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South Africa wins Student Cluster Challenge -- again

For the second year running, students from South Africa's Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) won the Student Cluster Competition at the International Supercomputing Confference (ISC'14) in Leipzig last week, while a liquid-cooled machine had the best Linpack performance.

As reported in this column earlier, the Student Cluster Challenge is not just an opportunity to showcase student expertise but is designed to encourage the next generation of students to take up the challenges of high performance computing.

The South African team -- Kevin Beyers (Reserve), Saeed Natha, Warren Jacobus, Hardus Bodenstein (Reserve), Ellen Nxala, Pieter Malan, Eugene de Beste, and Nicole Thomas -- was sponsored by Dell, Mellanox, and Nvidia. It is the second year that Dell has sponsored the South African team and it provided hardware for the cluster with which the team competed.

The overall award is conferred not only on the basis of the teams' technical performance in getting their clusters up and running benchmark programs (some of which are unknown to the teams before they arrive) but also on the basis of interviews with the judging panel.

On the technical benchmark side, a team from the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) was the fastest in the LINPACK test using a liquid-cooled GPU-accelerated system provided by the British-based company, Boston. It was the first public demonstration of this liquid-cooled technology from Boston.

The EPCC team broke the 10Tflop mark for the first time – beating the previous record of 9.27Tflops set by students at the Asian Student Supercomputing Challenge (ASC14) earlier in 2014. They attained 10.14Tflops, producing 3.38 Tflops/kW which would have ranked fourth in the Green500 list of energy-efficient supercomputers, albeit the student cluster was built on a much smaller scale.

TeamEPCC mentor Xu Guo, Applications Consultant at the EPCC said:'The four student team members, together with our sponsors, Boston Ltd and CoolIT Systems, made this great result happen.' Boston provided the system which had four 1U Supermicro servers, each comprising two Intel Xeon ‘Ivy Bridge’ processors and two Nvidia K40 Tesla GPUs, Mellanox FDR IB as well as a FDR Mellanox SwitchX-2 switch. Boston has recently announced that it had formed an EMEA distribution partnership with Mellanox Technologies.

Liquid-cooling technology by CoolIT Systems was used in order to cool the CPUs and, for the first time, the GPUs, resulting in a lower overall power. The result of more than a year’s research, design and engineering, the technology is now being made available to Boston's customers.

‘Having participated in the event before, we knew that we had to raise the bar,’ said David Power, Head of HPC at Boston Limited. ‘We implemented liquid cooling technology in order to improve the power efficiency and performance of the NVIDIA K40s. Boston optimised the air cooling in the Supermicro servers to complement the liquid cooling technology.'

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