SCC cliffhanger …

On June 22, more than seventy students competing in the annual Student Cluster Competition (SCC) gathered in Frankfurt Germany for the final award ceremony where for the third time, South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) student team came away as the 2016 SCC Grand Champions. Marking their third win and the SCC’s first ‘three-peat” champions, CHPC narrowly edged out this year’s overall runner-up Tsinghua University, unseating the champion team from China from their own SCC incumbency during the last two years.

SCC 2016 Overall Winners South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing Student Team: Avi Bank, Leanne Johnson, Craig Bester, Ashley Naudé, Sabeehah Ismail, Andries Bingani.                          Also pictured: Pak Lui, Gilad Shainer and Thomas Sterling
SCC 2016 Overall Winners South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing Student Team

An ongoing rivalry, both frontrunner teams entered the world championship as the competitions’ only two, two time overall champions and finished this year with the closest final scores of any competition to date. China’s top two entries from the Asian Student Challenge (ASC) fared well with ASC overall winner Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) returning home with the SCC LINPACK award and ASC runner-up Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) ranking third in the SCC’s overall winner circle. Winning the hearts and minds of ISC attendees Universitat Politècnica De Catalunya Barcelona Tech (UPC) – team ‘Thunderstruck’ – garnered the most votes to be recognized as the 2016 SCC Fan Favorite.

A truly international competition, the 2016 roster included teams from Estonia, Germany, Singapore; one additional team from China and three teams from the U.S., along with the winners’ circle teams representing South Africa, China and the Catalonian Province of Spain. Returning teams included Germany’s own University of Hamburg along with Estonia’s University of Tartu.

China’s Tsinghua University, HUST and SJTU were joined by another SCC veteran team the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). The U.S. debuted three new freshman entries including the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) which consisted of a combined team of two high-school students and undergraduates from Queens University (Canada), University of Missouri and Harvard University. Also participating were Boston Green team students from MIT, Boston University and Northeastern University; and two very experienced teams from Purdue University and University of Colorado, Boulder that also combined forces. The final debut team also marked the competitions first city-state entry with Singapore’s team entry from Nanyang Technological University.

In addition to new entries, the balance of SCC teams with one or more years of experience returned with a roster comprised of almost entirely new members. One constant beyond a team name and every team’s most critical asset is the team advisor(s). Teams may have up to two advisors but students must rely solely on their own abilities once the competition starts. Teams work with their advisors and other mentors and begin preparing well in advance of the competition, sacrificing spare time and forgoing time off during school breaks to finalize sponsorships, refine designs, secure and test systems, characterize, run and optimize applications, refine benchmarking and troubleshooting prowess. Their advanced work as a team is often a major contributor to their overall performance and potential presence at the closing ceremony. Needless to say, students give up a lot in order to compete but also learn a lot as a result of competing.

The annual competitions run from the opening to the close of the ISC exhibition. Teams execute a variety of known benchmarks along with ‘mystery applications’ which are revealed prior to the daily start and strive to obtain the best results possible from technology platforms of their own design. This year, in addition to the ‘known’ HPL and HPCC benchmarks, teams encountered Splotch, Graph500 and WRF which were chosen for their unique characteristics: WRF for its I/O usage and scalability; Graph500’s requirement to implement code and algorithm; Splotch for its heavy I/O plus its post processing and visualization capabilities prompting teams to generate a video as part of the mission. ‘Cloverleaf’, this year’s secret mission, challenged teams to determine which hardware components to remove or keep to draw the least amount of power. Where teams can prepare well in advance for the ‘known applications’ the added combination of mystery applications and secret challenges helps students learn how to run, compile and troubleshoot issues and comprehend the effect of the system components and their effects on performance.

With a total run-time just under nineteen hours, the competition kicks-off with the team shirt scramble where each student must find their team shirt before a team can begin running the first benchmark and culminates at the annual award ceremony. While every competition of a similar kind maintains specific requirements and run-times, the SCC is unique by design. Intentionally infusing fun, team building activities with free time to allow teams to get to know each other, attend conference sessions and experience some of the culture and attractions of the host city.

Launched in 2012, the SCC is the result of a visionary collaboration and partnership between the ISC Group and the HPC Advisory Council (HPCAC). What was started as an international friendly has transcended borders and helped bridge the global HPC community; from inspiring comparable national competitions in China and South Africa to supporting efforts underway in India and elsewhere. China’s ASC now hosts more than two hundred teams in their own national competition each year and in addition to sending its top winners to SCC, teams from the U.S. and South Africa competitions also vie to compete in the annual ISC-HPCAC challenge.

SCC 2016 Award Ceremony
SCC 2016 Award Ceremony

While the STEM challenge is as significant as the need for a skilled workforce, the ISC Group, HPCAC are helping to make inroads in fulfilling the demand. Over the last five years twenty-six international teams and more than two hundred students have competed at the annual ISC competitions. SCC  teams have represented all but one of earth’s habitable continents, the lost continent a consequence of a team withdrawing its participation. Students, their team advisors and academic affiliations from Brazil, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Estonia, Germany, India, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain along with the U.K. and U.S. have been an integral part of the SCC’s ongoing success and have been key to enticing more countries, institutions, industries, teams, students and professionals to take part in the coming years competitions.

In fact, we’re accepting team submissions for the 2017 competition as of today (it’s on the next page over under press releases … or on the competition page)!

For me it’s sort of like an SCC ‘cliffhanger’ …

… which teams return … does the rivalry continue between South Africa and China … maybe Estonia or Hamburg or Singapore or a team from the US or any one of these brilliant teams could finally have their day or new entry could come in and own it  … all of that and more … is yet to be determined …! Once you meet these students, you’ll understand why we’re already counting the days until next June!  These teams, those students, this competition … AMAZING!

As we close out the fifth year of competition we extend our congratulations and thanks to the 2016 winners and all of the competing teams, their advisors, academic affiliations and sponsors! We also thank the ISC Group, Dan Olds and Gabriel Consulting, our HPCAC chair and SCC MC Gilad Shainer, our social media mavens and mavericks and all of the dedicated experts, individuals, teams, volunteers, members and partners for your ongoing support and contribution to the success of SCC and to all the ISC attendees who took time to meet with the student and HPCAC teams!

I close my first SCC owing my most humbled thanks to the two SCC Stars, true HPCAC heroes Pak Lui and David Cho – for everything and more over my last six months of firsts, for the last five and the many years ahead of SCC success for all they do every day … for me and many … and then some! And always … ALWAYS … with a smile! Thank you both!

Thank you ~ All!