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When students compete, the community wins

HPC need people even more than it needs technology.

John Bashor reviews one initiative to attract new people into HPC, the Student Cluster Competition.

excitement and exasperation felt by the 12 student teams as they strived to get their cluster computers up and running so they could run a series of scientific codes. Amidst rising piles of soda cans, junk food wrappers and other detritus, many of the teams worked around the clock to try to win the competition. When the SC14 conference convenes in


November 2014 in New Orleans, Leverman will again be chairing the competition in which 12 teams of students from around the world race to build high-performance computing clusters, then run a set of specified programs as fast and efficiently as possible. As the Student Cluster Competition Chair,

Leverman and his committee set out the rules, select the teams, then offer encouragement and support during the event. Although SC14 will mark his second year as event chair, the SC13 competition wasn’t his first. In 2007, he was a member of the University

of Colorado team competing in the inaugural Student Cluster Challenge at SC07 in Reno, Nevada. Although the University of Alberta in Canada took home top honours that year, Leverman made some important connections that led to an internship and then his current job as a systems administrator at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. ‘Te Student Cluster Challenge was my

introduction to HPC and jump-started my career,’ Leverman said. ‘Now I want to help make sure that new students are getting the same opportunity I had and to help bring them into HPC.’ Brent Gorda, now general manager of the

High Performance Data Division at Intel, first got the idea for the competition while walking on the show floor at SC05 in Seattle and debating with Bill Boas. At the time, they both were working on advanced architectures at the


Members of the University of Texas, Austin give their signature ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ salute after winning top honours in the SC13 Student Cluster Competition

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Gorda said that an idea from Gary New of

the National Center for Atmospheric Research – limiting the power by setting an upper limit to the current that could be drawn of 26 Amps – established a level playing field for the competition. By the time SC07 rolled around, the event

had been planned, the logistics organised, and teams selected. Te challenge began with the ceremonial opening of the exhibition at 7pm Monday night and continued until mid-aſternoon Wednesday. Te teams had 35 hours to crunch through, before putting their screwdrivers and keyboards down.

Spreading globally Te idea caught on and SC14 will mark the eighth consecutive year the student teams will vie for top honours. And the concept has also spread to three other continents. In 2012, the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) launched its version of the competition in Europe. A regional competition was set up in South Africa and, most recently, the Asia Student Supercomputer Challenge was held in April 2014 in Shanghai.


Dan Olds, an HPC consultant and owner

of Gabriel Consulting Group, has become an ardent fan of the competitions, observing them in the US, Germany, South Africa and China. He’s also set up a website to help track them at . ‘It’s one of the few things in our business

where the rubber truly meets the road, and it comes from an unlikely source – students,’ Olds said. ‘What’s not to like? Students spend six months of their time preparing for this competition, all the while learning an incredible amount of skills in soſtware, hardware, and scientific computing.’ At SC14, Team KrautComputing from

Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen- Nürnberg, Germany, will be looking to improve on third place at SC13. Te team formed aſter a student learned about the competition at SC12.

@scwmagazine l

s Dustin Leverman walked through the Student Cluster Competition during the SC13 conference in Denver, he knew full well the

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