SCC Chairs Delve Into Upcoming Student Cluster Competition

November 14, 2016

The following is an article submitted by Stephen Harrell, SC16 SCC chair, and Hai Ah Nam, SC15 SCC chair, to the SC16 website.

Nov. 14 — With this year marking the tenth year of the Student Cluster Competition (SCC) at the SC conference, it’s a good time to look both forward to this year’s event, as well as look back at the history of this competition that has been adopted by organizations in Europe, Asia and Africa. It all traces back to an innovative idea that launched at SC07 in Reno, Nevada.

Looking forward to SC16 and beyond:

On Saturday, Nov. 14, 14 teams representing universities in six countries begn setting up, configuring and testing their systems, and on Monday morning will be ready to run a benchmark application and submit their results to the judges.

On Monday evening, as part of the SC16 opening gala, the six-member teams of undergraduates start this real-time, non-stop, 48-hour challenge, racing to complete a real-world workload across a series of applications and impress HPC industry judges. The teams race to correctly complete the workload during the competition period until the close of the exhibit floor on Wednesday evening. Oh, and their cluster is constrained by the 3120-watt (26-amp) power limit. Plus the students will be doing their work in full view of SC16 attendees — please stop by and add some encouragement. You’ll find us in booth 4723, or just look for the big Student Cluster Competition hovering over us.

Among the usual tasks the teams must complete are password auditing, running a mystery application and creating a paraview visualization. That’s already a pretty big challenge, but this year we’re adding a couple of factors to make it even more exciting.

Reflecting the growing importance of being able to reproduce scientific results, this year we are introducing a reproducibility component. After careful review, the SC16 SCC chose “A parallel connectivity algorithm for de Bruijn graphs in metagenomic applications” as the winning paper for this inaugural reproducibility initiative. This is the first time that students have been challenged to reproduce a paper rather than run prescribed data sets. Although they are doing similar tasks from previous competitions, they are seeing it from an entirely new perspective, as a component to the scientific process.

The student cluster competition has always required students to produce correct results in their workload, but this is the first the year that they are asked to understand the significance of the work they are doing and see the broader context — that they are actually contributing to scientific reproducibility.

We did this by changing the format of one of the challenges so the students can understand how the competition has changed from producing scientific results to a challenge where they are participants in the scientific process.

Another challenge:

At SC07 in Reno, one of the literal lowlights occurred when a power outage hit the convention center, knocking nearly every system offline. This year, we plan to inflict an intentional blackout on the students, just to make things more exciting. The students know it’s coming, they just don’t know when. This challenge is a throwback to the think-on-your-feet spirit of the first competition. sc07_outage.jpg

And coming up next year:

For this year’s winner, there is an added bonus in addition to taking the stage at the SC16 Awards session: their team will receive reserved spots in the 2017 HPCAC ISC Student Cluster Competition next year in Germany and the 2017 ASC Student Cluster Challenge in China.

Looking back over 10 years:

Since the event in Reno, the SCC has continued as an important part of the SC conference program. The number of teams has varied, optional components were added, but the enthusiasm and good-natured yet fierce spirit of competition have endured.

We have gathered up memories, photos and data about the people who have helped build the competition to its current state and will present this information on wall-sized panels in the SCC area. We invite you to come by and take some time to read about the evolution of this event and the impact it has had on the students who have competed through the years.

And now a word about our sponsors:

Through the years, the SCC has greatly benefit from the support of generous sponsors. This year, we would like to thank Raytheon, SAIC, Schlumberger, Micron and Allinea for their funding support as we literally could not have done this without them. Raytheon and SAIC were especially generous, so we asked the about their motivation.

According to Raytheon, they committed to sponsoring this tournament “because SC16 exposes students to real world, hands-on high performance computing challenges similar to those our customers face right now. The demand for larger, faster and more secure computing continues to increase for government, commercial and academic users. Raytheon has a proven record with its customers for providing dependable solutions, developed by the industry’s leading engineers.

“By sponsoring SC16, we are making a solid investment in our ability to develop a generation of computer scientists and engineers, who have the skills and experience to meet the challenges customers turn to Raytheon to solve. The Student Cluster Competition challenges students to work as a team to solve complex, high-performance computing challenges — similar to those Raytheon scientists and engineers face on daily. “

SAIC responded that the company sponsored the SC16 Student Cluster Competition “because it is one of our many investments that support the next generation of STEM professionals. As a leader in technology integration serving customers in the U.S. federal government, we recognize the value of talent, creativity and innovation.  The Student Cluster Competition showcases these values in the future generation of high-performance-computing professionals. We are excited to support these talented students and see tomorrow’s technology pioneers in action.

“Success in today’s technology-powered marketplace requires technical prowess, performance under pressure, and the determination to push the boundaries of conventional thinking. Student Cluster Competition participants enter the competition with well-defined plans for victory and immediately face unpredictable challenges in the competition space, which they may encounter in their professional careers. During the competition, students learn through experience that they are more capable as a team and that they can trust their own abilities to contribute meaningfully to group accomplishments. Also, they are building their strengths, which they can rely on in their careers and personal lives.”

Source: Stephen Harrell and Hai Ah Nam, SC16

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