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SCC Competition Rules & Submission Guidelines

Prior to the Student Cluster Competition, a team works with its advisor and vendor partners to design and build a cutting-edge, commercially available small cluster constrained by the 3120-watt (26-amp) power limit.

NOTE:  If you are a team in search of a vendor partner or a vendor partner in search of a team, please contact us immediately at student-cluster-competition@info.supercomputing.org to allow us ample time to facilitate a suitable match.

Teams must also learn the four open-source competition applications, which are listed in the “Competition Applications” section. Teams are encouraged to enlist the help of domain specialists to assist with building, tuning, and understanding how the applications work. A mystery application will be revealed on Monday morning prior to the official competition kick-off Monday night at the SC15 Exhibit Opening Gala.

During SC15 in Austin, teams will assemble, test, and tune their machines and run the HPL benchmark along with the competition applications.  At the competition start, on Monday night at the Exhibit Opening Gala, teams will be given the competition data sets for all four applications. In full view of conference attendees, teams will execute the prescribed workload while showing progress and science visualization output on large high-resolution displays in their areas. Teams race to correctly complete the workload during the competition period until the close of the exhibit floor on Wednesday evening.

The showcase portion of the competition allows teams to show off what they’ve learned and what they can do with their equipment. Veteran HPC experts will be present to judge the visualizations and to interview each team on their cluster and application knowledge.

The winning team will be determined based on a combined score for workload completed, benchmark performance, conference attendance, and interviews. Recognition will be given for the highest LINPACK performance. The winning teams will be recognized at the SC15 Awards Ceremony luncheon on Thursday.

Competition teams comprise six (6) student members and an advisor.

Student members must be enrolled at an educational institution, but MUST NOT have been granted an undergraduate degree (as of the start of the contest). High school students are also eligible and encouraged to participate, either as team members on a college team or as members of a team made up entirely of high school students. Teams may be composed of members from multiple educational institutions, including teams with combined high school and college members.

The required advisor must be an employee affiliated with a team’s educational institution. The advisor is encouraged to mentor the students leading up to the competition. Teams are encouraged to work with more individuals from their institutions other than just their advisor, but only the advisor will receive sponsorship from the competition. During the competition, the advisor is responsible for the team at all times and must be available 24 hours a day. While the advisor is not allowed to provide technical assistance during the competition, he/she is encouraged to run for fuel for their team and cheer during the long nights.

Teams are responsible for a portion of the costs associated with participation. Teams must provide their cluster hardware, shipping costs, team transportation (airfare and/or ground transportation) to SC15 and some meal costs. The Student Cluster Competition Committee encourages teams to get as much financial support as possible from vendor partners to help offset our costs and enable us to bring as many teams as possible.  The committee is actively working to raise funds to help cover registration, hotel, and exhibition costs; some food will be provided as part of SC15 breaks or social events.[1]  Teams are required to have vendor partners (see next section) to help offset the required costs.

Team members must agree to a number of safety rules for the event. These rules are intended to prevent injury to students and to prevent damage to the facility and the equipment. Among a number of safety rules, each contestant will be limited to a maximum of 12 hours per day in the contest area. A safe competition makes a fun competition!

New this year:  preference will be given to teams that have not competed for more than two consecutive years.  However, a repeat team can create a hybrid team with an institution that is new to SCC, which will be considered a new team.  The SCC organizers highly encourage cross-institutional collaborations to broaden the reach of HPC.  If you are a repeat team that is interested in sharing your knowledge with others and want to form a hybrid team, please contact us if you need help to find a partner institution.   

Vendor Partners
We are always looking for additional partners. As a team partner, you will not only support and inspire the next-generation of HPC experts but also will benefit from added exhibit floor exposure and having a group of enthusiastic students describing your technology.

Teams are responsible for obtaining their cluster hardware and transporting it to the Convention Center. We encourage teams to look at partnership from hardware and software vendors, supercomputing centers and national labs, and other businesses. Teams must have one or more partners to provide cluster hardware for the duration of the competition. Partners are encouraged to provide additional financial support, including hotel, booth decoration (signage, swag and collateral material), per diem, and so on. This year teams must fund their own air/ground transportation to Austin for the competition. More assistance from partners allows us to invite more teams to compete.

