SC19 Student Cluster Competition: Know Your Teams

By Dan Olds

November 19, 2019

I’m typing this live from Denver, the location of the 2019 Student Cluster Competition… and, oh yeah, the annual SC conference too. The attendance this year should be north of 13,000 people, with the majority attendees here to observe the cluster competition, wager on the results, and cheer their favorite team on to victory. And maybe take a look at the show floor too.

So, without further ado, here are the teams vying for cluster competition glory at SC19.

ETH Zurich:  This team came out of the mountains of Switzerland and laid the smack down at ISC19, taking home the Highest LINPACK award and finishing third overall. This is almost unheard of for a rookie team and it makes us wonder what they have in store for SC19. Their coach, Hussien Hadrake, is such a hard driving taskmaster that he would make a Marine Drill Instructor proud. Check out the movie Full Metal Jacket for comparison.

FAU:  This is a Germany team that has competed in a total of nine international competitions in China, Europe, and the US. FAU, which is short for Friedrich Alexander Universitat, is best known for their two LINPACK wins and a Bronze medal earned at ISC competitions. In recent years, they’ve finished just short of the upper echelon, but some cluster competition observers think that FAU is ready to make a move on the top players – and that it could be this year.

Nanyang Technological University:  I’ve dubbed Team Nanyang “The Pride of Singapore” for good reason. They’ve competed in a total of eleven major tournaments and have had their share of wins. When Nanyang wins, they win in bunches, taking home both the Gold Medal and LINPACK Award at  SC17 and Silver and LINPACK at SC18. Definitely a team to have on your short list if you’re wagering on the competition.

NTHU:  National Tsing Hua University is a perennial competitor, having participated in an amazing 17 international bouts – including the very first cluster competition held at SC07 in Reno (also known as the “Great Black Out”). Along the way, this team has earned three Gold Medals, a Silver, a Bronze, and an incredible four LINPACK Awards. That’s quite the record. Their most recent Gold win was at ASC19 in Dalian, China. A note for aficionados, NTHU was one of the first teams to utilize GPUs in their cluster at SC11 in Seattle and they rode them to victory and a Gold Medal.

North Carolina State University:  One of the first time competitors and, now that I think of it, the first entrant from the Research Triangle Park. We don’t know much about their cluster game, but we do know that there are more Ph.D’s in their neck of the woods than anywhere else in the US. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a Ph.D in fact, which makes it a pretty interesting place (but also unpleasant for both cats, and Ph.Ds). We’ll take a run with the wolf pack and get your more details soon.

Peking University:  This is one of the best universities in the world, ranked #41 worldwide by US News and World report and #1 in Asia. Along with all of their academic smarts, they’re also developing a cluster competition game. They’ve participated in four previous competitions, most recently in the big stadium at ASC19. While this team hasn’t scored any major awards yet, they definitely have the brain power and dedication to leave a mark on SC19.

Purdue University:  They’ve competed a grand total of 14 times, primarily at SC, but also in Europe at ISC and in China at ASC. Team Boilermaker hasn’t taken home any trophies as yet, but they’ve certainly had their times at bat. Maybe this is the year that the Boilermakers will rise up and grab some cluster competition glory. We’ll keep an eye on them.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University:  This is another one of the powerhouse Chinese teams and is getting closer and closer to their Gold Medal. They’ve competed at nine international competitions, taking home two Silver Medals and a Bronze. They seem to always be in the hunt for gold, but not quite making it over the hump. What’s interesting about this team is that their coach is a former four year competitor who intimately knows the ins and outs of the cluster game. The smart money is looking for Jiao Tong to make a move and snare a major award in the next few competitions.

ShanghaiTech University:  Up and coming team from China, this is their third competition since their debut at ASC18. They pulled off a surprising second place finish, earning them a place in the ISC18 competition in Frankfurt. This is definitely a skilled team and has the potential to shock the cluster world again at SC19.

Team Tennessee:  This team is a combination of students from three different universities: University of Tennessee, Pellissippi State Community and Maryville College. University of Tennessee is a return competitor while Pellissippi and Maryville are brand new. Highly renown Oak Ridge National Laboratory is a team sponsor and, assumedly, is playing a role in the coaching of these students. Having Oak Ridge in as your corner is certainly a plus and could be the crucial element that puts this team into the upper echelon.

Tsinghua University:  Tsinghua is the most heavily decorated team in clusterdom, hands down. They’ve competed in more events than anyone else (19) and taken home the most medals (eight Gold, three Silver and three Bronze). They are the only team to complete the Triple Crown of student cluster, winning all three major competitions in a single year – and they did it TWICE. These are truly steely eyed cluster warriors and the team to beat at any competition. However, they aren’t perfect. They finished second at both ASC19 and ISC19, which had some cluster competition observers wondering if their dominance has come to an end. But the smart money is on Tsinghua to be on the podium when the smoke clears.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign:  This is a team that’s ready to move to the top tier of cluster competitors. They’ve gained experience with their three previous appearances, they have the hardware, and they have the coaching and advisors to put together a winning effort at SC19. The team has had a taste of victory with their third place finish at SC17 and is hungry for more.

University of Tartu:  These Estonians have traveled far and wide to compete at cluster events. They’ve made the trip to China once and have competed at Germany’s ISC three times. They were the team involved in the infamous “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” incident at ISC15. In fact, the coach of the current Tartu team was a team member who cut his hand making cable adapters for their cluster. Even though he was bleeding profusely, he refused medical attention until he had finished the cables. This team has that kind of spirit in spades and although they haven’t won the big prizes (yet).

University of Warsaw:  The plucky Polish team has fast become a band of veterans with seven cluster competitions under their collective belts. They’ve traveled to Asia, competed in Europe and visited the SC competition three times. They’ve experimented with exotic interconnects and have fought back against hardware problems. But more importantly, the team has pushed hard to improve with every opportunity – and that’s the point of this stuff, right?

University of Washington:  This is the first cluster competition from the Pac-12 Huskies. Their football team is having a mediocre season, so the school’s reputation is riding on the performance of their Student Cluster Competition team in Denver – which is the most important collegiate sporting event in the world. We don’t know a lot about this team but considering they’re from the tech-heavy Seattle area, they’ve probably had some high-quality coaching. Maybe there’s some Amazon or Microsoft support in the background, who knows? I’ll do my best to find out.

Wake Forest University:  Second time up for the Deamon Deacon team from Wake Forest. They had some first-time jitters last year plus the hardware/software gremlins that are typical for a rookie team. But all of that is behind them and it’s time to begin anew. You can’t underestimate the value of experience in these competitions and now that the Deacons have a year under their belts, the team will see considerable improvement this year.

Now that we’ve covered the teams, next up we’ll take a look at the grueling applications and tasks they have before them…Stay tuned…..

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