Meet the ISC20 Cluster Teams – Then Bet on Them!

By Dan Olds

June 21, 2020

It’s time to meet the teams competing for the ISC20 Student Cluster Competition crown in this, the first virtual Student Cluster Competition. The students have been busily pounding away at the applications, besieging the NSCC cluster and dimming the lights in Singapore.

If that wasn’t exciting enough for you, I’ve put together a betting pool so you can lay your (virtual) money down on the team or teams of your choice. The link is at the bottom of this story.

So who are these plucky young HPC heroes? Let’s get up close and personal with them through the miracle of Zoom.

Team CHPC: By now, everyone should know the legend of CHPC. They came out of nowhere to become one of the most dominant teams competing in the ISC cluster wars. Over their previous seven appearances, they’ve won four Gold medals, two Silver medals, and one Bronze medal. Very impressive. You can get to know them better from the video interview below.


Team EPCC:  This is the team from the University of Edinburgh. Since they have graduate students on their team, they’re limited to five members rather than six by ISC20 rules. The institution has participated in five previous ISC competitions, taking home a LINPACK prize and a Bronze medal. Is this the year that the grad students punish the undergrads? Could be, they look to be a strong team. Check out the video interview to get a better feel for them.


Team ETH Zurich: This Swiss team is gaining experience fast. This is their third major international competition in a little over a year. Their debut at ISC19 was pretty flashy. They took home the Highest LINPACK award and a Bronze medal for an overall third place finish. The team finished in the middle of the pack at SC19 but are looking to do a lot better than that at ISC20.


Team FAU:  FAU stands for Friedrich-Alexander University and they’re nestled in the heart of Germany. This is also the most experienced European cluster competition team with more than 11 events under their belt. They’ve sort of earned the reputation as LINPACK cowboys, having set two world student HPL records during their run. Along the way, they’re picked up a Bronze medal and usually finished in the upper part of the field. The team definitely misses being able to run their own hardware and take another shot at setting a LINPACK record, but they’re strong competitors with no quit in them.


Team Heidelberg: This is Heidelberg’s third ISC competition and they’ve shown steady improvement as they gain more experience. In the video interview, the team seems a bit subdued and tired. This is due to the student exam time coinciding with the cluster competition, which is unfortunate. My advice to them, which was rejected with polite laughs, was to abandon the academics and go professional with their clustering. When we shot the video, the team seems like they’re working well together and are making good progress on the applications.


Team Nanyang: NTU, or, as I call them, “The Pride of Singapore” is the home team in this competition. Not sure if that gives them any advantage in a virtual competition, but they probably do have a bit less lag when working with the cluster when compared with teams pressing keys a continent away. This is a highly experienced team, having competed 11 times at international events. During that time, they’ve built a solid record with a Gold medal, three Silver medals and two LINPACK awards.


Team NCKU:  National Cheng Kung University is from Taiwan, a land long known for the quality of its Student Cluster Competition teams. This is the second ISC appearance for Team NCKU. In their debut event, the team was crippled by a bad cluster. By bad, I mean it was way underpowered – just a couple of workstations with an Ethernet/duct tape interconnect. Despite this huge disadvantage, Team NCKU did a great job completing the benchmarks and applications, with efficiency scores topping many of the more experienced universities who had much better systems. I was very impressed with this team! Keep your eyes on them.


Team Tsinghua:  This is by far the most experienced team in the competition with an amazing 19 international event appearances, ten Gold medals, four silver medals and two bronze medals. While the institution has participated in a lot of competitions, this team is relatively new with three newbie team members. They also typically have among the most powerful clusters in the field, an advantage that is negated in this virtual competition format where every team is using the same cluster. With a level playing field, will Tsinghua still dominate the field? We’ll see….


Team UPC:  Hailing from the beautiful city of Barcelona, Spain, Team UPC (Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya) has competed at five previous ISC Cluster Competitions. They’ve always been at a disadvantage due to their unwavering commitment to the Arm processor and the absence of CUDA for Arm – meaning they couldn’t use GPUs. Last year, NVIDIA announced a new Arm-based version of CUDA, so great times for the UPC team, right? Wrong. Fate intervened in the shape of COVID-19 and a virtual ISC20 competition where everyone uses the same x86 based cluster. This threw the team’s plans into disarray, making them start all over again and learn how to optimize a new set of applications for x86 rather than their beloved Arm. But the team looks strong to me and they’re saying the right things in the interview, so maybe they’ll shock the world with an upper echelon finish at ISC20.


Team Hamburg:  Another German entry, Team Hamburg, is marking their nineth appearance in a major cluster competition. They’ve come a long way since their first entry, when they were sporting a cluster in what looked like an accordion box. While the team hasn’t grabbed any medals yet, they’ve been steadily improving and have yet to bring their best game to the cluster competition. Maybe this will be the year when Hamburg rises to the top?


Team USTC:  University of Science & Technology is from China and has competed in seven major cluster competitions, although they’ve taken a multi-year break recently. This is traditionally a strong team, having won a Gold medal at a SC competition, plus two Silver medals, two Bronze medals, and a LINPACK award. When we video’d their interview, the team seemed to be making solid progress and hadn’t run into any large problems in running or optimizing the applications. Don’t sleep on USTC, this team is a player.


Team Warsaw: This team has quietly gained a lot of major competition experience over the past years. This will be their ninth event in the last five years or so, which means they know what they’re doing and how to do it. However, this virtual competition is a complete curve ball, making them work remotely from their cluster and each other. The team has consistently improved over the years but has been plagued with intermittent hardware problems. If they can find consistent hardware, this is a team that can make some waves.


New Feature! Gambling!

Now that you know the teams in detail, it’s time to decide who you think will win the ISC20 Student Cluster Competition. Head over to this website and lay down some wagers on the competition. You’ll have $1,000 in virtual money to bet on which team you think will take the Gold medal at ISC20 or spread your money around to several teams. We’ll be publishing the odds as you lay make your bets. Remember that this cluster competition ends soon, with the awards ceremony scheduled for June 24th. The betting window will close at 4pm Pacific time on June 24th.

This is a cluster competition like no other, putting more than the typical pressure on students. They usually have the ability to select their cluster hardware, collaborate in person, have personal contact and interaction with their coaches and even gain knowledge from conversations with other teams. I think we’re going to see the impact from this isolation reflected in the scoring.

Be sure to stay tuned for more cluster competition updates…..

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