SA Supercomputer Champs: how they did it

The South African team that recently won the overall championship at the ISC’13 Student Cluster Challenge in Leipzig did so with an 8-node supercomputer, according to a video interview with the students.

Despite only receiving their equipment a day after arriving at the show, the South African contenders achieved the highest aggregate points total and walked away with top honours.

InsideHPC reported that the key to winning the day was the fact that Team South Africa used graphics processing units (GPUs) to accelerate three of their benchmark applications.

No other team was able to do this, according to InsideHPC.

A report on the Student Cluster Competition blog also said that the South African team was one of only two teams to have completed every task.

The road to supercomputing victory

Team South Africa was assembled by the CSIR‘s Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) after holding a national competition in December 2012.

In the video interview above, the team members explain that by winning the local competition, Evelyn Khoboka (NWU), Kerren Ortlepp (Wits), Jan-Willem Steeb (Wits), and Ryan Strange (Wits) became the first four members of the CHPC’s Leipzig team.

Katlego Moukangwe (UCT) and Muhammad Atif (Wits), were chosen from among the other contenders to fill out the CHPC team, while Eugene Botma (UFS) and Abednigo Masilo (Wits) made up the reserve bench.

While Atif and Moukangwe’s teams did not win the CHPC’s Student Cluster Challenge in 2012, according to the CHPC website their teams did win sub-categories. Atif’s team won the prize for Best LINPACK performance, while Moukangwe’s team won Best theoretical peak performance.

After CHPC put together the national team, Dell flew the winners to the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at its headquarters in Austin, Texas.

In a newsletter reporting about the visit to TACC, Dell wrote that the students asked several questions about accelerators such as the Intel Xeon Phi co-processor, how it differs from graphics processing units (GPUs), and which type of co-processor would work better for the cluster challenge.

The students also asked more specific questions about managing the power consumption of the co-processor, TACC said.

In a statement published on the CHPC’s website earlier this year, the CSIR said that the students presented their design for the IPC’13 Student Cluster Challenge to the team at Dell’s TACC at the end of their week-long trip to Texas.

“The Dell team concluded that the students created a good design for their cluster and that fine tuning should be done via hands-on testing,” the CHPC wrote.

SA ITC13 supercomputer champs - Katlego Moukangwe, Jan-Willem Steeb, Kerren Ortlepp, Ryan Strange, Evelyn Khoboka, Muhammad Atif
From left to right: Katlego Moukangwe, Jan-Willem Steeb, Kerren Ortlepp, Ryan Strange, Evelyn Khoboka, Muhammad Atif

Cluster Configuration

With kit sponsored from Dell, the CHPC team from South Africa used the following setup for its championship supercomputer, according to the Student Cluster Challenge blog:

  • 8x Dell PowerEdge R320/R720 servers;
  • Dual Xeon E5–2660 processors in each server, for a total of 128 CPU cores;
  • 512GB of memory (64GB per node);
  • 8x Nvidia K20 cards; and
  • a Mellanox FDR Infiniband interconnect.

The blog post also noted that while some teams used Intel Phi co-processors as accelerators, Team South Africa opted for GPUs from Nvidia instead.

To win, South Africa had to get the highest aggregate score, 10% of which came from the High Performance Computing Challenge benchmark suite which includes:

  • HPL (Linpack TPP),
  • DGEMM,
  • RandomAccess,
  • FFT, and
  • communications bandwidth and latency.

The next 50% of the score came from running the following applications:

  • MILC,
  • WRF,
  • Two secret applications announced to competitors at the event.

The remaining 40% of the aggregate score comes from an interview with the judges, which Team South Africa “aced”, according to the CHPC.

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SA Supercomputer Champs: how they did it