Tag Archives: hpc

Student Cluster Competition

Last week, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I was in Frankfurt, Germany, for the ISC High Performance Computing conference. The thing that grabbed my attention, more than anything else, was the Student Cluster Competition 11 teams from around the world – mostly from Universities – were competing to create the fastest (by a variety of measures) student supercomputer. These students have progressed from earlier regional competitions, and are the world’s finest young HPC experts. Just being there was an amazing accomplishment. And these young people were obviously thrilled to be there.

Each team had hardware that had been sponsored by major HPC vendors. I talked with several of the teams about this. The UPC Thunderchip team, from Barcelona Tech, (Winner of the Fan Favorite award!) said that their hardware, for example, had been donated by (among other vendors) CoolIT systems, who had donated the liquid cooling system that sat atop their rack.

(When I was in college, we had a retired 3B2 that someone had dumpster-dived for us, but I’m not bitter.)

Over the course of the week, these teams were given a variety of data challenges. Some of them, they knew ahead of time and had optimized for. Others were surprise challenges, which they had to optimize for on the fly.

While the jobs were running, the students roamed the show floor, talking with vendors, and, I’m sure, making contacts that will be beneficial in their future careers.

Now, granted, I had a bit of a ulterior motive. I was trying to find out the role that CentOS plays in this space. And, as I mentioned in my earlier post, 8 of the 11 teams were running CentOS. (One – University of Hamburg – was running Fedora. Two – NorthEast/Purdue, and Barcelona Tech – were running Ubuntu) And teams that placed first, second, and third in the competition – (First place: Tsinghua University, Beijing. Second place: Centre for High Performance Computing South Africa. Third place: Beihang University, Beijing.) – were also running CentOS. And many of the research organizations I talked to were also running CentOS on their HPC clusters.

I ended up doing interviews with just two of the teams, about their hardware, and what tests that they had to complete on them to win the contest.

At the end, while just three teams walked away with the trophies, all of these students had an amazing opportunity. I was so impressed with their professionalism, as well as their brilliance.

And good luck to the teams who have been invited to the upcoming competition in Denver. I hope I’ll be able to observe that one, too!

Things I’ve learned at ISC HPC

I came into the ISC event pretty ignorant. Here’s some of the things I’ve learned.

Supercomputers run Linux. All of them. This isn’t even a topic of discussion. Yes, I’m sure there are some that don’t, but everyone here just assumes that you are running Linux. And probably two or three Apache products.

Supercomputing isn’t about software. This is a hardware conference.

Supercomputing is primarily about how fast you can get rid of heat. And these people are serious about cooling. I’ve seen some amazingly cool cooling rigs. Perhaps the coolest of them was this one: https://youtu.be/hs9WG0ZA79Q  That unit is called the AIC24, and is manufactured by Asperitas, and is a full submersion rack. You lower your blades into oil, which is in turn cooled by a water cooling pump. This is much quieter than fans, and much more efficient. The oil was cool enough to touch. Enormous supercomputing centers are locating on the edge of lakes specifically so that they can pump cool water from the lake into cooling units like this.

I also saw this cool demo: https://youtu.be/aaEQN8DH0kM  You can actually see the oil boiling on the processor. The vapor is then condensed on a cooling unit in the back and trickles back down into the tank.

I have also been blown away by the Student Cluster Competition. These kids have access to hardware that would have blown my mind when I was in school. There’s 11 teams competing on a variety of metrics, and they have these astonishing supercomputers at their disposal. I was also amazed to discover that LINPACK is still one of the standard benchmarks. I used that when I was in college!

The student hardware is all sponsored by the vendors that are here at this event – presumably so that they can benefit from the publicity when they win the contest. Check out some of these rigs:

I was pleasantly pleased to discover that of the 11 teams competing, 8 are running CentOS. One other was running Fedora – they wanted to run CentOS, but needed a newer kernel for something (I wasn’t very clear on what that was. I’ll try to go find out more information today.) The other two were running Ubuntu. CentOS  also appears to be the preferred platform for the various research institutes I’ve talked to. However, these are the groups that chose to come over to the Red Hat booth and talk to me, so I do acknowledge that this is a rather self-selected sample. The sign on the SuSE booth claims that SuSE is the Linux “most used by the top 100 supercomputers.” More research is warranted here. But it appears clear, at least from this small sample, and from conversations with the students, that CentOS is just What You Run when you’re doing supercomputing.

And finally, I’ve learned (not that it’s a big surprise) that one year of high school German, 30 years ago, is not a great deal of help. And that people are amazingly patient and kind with my ignorance – something that I’ve discovered almost everywhere in the world