UT students seize first place in computing competition

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A team of six UT students won the SC12 Student Cluster Competition by building a high-performance computing system while competing against teams from around the world in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The competition required six-person teams of undergraduate or high school students to partner with vendors to create a computer cluster from commercially available technology that could be powered by no more than 26 amps. Three standard coffeemakers would run on about 26 amps. A cluster is a network of computers that are wired together to distribute data and process information.

This was the third time UT participated in the competition, which is in its seventh year and is part of an international computing conference. The competition included students from around the country as well as teams from Europe, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Russia and Taiwan.

The students prepared for the competition with help from the faculty at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which covered the cost of the equipment. John Lockman, statistics graduate student and team mentor, said the students practiced their skills at the center before competing.

“A lot of the preparation was here at [the center] so they could work with a lot of the equipment to understand how they would use it,” Lockman said. “They also ran some of the standard benchmarks that they would during the competition.”

The two-part competition consisted of initially creating the cluster and a 48-hour challenge to stress the cluster’s capabilities. The system ran applications containing large amounts of scientific data, including a program that could predict weather patterns.

Physics junior Julian Michael, who participated in the competition, said it required strategic planning because it was designed to give the teams more applications than the system could actually run.

“Through the whole competition, they had a cap on our power usage. More than anything else, this was a test of how efficiently we could build and run our system,” Michael said.

Computer science senior Anant Rathi, another participant, said after months of preparation the team decided to make a few last-minute technical changes to its plans, which helped it win the competition.

“In addition to learning about computing science and system administration, it taught me a lot about teamwork and innovative problem solving,” Rathi said. “We had to make some game-changing decisions. It was great to know our judgment calls were correct.”

Computer science senior Michael Teng said aside from the competition the conference demonstrated the latest innovations in the industry.

“It was a great opportunity to learn more about the field and use state-of-the-art technology in the process,” Teng said. “There are a lot of new technologies displayed and announced at the conference. The growth of the industry is key to scientific and technological advances for the foreseeable future.”

Printed on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 as: Students snag first place in computing challenge