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Student cluster competition is big success at CHPC meeting in South Africa

Team Wits-A are crowned champions. From left: Ari Croock, James Allingham, Sasha Nidoo, Robert Clucas, Vyacheslav Schevchenko, Nabeel Rajab, Paul Osel Sekyere, and Jenalea Miller (as CHPC director Happy Sithole looks on in the foreground). Image courtesy Chungu Ngolwe, ZAMREN.

The South African Center for High Performance Computing (CHPC) held its ninth national meeting in December last year. At the event, students participated in the third annual cluster challenge, working diligently under the leadership of CHPC supervisors David Macleod and Nicholas Thorne.

Including the students, 305 attendees from 19 countries came to the CHPC conference. Kruger National Park was the perfect setting for the conservation-themed meeting, which ran under the title 'Towards an Energy-Efficient HPC System'. But the environment proved to be extra challenging for the cluster-contest participants, with occasional power outages and a saturated Wi-Fi network. The playing field was level, however, and the conditions prepared the students to be persistent and to not take anything for granted - good lessons for life, in general!

84 students applied to take part in the competition; from these, 32 (belonging to eight teams) were selected and received funding for their trip to the event. The teams competed for a chance to win a Dell tablet computer and a journey to Austin, Texas, US, where they will visit Dell's research and design facility and the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC). Additionally, Intel and Rectron are set to donate a Xeon Phi coprocessor to the winning university team and will provide full sponsorship and support for them to attend the student cluster competition at the ISC High Performance '15 conference in Frankfurt, Germany, in July.

For the competition, each team selected components from a menu of items provided by CHPC and the contest sponsors. The clusters they built had to successfully run a number of applications, including the High-Performance Computing Laboratory (HPCL) benchmark, the High Performance Conjugate Gradients (HPCG) benchmark, and OpenFoam, which is an open-source toolkit for computational fluid dynamics simulations. Once benchmarks for each application had been met, the participants were also presented with a last-minute surprise challenge: the clusters were upgraded with Infiniband hardware and the students were then required to re-run the benchmarks again!

At the end of the week-long contest, 'Team Wits-A' from the the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa emerged as winners. 'Computing-Moore' captured second place, and 'Team Wits-E' came third. The award for best provisioning of nodes went to 'Bi-Winning' - a team that says they will consider themselves winners for having had the opportunity to take part in the competition - and 'Cluster-Buster' won the Linpack award, while 'Kat Exhibition' was the designated the most improved team.

David McLeod of CHPC congratulates the competitors. Image courtesy Chungu Ngolwe, ZAMREN.

Master of ceremonies Hakizumwami Birali Runesha from the University of Chicago, Illinois, US, was impressed with this year's contestants. "Few had experience with HPC or Linux six months ago, but now they are world-class competitors," says Runesha. He also thanked the student cluster challenge sponsors - Dell, Mellanox, Rectron, Huawei, Intel, Eclipse Holdings, and Amazon Web Services - for their support. Intel was a Diamond Sponsor for the CHPC conference, and Dell was the main sponsor of the student cluster challenge.

CHPC director Happy Sithole invited everyone to return next year for their tenth national meeting in beautiful Port Elizabeth, known as 'the Friendly City'. Watch out for updates about this event - and the student cluster competition at ISC High Performance '15 - on the CHPC website.

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