Skip to content Skip to main navigation Skip to footer

South Africa retains supercomputing championship

South Africa has successfully defended its championship of the International Student Cluster Competition, winning the overall prize in Leipzig, Germany.

The announcement made on 25 June 2014, shocked many attendees of the International Supercomputing Conference since it is the first time a team wins the competition two years in a row. The South African Team of six was also the youngest as it was made up of undergraduate students only. 

The High Performance Computing (HPC) Advisory Council Student Cluster Challenge is an opportunity to showcase the world’s brightest computer science students’ expertise in a friendly, yet spirited competition. Team preparations prior to the competition includes working with supervisors and vendor partners to design and build a winning cluster from commercially available components without exceeding the set power limitations, and to learn the predetermined HPC applications. The Dell computing company was the vendor partner behind the South African Team, proving all equipment. Dell also sponsored a trip to its headquarters in Austin, Texas and to the Texas Advanced Computing Center where the team received a tour of the facilities and mentoring from technicians that manage the centres. NVIDIA sponsored Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) accelerators for the team and Mellanox sponsored the interconnect.

South African team members:

· Eugene de Beste – University of the Western Cape
· Nicole Thomas – University of the Western Cape
· Saeed Natha – University of the Western Cape
· Warren Jacobus – University of the Western Cape
· Pieter Malan – University of Stellenbosch
· Ellen Nxala – University of Fort Hare

Team Supervisors:

David Macleod – CHPC
Vernon Nichols – DELL
Nicholas Thorne – CHPC

Technical Specification:

Head Node (Dell R320):
· Intel E5 v2 Processor
· 400GB RAID1 Array
· 2.4TB RAID0 Array
· Infiniband FDR

8x Compute Nodes (Dell R720):
· 2x Intel E5-2660v2 Processors
· 64GB RAM
· Infiniband FDR

Tasks Performed:
Day 1:

High Performance Computing Challenge

Day 2:

Quantum Espresso
High Performance Conjugate Gradient (a surprise application)

Day 3:
Lowest power consumption to complete a task (Surprise Task)

The challenge also featured High Performance LINPACK (HPL) as a side competition. The HPL score does not count towards the overall competition. To win HPL teams have to build a cluster specifically for it by using more GPUs per node and fewer nodes. This however, has a negative impact for the main competition because the team would have fewer CPU cores.

The team that won HPL had two GPUs per node and only 4 nodes. This means they had enough power to use all their GPUs and some of their CPU cores to run LINPACK. Team SA also had 8 GPUs but double the nodes. This means the team only had enough power to run LINPACK on the GPUs. All the CPU cores sat idle.

The South African cluster was deemed better balanced than those of other teams.

Teams entered into the competition included:

· Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), South Korea
· A combined team of students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Bentley University, Northeastern University (NEU), United States
· The University of Edinburgh (EPCC), United Kingdom
· Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany
· University of Hamburg, Germany
· University of São Paulo, Brazil
· University of Colorado at Boulder, United States
· University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), China
· Two additional university teams from China

CHPC begins its Winter School next week where the selection for the 2015 team will begin.

Back to top