SC is the International Conference for
 High Performnance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis

• An Interview with Tech Program Chair, William Gropp• Overview• Papers• Tutorials• Masterworks• Panels• Posters• Workshops• Birds-of-a-Feather• Doctoral Showcase• Awards• Disruptive Technologies• SC09 Challenges• Bandwidth Challenge• Storage Challenge• Student Cluster Competition • Thrust Areas• Plenary Speakers

SC09 Submission Guidelines and Rules

What do we call a high performance computational cluster combined with six undergraduates, late nights of work, a load of junk food snacks, a really crazy time limit and 26 AMPS of power? – We call it The SC09 Student Cluster Competition. Are you brave enough to take on a challenge such as this? – read on!

The Student Cluster Competition (SCC) is a high performance computational competition that comprises teams of six students each competing in a race to correctly complete the greatest number of applications during the competition period while never exceeding a dictated power limit. Teams are given three – four applications combined with predefined data sets to execute on their cluster. Applications will be announced in April.

The competition starts on Monday during conference week and ends Wednesday evening.
There is a showcase portion of the competition during which teams will be given the chance to show application output on a large high-resolution display on the exhibit floor. The judges will be present during this showcase to observe the visualizations and to interview each team. The winning team is recognized at the SC09 Awards Ceremony luncheon on Thursday.

Important Dates

Submissions Open: April 1, 2009
Submissions Due: July 27, 2009
Acceptance Notification: No later than August 10, 2009

Participant Eligibility

Only students who HAVE NOT been granted an academic four-year degree from a college or university are eligible to apply. High school students are also eligible and encouraged to participate, either as a team member on a college team or as a member of a team made up of all high school students.


A team consists of up to six students, a supervisor, who must be an employee of the team's educational institution. The supervisor is responsible for the team at all times and must be available 24 hours a day during the competition. The supervisor is NOT allowed to provide technical assistance during the competition, but is encouraged to make pizza, snack and soda runs for the team.

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. A safe competition makes a fun competition!

Vendor Partnerships

Teams must partner with one or more vendors, who support team activities by providing cluster hardware; vendor partners may provide training and financial support if they choose to do so. In the vendor partnerships, we highly encourage the vendor system engineers to interact with their teams in designing the computational systems. The educational potential in this opportunity is priceless. These vendor partnerships must be solidified by the application deadline. If you are a team in search of a vendor, or a vendor in search of a team, please contact us immediately. We may be able to facilitate vendor partnerships and to match vendors with teams.

Application: Abstracts/Proposals

Team selection will be based on the proposal submitted by the team and will be judged by a panel of high performance computing experts from industry, academia, and the national laboratories. We are looking for hardware and software combinations that will be generally applicable to any computational science domain. While novel system configurations are encouraged, systems designed to target a single application or just HPC 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. The proposal also should contain information about the demonstrations that will be used during the showcase period of the conference after the challenge is complete. In other words, explain how your team will impress the SC09 conference attendees. Furthermore, in the abstract portion of the application, teams should describe why their team is participating and what makes their team particularly suited to win the competition. Finally, the commitment of the institution to educating the broader student community about the usefulness and the accessibility of High Performance Computing at their institution should be delineated; explain how cluster computing is integrated in the educational curriculum of the proposing institution. The proposal is limited to 4 pages.

Rules: Hardware

The computational hardware (processors, switch, storage, etc.) must fit into a single rack. All components associated with the system, and access to it, must be powered through the two 120-volt, 20-amp circuits, (each with a soft limit of 13 amps), provided by the conference. Power to each system will be provided via metered power distribution units. The equipment rack must be able to physically hold these metering power strips.

Electronic alarms will be sent if the power draw exceeds the soft limit, and penalties may be assessed for excess draw and/or not responding appropriately to the issue. Other systems (such as laptops and monitors) may be powered from separate power sources provided by the conference.

The computational hardware must be commercially available at the time of competition start (Monday evening) and teams must display, for public view, a complete list of hardware and software used in the system. With the exception of spare components, all computational hardware must be present in the rack and powered at all times, even when idle. It is extremely important that the configuration may not be changed by physically turning equipment on and off.

Teams will be provided a large visual display (LCD or projector), upon which they are to continually showcase their progress through display of 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. Offsite access to the computational equipment will not be permitted. 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.

Booths will be 12 x 12 feet and back to a solid wall. Teams must fit into this space for all activities and must have the display visible to the viewing public. Since thermal issues may be a factor, teams should exhaust hot air vertically from their systems.

Rules: Software

Teams may choose any operating system and software stack that will run the contest and display software. Teams may pre-load and test the applications and other software.

At the start of the event, teams will first run the HPC Challenge benchmarks found at: The teams will submit the benchmark results prior to obtaining data for the applications. Once benchmarks have been submitted, they may not be re-run.

Teams must capture all output produced by the applications, including the command-line responses and text output to the terminal window used to launch the application (stdout and stderr in Unix terms).

