What’s It Take to Build a Great HPC Cluster? Ask These Students.

At ISC High Performance 2019, a team sponsored by Dell EMC and other technology leaders took home the top prize in the Student Cluster Competition.

The business of building a high-performance computing system and optimizing it for top performance on industry benchmarks may seem like it belongs strictly in the domain of technology experts. But not so, says a team of six South African undergraduate students.

This team, affiliated with the South African Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), took home the gold at a recent international competition that pitted teams of students against each other in a quest to design and optimize an HPC system. This annual Student Cluster Competition was held in conjunction with the ISC High Performance 2019 conference in Frankfurt.

Team South Africa, as the group is known, was sponsored by some companies that know what it takes to design a world-class HPC system — Dell EMC, Intel, NVIDIA and Mellanox. The team lived up the reputation of its sponsors.

To take home top honors, the winning team had to showcase a system of its own design, adhere to strict power constraints and achieve the highest performance across a series of standard HPC benchmarks and applications, according to ISC. On all of those measures, Team South Africa came through with flying colors, posting the highest overall score for all the given benchmarks.[1]

In taking home the gold, Team South Africa lived up to its winning reputation. In its six previous appearances in ISC events, the team came away with a medal each time — three golds, two silvers and a bronze.[2]

So what’s the winning formula? Dedicated students and sponsors, according to David Macleod, the team advisor and manager of the CHPC’s Advanced Computer Engineering Lab.

“Our sponsors are excellent and allowed the team to choose equipment without restriction or compromise,” Macleod says in a CHPC news release. “In turn the students put in a lot of time and effort before the competition and arrived at the competition well prepared.”

So hats off to the three women and three men of Team South Africa. They’re showing us all what we can accomplish when we all put our minds and resources together to address our HPC challenges.

[1] Centre for High Performance Computing, “South Africa wins International Student Cluster Competition for the fourth time.”

[2] HPCwire, “ISC 2019 Student Cluster Competition: Meet the Teams!” June 25, 2019.