In quiet moments, you can almost feel the tension building. It’s a combination of anticipation, hope, dreams and, yes, fears too. From around the world, eight teams of university students are preparing to travel to New Orleans to meet their destiny at SC10 in the Student Cluster Competition.
The SCC is the arena in which these teams will test themselves against their peers. The competition will test their system design skills, their aptitude for learning new programs and new methods, and their ability to optimize code to produce more (and better) output than their rivals. It’s a technical gut check that takes place on the biggest stage in the HPC industry – the annual SC show.
This webcast on The Register discusses the SCC, the tasks, what the teams go through, and how they will be judged. Hai Ah Nam, SC10 committee chair for this event, sets the stage for what’s to come in just three short weeks from now. (It might be more like 24 days from today… but it will really depend on when you watch this webcast.)
Sure, there are other competitions in the world. In the United States, we have the Super Bowl football championship, baseball’s World Series, and the NCAA basketball tournament. The rest of the world has World Cup soccer, the Olympics, and racing motorcycles on frozen lakes. These events seem to have attracted a reasonable number followers and some attention from the media. However, they all come up short in one crucial area: none of them require participants to have any technical abilities at all – nary a line of code nor a config file in the bunch. And that’s sad.
But that’s why the SCC is poised to be a breakout event at this year’s SC10. This competition has everything to appeal to the modern tech-savvy audience. There’s a hardware component: students design and build the biggest, fastest cluster they can – limited only by their imaginations and the 26-watt power limit (enough to run three coffee makers). It has software: students need to intimately learn and optimize different applications to run on the system they’ve designed.
Best of all, it has human drama. To successfully compete takes intelligence, adaptability, and endurance. The students have only 46 hours to run the workloads and provide results to the judges. The winning team will have to put together a solid plan and then execute that plan in the face of pressure and adversity. The SCC is a crucible in which technical skills, character, teamwork, and will to succeed are blended together and then fired in a kiln fueled by HPC benchmarks and time pressure. (Glad that sentence didn’t turn out too overwrought.)
Who among us hasn’t dreamed of being recognized as being the very best? Who hasn’t wanted to build that system that cranks out enough precise output to put all the other systems to shame? It’s the stuff that life is made of. But how many of us have had the opportunity, or had the guts to try? These plucky students are doing exactly that, and they’re putting it all on the line for the world to see.
This competition has captured my imagination, and I want to see if I can infect others (with my interest in the SCC, I mean). During the conference I’ll be talking to the teams to get to know them, learn about their plans, and assess their chances at winning the gold. (No, there isn’t any actual gold.)
Check back soon for the next webcast – I’ll be talking with a past SCC participant, discussing the trials and tribulations his team faced in their effort. He’s going to take us inside the competition and share some key success factors that might make the difference between victory and, well, not victory.
So get the SCC fever – pick your team and follow them through the competition. Start office betting pools. Get some T-shirts printed up, and order some of those big foam “We’re #1” finger things. It’s going to be a fun and exciting ride.