Tsinghua University Racks Up Its Ninth Student Cluster Championship Win at SC19

By Oliver Peckham

November 27, 2019

Tsinghua University has done it again. At SC19 last week, the eight-time gold medal-winner team took home the top prize in the 2019 Student Cluster Competition (SCC), bringing their total wins to nine gold medals, three silver, and three bronze. 

“The SCC,” SC19 says, “is an opportunity for students to showcase their expertise in a friendly, yet spirited, competition.” In essence, the competition is a trial by fire: teams of students assemble real computing clusters on the conference’s exhibit floor and race to complete actual workloads across a number of applications. 

The SCC competitors. Image courtesy of SC19.

The 16 teams at SC19 included ETH Zurich, FAU, Nanyang Technological University, NTHU, North Carolina State University, Peking University, Purdue University, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, ShanghaiTech University, Team Tennessee, Tsinghua University, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Tartu, University of Warsaw, University of Washington and Wake Forest University. All 16 competed across eight applications:

  • Linpack benchmark – A classic supercomputer benchmark used by the Top500 that measures the computer’s floating-point rate of execution.
  • HPCG benchmark – The High Performance Conjugate Gradients benchmark is a new metric for ranking HPC systems, intended as a complement to Linpack.
  • IO-500 benchmark – The IO-500 benchmark is a widely used standard for benchmarking HPC storage capabilities.
  • VPIC – A particle-in-cell simulation code that models kinetic plasmas in up to three dimensions. At SC19, the teams applied it toward the interaction of laser beams with ionized plasmas.
  • SST – The Structural Simulation Toolkit is a modular tool that simulates computer system designs.
  • Power shutoff activity – At random times during the conference, teams had their power shut off, testing their ability to bring their clusters back online and resume their workloads.
  • Mystery application – The only application that students didn’t know going in, the mystery application turned out to be an application utilizing CoMeT, the 2018 Gordon Bell Prize-winning algorithm that helps supercomputers process large amounts of genetic data.
The winning team. Image courtesy of SC19.

At the end of the nearly 46-hour challenge, Tsinghua, using four Xeon-based nodes and eight Nvidia V100s, was crowned the overall winner of the 2019 Student Cluster Competition. Tsinghua also earned the top place in the IO500 competition (turning in a 30.56 score), while Nanyang Technological University won the Linpack and HPCG competitions  (with 51.74 teraflops and 1911.16 gigaflops, respectively). Tsinghua’s impressive accolades also include the only two student cluster competition “triple crowns”: wins at ISC, SC and ASC in the same year.

This year, however, Tsinghua placed second at ISC and ASC, so eyes were on SC19 to see if there would be an upset  — still, astute student cluster watcher Dan Olds put the “smart money” on Tsinghua. One thing’s for sure: as Tsinghua begins gunning for its 10th win, the competition is heating up.

Stay tuned for more in-depth coverage!

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