ISC20 Cluster Competition Is a Big Go!

By Dan Olds

May 20, 2020

The COVID-19 virus has turned the world upside down, causing many an industry event to be canceled. But we have a happy exception to report: the 2020 ISC Student Cluster Competition will take place, but as a virtual event.

Fourteen student teams from 11 different countries will compete for the ISC crown in a radically changed competition. The biggest change is that all teams will be remotely driving the exact same cluster, which is generously being provided by the Singapore’s National Supercomputing Center.

The system is a two-node cluster, with one node a garden variety Xeon-based system and the other second node a very powerful NVIDIA DGX-1 box equipped with eight V100 GPUs. This will give the student teams something serious to work with and, I’m betting, the largest system many of them have ever used.

This is going to have a huge impact on the competition. Using the same system will level the playing field on the hardware side of the equation. In typical competitions, there’s a wide range of configurations, with some teams only able to get the bare minimum amount of equipment to compete while others come in with full loaded up systems.

With everyone using the same box, it’s going to put a big premium on the software tuning prowess of the student teams. The top echelon teams, who typically have very robust clusters, won’t have that advantage over the other teams in this competition. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when coding and tuning are the only things separating the teams.

No Benchmarks, Just Apps

Since the students will be using the same cluster, it doesn’t make much sense to include HPL and HPCG benchmarks in the competition mix as the scores would probably be identical. Instead, the organizers have built a big pile of real-world HPC applications for the students to plow through. We’ll be covering the applications in a future story but want to mention that one of the apps is Tinker-HP, which the student teams will use to conduct COVID-19 research.

The competition will take place from June 1-24, with a live online awards ceremony on the 24th. This extra time is to allow the teams to have adequate time on the cluster. The students will be riding it hard, so it’s good to have some extra time just in case they somehow break the system. Skilled system admins will be standing by to put the paddles on the motherboards and bring the cluster back to life if necessary.

 In the video, Brian Sparks (Director of the HPC-AI Advisory Council) and I talk about changes to the competition and introduce the teams. We look at their experience, discuss their records and break down their games. If you’re only going to watch one Student Cluster Competition related video today, this is the one to see.

For more information on the ISC20 competition, check out the HPC-AI Advisory website here. If you want to view the glorious history of Student Cluster Competitions, click your clickers on this link, which is a portal site that has all the cluster competition information you crave.

As always, we’ll be providing in-depth coverage of the ISC20 Student Cluster Competition. We’ll talk about the applications, meet the teams, meet the coaches, and keep up with them during the competition. We’re just starting this roller coaster ride, so hang on tight and stay tuned….

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