ISC 2019 Student Cluster Competition: Meet the Teams!

By Dan Olds

June 25, 2019

Finally! The videos have been rendered, the statistics compiled, and the story lines set. It’s time to share with you the incredible event that was the ISC 2019 Student Cluster Competition.

So what’s a Student Cluster Competition? It’s an event where teams of undergraduate students, representing their respective institutions, design, build, and tune real HPC clusters in order to see who can run real-world scientific benchmarks and applications the fastest. The only limitation on the students is related to power: there’s a hard cap of 3,000 watts.

The ISC19 competition has 14 teams from 11 countries vying for Gold, Silver and Bronze awards, plus separate awards for the Highest LINPACK score and Fan Favorite. We’re covering the entire competition like an afghan on your grandma.
So let’s meet the teams and get a feel for what they’re bringing to the table….

Team Boston: Also known as Team MGHPCC (Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center), Team Chowder, Team Bar Fight, etc., is a long-time competitor at international cluster competitions. They’ve participated in a total of 10 events over the years and hit every major competition in Asia (ASC), Europe (ISC) and the US (SC). While the team hasn’t yet been able to spoon their chowder out of the championship trophy, they did get a silver medal along the way. Check out the video below to learn more about the team…..

 

Team CHPC:  This is the team sponsored by South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing. They’ve competed at six previous ISC events and grabbed an astounding three Gold medals, two Silver medals and a Bronze. In other words, every time they come to town, they leave with some shiny hardware. Impressive. The team is selected through a grueling intra-country cluster competition that winnowed down a field of 10 teams down to one. I was fortunate enough to attend and have documented the experience in my outstanding “Building the Team:  South African Style” article. This year’s CHPC team was highly skilled, but also a very fun interview. You’ll see what I mean in the video below.

 

Team EPCC:  Representing the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, Team EPCC isn’t a stranger to cluster competitions. They’ve participated in four ISC tourneys, taking home a Bronze medal and a Highest LINPACK award. The team has assembled a cluster that received my “Why in the Hell Did You Do That?” award. In one nine node cluster, they have four different Xeon processors. It’s like they went to the EPCC processor drawer and grabbed everything that had the word “Xeon” on it. But the kids are making it work. Watch the video below to learn more about what they’re doing and why….

 

Team ETH:  The pride of Switzerland, Team ETH Zurich is representing the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre. While this is a new team, they certainly don’t seem like cluster competition newbies. They had their system up and applications running way before most new teams and seemed totally comfortable and in command during the competition. Hussein Harake, HPC System Manager at CSCS, is coaching this team and he’s a stern taskmaster. I imagine he was running the team up and down Swiss mountains while yelling at them about the best ways to optimize HPCC. This team is hungry for success in Frankfurt, take a look at the video below and see what I mean…

 

Team Nanyang:  These kids are from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and they’re one of the teams to keep an eye on. They’ve competed in nine international competitions including three appearances at ASC, ISC and SC. They took home the Gold medal at SC17, also winning the Highest LINPACK award at the same time. Nanyang also scored two silver awards, one at ISC18 and another at SC18. Now that they’ve tasted winning, they want more. Check out the video below to get a gander at this top echelon team…

 

Team NCKU:  This is a first-time team, representing Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University. The team is at a disadvantage at the ISC19 competition due to budget constraints, they had to seriously scrimp on their cluster. They’re sporting a dual workstation cluster that’s loaded with six NVIDIA 2080 TI consumer GPUs. As you’ll see in the interview below, while these kids don’t have the hardware, they definitely have the brain-ware to compete with any team in the competition. I’d love to see what they could do with a better system….

 

Team NTHU:  The reigning ASC19 champion doesn’t need to be introduced to cluster competition aficionados. The team from Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University has participated in 15 previous competitions, including ten SC tournaments and five ASC bouts. They competed in the very first cluster competition in 2007. They’ve compiled a damned good record, including three Golds, one Silver and two Bronze medals. Oh, and they’ve won Highest LINPACK four times. Their win at the Inspur-sponsored ASC19 competition earned them Inspur sponsorship for ISC19 and punched their ticket to Frankfurt. Does the win at ASC19 give the team enough momentum to make a big splash at ISC19? Check out the video and see what you think….