The event will strive to provide more data than the teams can expect to process in the time allotted. One aspect of the contest will be determining the strategy for running the applications to maximize the team's points. Teams may study the applications and modify them for their platforms, in advance of the event, with the restriction that only the student team members may edit the applications–no outside help!

The contest will be formed from the applications listed below, with the final list announced prior to the contest to give teams an opportunity to finalize their strategy.

Benchmarks: HPCC

Since 1986, the high performance computing community has used LINPACK to rate their systems. LINPACK solves a dense system of linear equations. The historical and current listings of high-performance systems are available on the top500 website at Recently, the HPCC benchmarks, which include LINPACK, have been growing in popularity. The Student Cluster Competition will use this benchmark suite.

HPCC was developed to study future Petascale computing systems, and is intended to provide a realistic measurement of modern computing workloads. HPCC is made up of seven common computational kernels: STREAM, HPL, DGEMM (matrix multiply), PTRANS (parallel matrix transpose), FFT, RandomAccess, and b_eff (bandwidth/latency tests). The benchmarks attempt to measure high and low spatial and temporal locality space. The tests are scalable, and can be run on a wide range of platforms, from single processors to the largest parallel supercomputers.

The HPCC benchmarks test three particular regimes: local or single processor, embarrassingly parallel, and global, where all processors compute and exchange data with each other. STREAM measures a processor's memory bandwidth. HPL is the LINPACK TPP (Toward Peak Performance) benchmark; RandomAccess measures the rate of random updates of memory; PTRANS measures the rate of transfer of very large arrays of data from memory; b_eff measures the latency and bandwidth of increasingly complex communication patterns.

All of the benchmarks are run in two modes: base and optimized. The base run allows no source modifications of any of the benchmarks, but allows generally available optimized libraries to be used. The optimized benchmark allows significant changes to the source code. The optimizations can include alternative programming languages and libraries that are specifically targeted for the platform being tested.

The team results of the HPCC portion of the Cluster Competition will be announced on Tuesday when the TOP500 committee meets with the public to announce the new TOP500 list. Cluster Competition Teams are encourage to be present during this presentation.

A C compiler and an implementation of MPI are required to run the benchmark suite. The report, Introduction to the HPC Challenge Benchmark Suite, by Dongarra and Luszczek describes how HPCC was used at SC06:



NWChem is a computational chemistry package that is designed to run on high-performance parallel supercomputers as well as conventional workstation clusters. It aims to be scalable both in its ability to treat large problems efficiently, and in its usage of available parallel computing resources. NWChem has been developed by the Molecular Sciences Software group of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL) at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). Most of the implementation has been funded by the EMSL Construction Project.

NWChem provides many methods to compute the properties of molecular and periodic systems using standard quantum mechanical descriptions of the electronic wavefunction or density. In addition, NWChem has the capability to perform classical molecular dynamics and free energy simulations. These approaches may be combined to perform mixed quantum-mechanics and molecular-mechanics simulations.

NWChem is available on almost all high performance computing platforms, workstations, PCs running LINUX, as well as clusters of desktop platforms or workgroup servers. NWChem development has been devoted to providing maximum efficiency on massively parallel processors.


The Chombo package provides a set of tools for implementing finite difference methods for the solution of partial differential equations on block-structured adaptively refined rectangular grids. Both elliptic and time-dependent modules are included. Support for parallel platforms and standardized self-describing file formats are included.

Chombo provides a distributed infrastructure for parallel calculations over block-structured, adaptively refined grids. Chombo's design is uniquely flexible and accessible. Any collaborator will be able to develop parallel applications to solve the partial differential equations in which she is interested with far shorter development times than would be possible without the infrastructure. Very careful design and documentation allows said collaborator to enter the software at many levels. She will be able to use Chombo to investigate deep technical issues of adaptive mesh refinement algorithms or to simply adapt the example applications to solve different scientific problems.


The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model is a next-generation mesocale numerical weather prediction system designed to serve both operational forecasting and atmospheric research needs. It features multiple dynamical cores, a 3-dimensional variational (3DVAR) data assimilation system, and a software architecture allowing for computational parallelism and system extensibility. WRF is suitable for a broad spectrum of applications across scales ranging from meters to thousands of kilometers.


VisIt is a free interactive parallel visualization and graphical analysis tool for viewing scientific data on Unix and PC platforms. Users can quickly generate visualizations from their data, animate them through time, manipulate them, and save the resulting images for presentations. VisIt contains a rich set of visualization features so that you can view your data in a variety of ways. It can be used to visualize scalar and vector fields defined on two- and three-dimensional (2D and 3D) structured and unstructured meshes. VisIt was designed to handle very large data set sizes in the terascale range and yet can also handle small data sets in the kilobyte range.
Click here for more information.

Competition Judging Criteria

The goal of the event is to run the HPC Challenge benchmarks and scientific applications chosen to be OS-neutral and to provide real-world workloads. Points will be awarded for successful processing of data sets and displaying output on the monitors for visitors to observe. Points are awarded for the students understanding and comprehension of the software applications and the interpretation of the results the software has produced.

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