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Home > iSGTW - 19 November 2008 > iSGTW Feature - Cluster challenge at SC08

Feature - Cluster challenge at SC08: The Tour de France of HPC


The ClusterMeisters solicited support from vendors IBM and Myricom. IBM has provided a new System X iDataPlex server, designed to use up to 40% less power than similarly configured standard servers. The nodes are equipped with the latest energy efficient Intel Xeon quad core processors and memory. This cluster clips along at more than 1 TFLOP/s (1 trillion mathematical calculations per second). Myricom is providing energy-efficient, high-performance networking equipment.  The faculty advisors have been educating their students about power consumption, multi-core, multi-node systems, and performance optimization.
Image courtesy of Chris Eller, IU.

The Tour de France of high performance computing for undergraduates kicked off this past Monday—the second annual Cluster Challenge at SC08. Until 4:00 Wednesday afternoon, seven teams comprised of some of the best young minds in computational science are working around-the-clock. They’re building HPC clusters on the exhibit floor, limited to using hardware that fits into a single rack powered by two 120-volt, 13-amp circuits. They’re running real-world scientific applications, attempting to process as much data as possible—at least more than their competitors—to win.

The endurance competition showcases the power of cluster computing and the ability to harness open source software to solve important problems. Teams competing this year represent such top U.S. technical schools as MIT and Indiana University as well as universities from Taiwan, Canada, Europe and beyond. Vendors may support team activities with equipment, training, and financial support.

“Cluster computing has arrived and is now an important part of computing science curriculums at leading universities,” said Brent Gorda, Deputy for Advanced Technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and originator of the competition. “The participants are the future rock stars of HPC. By showcasing the work of these students we are seeding the computing community with new talent.”

Indiana University students teamed with peers from Technische Universität Dresden to form the ClusterMeisters team. The team’s faculty advisors, Professors Andrew Lumsdaine of IU and Wolfgang E. Nagel of TUD have been educating their students about power consumption, multi-core multi-node systems, performance optimization—and international cooperation.

The SC07 Cluster Challenge winning team from the University of Alberta, Canada.

Image courtesy of www.engineering.ualberta.ca  

“We believe that in today’s computer industry, global teams of experts are necessary to achieve highest performance,” says Lumsdaine. “The Cluster Challenge allows our students to demonstrate the acquired skills in a multi-national team that combines the best of both institutions. It is an amazing learning experience for them.”

Le maillot jaune

The winning team will be chosen by a panel of experts, based on workload accomplished, performance benchmarks and overall architecture. Students from the University of Alberta are returning this year to defend their title. Last year’s competition was intense and full of drama including a power outage in the Reno, Nevada convention center.

The University of Colorado team added to (or suffered from) the drama this year.  Says one of the Cluster Challenge advisors Bob Beck:  “This goes to show, you can take six undergraduates faced with disaster, give them new gear—cold—and watch them set it all up under pressure and turn in a respectable HPCC benchmark.”

Let Tyler Knappe, the team lead, tell you about it... (give it a few seconds to get started).

Video courtesy of John Urish.  

“Real life scenarios, such as lost power, are a part of the competition,” Gorda says.

Gorda says he will not be surprised if one or more of the teams achieve a teraFLOPS (trillion floating operations per second) this year. “Just 10 years ago this capability was only possible at a national lab, and it would have ranked the system in the first tier of the Top500.”

Who's gonna win?  Check the Web site!

Anne Heavey, iSGTW

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