SC17 US Student Cluster Competition Teams: Defending the Home Turf

By Dan Olds

November 24, 2017

Nine US universities showed up to the SC17 Student Cluster Competition in an attempt to keep the trophies in the United States. Let’s use our video lens to get to know them a bit better….

Georgia Tech is a newbie team composed of budding computer scientists and other tech types. They’ve dubbed themselves “Team Swarm” in a nod to their school mascot, the yellow jacket. They’re mostly juniors and seniors, with the exception of one 5th year senior who took a redshirt year in order to, assumedly, gain some more experience.

The team seems to be adjusting to the competition fairly well, but is facing some of the usual problems. The Yellow Jacket configuration isn’t quite what they need in order to compete in the upper echelon, but they’re moving ahead with determination. Check out the video for more details.

On another note, their team song still sucks….and it got stuck in my head again when they mentioned it.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a second time competitor at the big SC17 cluster dance. This team has some great experience, one member actually works on Blue Waters, and the others (with one exception) are seniors who are just about ready to graduate into the world of professional clustering.

The team feels pretty good about their performance, although they concede that they won’t have the highest benchmark scores. They’re happy that they put their best foot forward and feel that they got the most out of their box.

They also have been working on training their next team, with nine other members on the way to cluster stardom next year. What’s really gratifying about this team is that they all seem like they’re committed to careers in HPC, which is fantastic. We definitely need new blood in this industry and these kids are supplying it – hmm….that didn’t come out exactly like I hoped, but you get my point, right?

Northeastern University had to sit through two of my inane interviews because I screwed up the first one. Needless to say, they’re a patient bunch of students. Things have been going pretty smoothly with the NEU team, but they did do a last minute hardware change.

They were originally decked out with Radeon MI25 GPUs, which are pretty good at single-precision computation and great at machine learning. However, all of the benchmarks and applications at SC17 require double-precision. I did have an idea for the team, as you’ll see on the video. My idea? Run the apps in single precision but do them twice. The team wasn’t very impressed with my shortcut.

They ended up swapping their Radeon GPUs for four NVIDIA P100s, which was quite the last minute fire drill. Team Boston provided the NVIDIA cards out of their hardware stash. Nice job, Team Boston, way to help out another team.

San Diego State University/SW Oklahoma State University is another combination team that is competing together for the first time. When we catch up with the team in the video, they’re doing ok….but not great.

They’ve having a problem getting MrBays running on their GPUs, but they’re trying various work arounds to see if they can get it to work. In the meantime, they’re running the application on their CPU, although they’re pretty sure they won’t get close to finishing if they don’t get it running on GPUs.

The team had originally figured they’d be able to run a Power 8 based head node, storage node, and a couple of compute nodes. However, there’s no way that amount of hardware will run under the 3,000 watt power cap. So the team had to slim down their cluster considerably, as they discuss in the video.

William Henry Harrison High School is the first high school only team to compete at any major Student Cluster Competition. Who would have figured that we’d get to a place where a high school can compete credibly against university cluster teams? But WHHHS is doing just that, holding their own against older students who have much more experience and expertise.

When we got our cameras to their booth, the team is feeling good about their progress. They had just completed MrBayes and were driving on. The team was currently having a few problems with the Reproducibility task and MPAS, but felt confident that they would overcome the challenges.

One bad note was that the team wasn’t able to submit a HPCG score due to some unnamed problem. That’s not a good thing, but it’s not an unrecoverable error, they still have time and apps to make up for the shortfall on HPCG.

The Chicago Fusion Team is composed of students from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Maine South High School, and Adlai Stevenson High School. We couldn’t find the time to film a video introduction due to both of our busy schedules. However, this is a team that looks like a pretty solid competitor and has had very few problems as near as I can tell. We’ll see how they look when the benchmarks and apps are scored – that’ll tell the tale.

Team Boston is a frequent competitor in the Student Cluster Competitions. As usual, the Big Man, Evan DeNato (or is it DeNado?) is at the helm, leading the team as usual.

When we catch up with Team Chowder, they’re looking at their cloud budget and figuring out how to apportion it for the Born application. Boston is doing well on MrBayes and doesn’t seem to see any problems ahead of them.

In the video, we talk about various ways to present data (my favorite: spider chart). The team is also working on the mystery application (MPAS). In talking to them, we discover their HPL (LINPACK) benchmark would have been a record breaking score just a year ago, but this year? No such luck.

Team Texas is comprised of students from University of Texas, Austin, and Texas State University. The team had just undergone the second of two (planned) power outages and was hard at work bringing up their cluster to complete the competition.

The team feels that their strongest application so far has been MPASS, the mystery application.

One of the students was all dressed up, having attended the job fair earlier in the day. He looks like a great candidate with a great attitude. I promised to post his resume in this video, but forgot. You can find his name in the video, if you have a position open and are looking for a motivated and knowledgeable employee with a great attitude.

Something a student said triggered me, and I went into my IEEE FP rant (it’s the shame of the computer industry) towards the end of the video and almost lose control when a student disagrees with me. But I manage to keep my rage bottled up so we could all part as friends.

Team Utah is looking to build upon their second place finish at SC16 last year. The newbie team burst onto the scene in a home court battle that saw them top all competitors but one. Can they do it again?

When our lenses catch up to them during SC17, the team seems calm and composed. They had a few problems setting up Born, but it’s running smoothly in the cloud at the time of the video. During the video, I discuss some personal GPU-enabling business with their HPL expert; I might be putting him to work at a later date.

The Utes have a couple of new faces, but the rest of the team competed at SC16 and are at least somewhat used to the pressure. I dangle the prospect of dropping out of college to participate in the underground cluster competitions that still exist in out of the way locales. The team wasn’t buying it and figured they’d stay in school.

If you missed any of the other “Meet the Teams” features, you can find the European teams here, and the Asian team here.

Now that we’ve given the teams their fifteen minutes of video fame (more like 5 minutes, but who’s counting?), it’s time to see how they finished. In our next article, we’ll be exhaustively going over the results to see who won and how they won. Stay tuned……

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