175 teams, 4 continents, $36,000: It's the Amazing HPC Cluster Race

Students join supercomputing battle in China

HPC Blog The largest student cluster competition in the known world kicked off last Monday in Wuhan, China. Sixteen teams representing universities from China, South America, the US, and Europe are participating in the fifth annual Asian Student Supercomputer Challenge.

The competition just gets bigger and bigger. This year, it started with 175 teams of undergraduate students vying to get into the finals by proving that they know their stuff when it comes to HPC and supercomputers. The field was winnowed down to the 16 best and brightest, who were then invited to the finals in Wuhan (or as I call it – Woohan).

HUST, the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, hosts the final phase of the competition this year.

The undergraduate teams in the HUST finals configure and build their own supercomputer from Inspur-supplied building blocks. The teams can build as large a system as they want, as long as it doesn’t consume more than 3,000 watts during the competition.

Teams then compete to turn in the best results on two HPC benchmarks (HPL and HPCG), plus other scientific applications including:

MASNUM-WAM: sounds a lot like the name of a boy band, but is actually a software application that does some very interesting things. As some of you may know, about 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. (This figure doesn’t even include the water in bottles, cans, or basements.) This water tends to slosh around some due to earthquakes, storms, and the like. In the cluster competition, MASNUM-WAM is being used as a numerical wave modeller to predict the behaviour of large bits of water.

Aibinit: is an application used to figure out the total energy, charge density, and structure of structures made out of electrons and nuclei - like atoms and things. It also does many other complicated things like performing molecular dynamics simulations using Density Functional Theory (DFT) forces or, if you’re in the mood, generating dynamical matrices.

DNN: is an interesting challenge to the students. They’ll be using a chunk of Tianhe-2, the largest supercomputer in the world, to teach a Deep Neural Network. What they’re teaching it, I’m not sure, but they’re teaching it with hardware that consists of eight 2-Xeon nodes, each equipped with three Xeon Phi accelerators. In order to complete this task, they’ll have to optimize their Tianhe-2 cluster to achieve max performance on the data set supplied by competition organisers.

Mystery Application (ABySS): is a de novo (meaning “from the new”) parallel gene sequence assembler that is designed to pin together short reads into a longer genomes. A use case would be if you have a bunch of short cat genome sequences spread around your lab and you want to tie them together in order to analyse a longer genome or to spot changes. You’d just fire up ABySS and let it do its thing – easy-peasy.

Not an easy slate of applications for budding supercomputer jockeys.

This competition is different from the SC and ISC versions in that there are several cash awards for winners in various categories. The most popular two teams (as judged by tweets and WeChats) each win ¥5,000 (about $770 or £530), while the winner of LINPACK receives ¥10,000 (about $1,540 or £1,080).

Each of four winners of the “Application Innovation Award”, given to teams who have turned in the best app optimizations, gets ¥10,000. The winner of the ePrize, which competition organizers would like to see become the Gordon Bell prize for young HPC talents, fittingly receives a cash award of ¥27,182 ($4,174 or £2,900). The second place team for the overall championship takes home ¥50,000 (almost $7,700), while the Grand Champion nabs a cool ¥100,000 ($15,360 or £5,300). The prize total tops ¥237,000 ($36,000 £25,000).

In upcoming blogs, we’ll check out their hardware choices, introduce you to the students competing for the crown, and see who takes home the trophies and the cash. Stay tuned for more... ®

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