EPCC team enters the ISC’13 Student Cluster Challenge

Author: Xu Guo
Posted: 21 Mar 2013 | 14:06

[The article was contributed by the EPCC Student Cluster Challenge competition team.]

The Student Cluster Challenge at ISC (International Supercomputing Conference) is a competition where student teams from around the world build clusters competing against each other to achieve the maximum performance whilst remaining within a strict power limit of 3kW. Cluster performance will be assessed by the HPCC  (HPC Challenge) benchmark suite and a set of real world benchmarks.  

The student team, which consists of four students studying for the MSc in HPC at EPCC, will be the first team from the UK participating in this competition. Viglen Ltd., as the team’s industrial partner, will provide the EPCC team with hardware, technical training and support.

In the team photo, from left: Paolo Martino, Don Browne, Xu Guo (Coach), Nikolaos Koutsikos, and Swapnil Laxman Gaikwad.

What the team members say

  • Why are we participating?

The Student Cluster Challenge will involve us in solving problems and developing skills that are essential not only for our current studies, but for our future careers as well.

The competition will give us an opportunity to work on a massively parallel cluster system which consists of novel hardware running taxing benchmarks. This will give us a unique chance to gain hands on experience with High Performance Computing, and to experiment with cutting edge hardware, whilst applying the theory we have learned in the classroom.

By competing as a team in the Cluster Challenge, we feel that the competition will drive us to work harder, experiment more, and develop more innovative ideas about cluster design, and HPC programming techniques. We will also enjoy meeting other students from around the world, to exchange ideas and socialize, as well as engaging with vendors and participants who will be present at ISC ’13.

  • What we have done so far?

Our initial hardware plan is a cluster of Boston Viridis systems, as suggested by our industrial partner Viglen. Despite consuming less power than the average desktop computer, they feature 192 ARM processing cores. We hope to prove the effectiveness of using a large number of low power processors for running HPC applications.

Our final architecture design will be completed in April.

We have successfully ported the benchmarks that we are expected to run for the competition. These are:

There will be 2 secret applications to be announced during the competition.

In order to achieve optimal performance we have done some research and testing with libraries and configurations. We have also benchmarked the code to ensure that the applications can scale to a large number of ARM cores, and that they work correctly on the new architecture.

Furthermore, during an Innovative Learning Week (ILW), where students participate in a week of projects that are not formally assessed, we participated in the cluster building competition in order to gain experience of building and administering a cluster using ARM processors. Since ARM processors are not a conventional choice for clusters, we had to build our own custom stack for ARM cluster which involved installation of an ARM optimised operating system, libraries and compilers, configuration of NFS. Installation of the batch scheduler turned out to be one of the most challenging task for us. We had a great time accompanied with a lot of learning during ILW.

We shall keep you informed on how we do in the competition in this blog.

Further information about the ISC’13 Student Cluster Challenge Competition can be found at:


Xu Guo, EPCC


Mario Antonioletti's picture

The Register produced an article about this team and their competition: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/15/isc_13/

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