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SC’s First Virtual Student Cluster Competition Concludes with Teams Greatly Expanding Their Knowledge of Running HPC Workloads in the Cloud

This past Wednesday at 5 pm EST, 19 student teams all breathed a sigh of relief as the 72-hour long Virtual Student Cluster Competition concluded. Over the past 3 days, 114 students, the mentors from all 19 teams, and the VSCC committee worked non-stop as the competition unfolded. Throughout it all, the teams and the public watched their progress via the live dashboard, which kept everyone on the edge of their seats. This year, the competition moved from teams building a physical cluster and competing in-person to building a virtual cluster in the Azure cloud. Microsoft generously sponsored the majority of the cloud resources for teams to train and compete.

When the dust finally settled, the teams in aggregate used $61.3K of their combined $70.3K budget. Each team had been given a $3,200 initial budget followed by a “surprise” $500 boost 12 hours before the competition’s end. The biggest single-day aggregate spend was the final day of the competition, which saw over half of the total spend being consumed.

As teams worked to complete the various scientific application challenges their spend fluctuated, sometimes swinging wildly up and down. The combined spending rate was $4500/hour at one point. The peak team spending rate was achieved by the Tsinghua University team, who was using $540/hr at one point in the competition.

Throughout the competition all the teams showed poise, collegiality, and a great spirit of friendly competition as they peppered the application experts, and each other, with questions about how to optimize throughput in the cloud via Slack. The Gromacs molecular dynamics application, with a challenge focusing on COVID-19 research, was of particular relevance this year and presented teams with a unique learning experience. Another challenging application was CESM, where the students looked at how to optimize a climate modeling code. The competition was rounded out by the Reproducibility Challenge, where students had to reproduce results from an SC19 paper and the Mystery Application, miniVite, an Exascale Computing Project mini-application.

Although the competition was grueling and much different this year than at past SC conferences, most student teams found participating to be very rewarding. Both advisors and students agreed that everyone learned a lot about how to run HPC workloads in the cloud. Now all that is left for the teams is the announcement of the winner at the SC20 Awards Ceremony on Thursday, November 19 at 3 pm EST.

The VSCC wouldn’t have been possible without the VSCC Committee, the application experts, poster judges, and the VSCC sponsors: Microsoft, Terawe, and ARM. Their support was critical to making the competition a possibility in the cloud.

Scott Michael, SC20 Student Cluster Competition Chair

Verónica G. Melesse Vergara, SC20 Student Cluster Competition Chair

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