloud budget, only $600, and there are harsh penalties for running over their budgets.

Another twist in this year’s competition is the “Power Shutoff Activity” where the power to all of the student booths will be shut off. This recreates what happened at the first cluster competition in 2007 when the Reno convention center power failed.

We don’t know exactly how many power failures the students will have to endure. As the organizers said “it’s a number between zero and infinity”. But I can tell you that power was dropped at 5:00 am Denver time Tuesday morning. The teams that had people staffing their booth were fine, while a handful of teams lost some cluster time as their systems remained in a power off state until they showed up at the convention center. Fun times.

Next up we’ll be looking at the team configurations, the final betting odds, and start getting into our highly anticipated video interviews. Stay tuned……

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