 

Team Sun Yat-Sen:  The Chinese Sun Yat-Sen team earned their way to ISC19 by winning second place at the recent Inspur-sponsored ASC19 cluster competition held in Dalian, China. The team has competed in six previous ASC competitions, winning Gold and LINPACK when ASC13 was held on their home court in Guangzhou, China. They added another LINPACK crown at ASC14. They were also a great interview, as you’ll see from the video below. I couldn’t resist taunting them by asking them what their speed-up was on particular applications, then telling them “that’s nice….but I just interviewed Tsinghua and they got an 11.3x speed-up on that app….” It was a lot of fun and they were a great team, take a look at the video to see our interviews….

 

Team Tsinghua:  To date, the Tsinghua University cluster competition team has piled up the best record in competition history. They’ve participated in 17 major events, winning Gold ten times, Silver twice and Bronze once. Their most impressive achievement was completing two Triple Crowns (winning all three international competitions in a single year) in 2015 and 2018. They are the odds-on favorite team in every competition they enter, and they enter every major competition. At ISC19, the team is quietly confident and comfortable, but I sense they believe they have something to prove here. Take a look at the video to get a better feel for the team.

 

Team Hamburg:  This team has become a fixture at ISC cluster competitions with ISC19 marking their sixth appearance. While they have yet to win a major award, Team Hamburg has steadily improved since their first competition. This year the team is taking on an additional challenge – they’re one of two teams driving NEC Aurora vector-based clusters. To say that this is a difficult undertaking is an understatement. They’re the test pilots for an entirely new system architecture, one where all of the competition applications have to be ported before they can be optimized. And they’re trying to do this at the same time as they’re competing for cluster competition gold. My hat is off to them…and I don’t lift my hat very easily or often (male pattern baldness).

 

Team Heidelberg:  Heidelberg made their first cluster competition appearance at ISC18, finishing in the upper middle of the pack – which is a great debut. They’re driving a seven node, eight GPU cluster this year, which should give them enough power to make their mark on the ISC19 field. Sometimes the second year is the key for young clusterers; their first year gives them the experience they need to grab the gold in their second year. But we’ve also seen sophomore slumps. We’ll see what happens with Heidelberg.

 

Team Tartu:  This is a team that can best be described by the word ‘gritty.’ ISC19 will be their fourth international competition, with the team competing most recently at ASC19 in Dalian, China. Although the plucky Estonians have yet to win a major award, they never (ever) give up. They are the first team to drive the new fangled 32 core AMD CPUs and they’ve topped off their configuration with 8 32GB NVIDIA V100 GPUs – that’s a lot of power. The heart of their team is their team captain, she has almost single-handedly revived the student cluster competition team at University of Tartu, which is why we gave her a couple of rounds of applause during the video below….

 

Team Warsaw:  This will be the sixth competition for the Warsaw Warriors. They’ve now competed in China, the US and Europe, becoming a seasoned team in the process. The whole Warsaw team, from administrators to mentors to students, are highly enthusiastic about their program and the dividends it pays when it comes to HPC education. Their development over time has been a joy to watch and they’re a true credit to what the Student Cluster Competitions deliver to the participants. They’re also a fun interview, as you’ll see in the video below.

 

Team UPC:  This team is representing the Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (which is quite the mouthful) from Spain. Backed by the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, the team has made a life-long commitment to the Arm processor. While technically interesting, the team has toiled away fruitlessly for four years, finishing well back in the pack because they didn’t have CUDA for Arm, meaning they couldn’t add GPUs to their configurations. This is the last year the team will have to deal with this problem – NVIDIA announced at ISC19 that they will be releasing CUDA for Arm by the end of the year. Hallelujah!! The prayers offered up by Team UPC’s ISC18 team have been answered, and we’ll see a much more powerful system from them next year. Yay!

 

Now that we’ve met the teams, it’s time to meet their clusters. In our next report, we’ll be looking at their hardware, stay tuned….

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