In all cases, teams should be sure to have their cluster hardware for practice and preparation, ideally for one month or more prior to the competition. Sponsors should provide the necessary technical assistance to ensure that the proposed configuration remains under the power budget for the competition. They are strongly encouraged to provide training and interact closely with their teams in designing the computational systems.

Booths will be 10 feet x 10 feet and back to a solid wall or curtain. Teams must fit into this space for all activities and must have the display visible to the viewing public.

The computational hardware (processors, switch, storage, etc.) must fit into an enclosure no larger than a single 42U rack, which must be provided by the team. Since thermal issues may be a factor, teams should exhaust hot air vertically from their systems.

The hardware must be commercially available at the time of competition start (Monday morning) and teams must display, for public view, a complete list of hardware and software used in the system.

With the exception of spare components, no changes to the physical configuration are permitted after the start of the competition. Use of sleep states (no power off and no hibernation) is permitted as long as when all systems in the rack are powered on into their lowest running OS (non-sleep) state, they do not exceed the power limitation. Teams are therefore not permitted to bring more equipment than could fit into the power limitation while all equipment is powered on with a running OS. Other systems (such as laptops and monitors) may be powered from separate power sources provided by the Conference.

A 42” VGA LCD display will be provided that should be used to continually showcase application progress through the visualization output from the applications and other dynamic content the team chooses. The contest area is in the public area of the Conference and the intention is to attract visitors to the contest activities.

A network drop will be provided for outgoing connections only. Teams will NOT be permitted to access their clusters from outside the local network. Wireless for laptops will be available throughout the convention center via SCinet. Computational hardware may be connected via wired connections only – wireless access is not permitted.

All components associated with the system, and access to it, must be powered through the 120-volt range, 20-amp circuits provided by the Conference:

Two circuits, each with a soft limit of 1560-watt, will be provided. Power from each circuit will be provided via a Geist RCXRN102-102D20TL5-D PDU. Teams should tune their equipment never to exceed the 1560-watt limit on each of the two PDUs. Teams should be prepared to tune their hardware’s power consumption based on the power reported by the PDUs’ power monitor, which teams will be able to read from the PDUs’ LED readouts as well as over Ethernet via SNMP.

Electronic alarms will be sent if the power draw on either PDU exceeds the 1560-watt soft limit, and point penalties will be assessed for each alarm and for not responding appropriately to the issue in a timely manner. If a team registers over 1560-watt at any time, they will be subject to penalty. Teams are subject to penalization or disqualification if they ever register 1800-watt (15-amp at 120-volt) or more for any duration. Teams should never approach the 20-amp physical limit of the PDU circuit, since convention center power also uses a 20 amp breaker which may blow before the PDU causing delays for the team as well as aggravation and expense for competition organizers.

New this year:  USB 3 drives will be provided to teams this year to provide input decks and retrieve output.

Portable Hard Drives

Students must provide all results to be scored on the portable hard drive provided by the competition that contained the input data sets. Instructions on where to put the results and what format to provide them in will be given on an application by application basis. Hard drives must be handed in by 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18 (Central time). Any team that has not handed in their hard drive by this time will receive no points for the competition. Teams are encouraged to retain a copy of their results on their cluster storage in case of any issues with the portable hard drive. All clusters should be powered down at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18. At 5:05 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, all power will be cut to the circuits powering the clusters for the Student Cluster Competition. If there is any technical issue with the portable hard drive the team will work in conjunction with an official from the Student Cluster Competition to retrieve archived results from their cluster.
System Software
Teams may choose any operating system and software stack that will run the challenges and display software. Teams may pre-load and test the applications and other software. Teams may study and tune the open-source benchmarks and applications for their platforms (within the rules, of course). We encourage teams to use schedulers to run their clusters autonomously while they enjoy other aspects of the conference.    

Architecture Proposal
Each accepted team must submit a final architecture proposal by October 2, 2015. Failure to submit a final architecture proposal will result in automatic disqualification. The final architecture should be closely determined with sponsors, taking into consideration the competition applications. Hardware and software combinations should be generally applicable to any computational science domain. While novel system configurations are encouraged, systems designed to target a single application or benchmark will generally not be favorably considered. The proposal should contain detailed information about both the hardware being used and the software stack that will be used to participate in the challenge. The detail should be sufficient for the judging panel to determine if all the applications will easily port to and run on the computational infrastructure being proposed.