The road to Germany: How the winning team is chosen

Publication Date: 
Thursday, June 20, 2019

The selection of the student team to represent South Africa at the International Supercomputing Conference starts with an invitation to universities from around the country so that students from all backgrounds are given a chance to learn and compete.

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Selecting teams for participation in the South African round

The team selection phase is designed to impart critical knowledge for building a cluster, which includes using Linux systems, the basic software stack of a cluster, and considerations which should be taken into account when choosing hardware. Universities around the country are invited to send teams of four and the CSIR ensures that teams are entered from as many universities as possible, so that students from all backgrounds are given a chance to learn and compete. Team selection concludes with an assignment which requires each team to build a prototype cluster in the cloud. The teams selected from this round proceed to the national round of the Student Cluster Competition.

Getting to Team South Africa: Competing nationally

In the national CHPC Student Cluster Competition participants build small high-performance clusters out of hardware provided by the CHPC and its industrial partners. The contest takes place at the annual CHPC National Conference. The participants are given a selection of applications to optimise and run on their cluster to demonstrate the performance of their design. 

Each team is assigned a budget and a parts list from one of the CHPC's industry partners. With this budget and parts list, the team must design a cluster, taking into consideration the set of applications that will be used to benchmark the cluster. Once the cluster's design is finalised, the hardware specification is submitted to the CHPC's partners for manufacturing.

The hardware, as specified in the cluster design, is delivered to the CHPC National Conference. There, the teams construct their cluster, install the software stack and perform benchmarks. The teams are judged on a combination of the performance of the applications and the design of the cluster.

South African team representatives go through extensive training after winning the national round, including travelling to the Dell headquarters and the Texas Advanced Computing Centre in the United States of America, where they receive training from experienced administrators of supercomputing clusters on the design and administration of supercomputers.

Taking on the world’s best

The winning team from the national competition, with two additional individuals selected from the other teams by the judges, is entered into the Student Cluster Competition, held annually at the International Supercomputing Conference in Germany. Competitors typically include China, the United States of America, Germany and the United Kingdom.