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Student Cluster Competition

The Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC), a division of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), annually hosts a Human Capital Development (HCD) program for undergraduate students currently enrolled in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields at South African universities, where they spend an intensive week during the winter vacation period being trained in aspects of high performance computing (HPC). Students are provided with remote computing resources, hosted at the Advanced Computer Engineering (ACE) Laboratory in Cape Town.

From the candidates that participate in this first preliminary round, ten qualifying teams, comprising of four student participants and one mentor, then participate at the National Integrated Cyber Infrastructure Systems (NICIS) CHPC’s Annual National Conference, with high performance computer equipment sponsored and provided for by our various vendors and sponsors. The team that wins this secondary round is then sponsored and supported by the CHPC to travel to Austin, Texas, in the United States of America to train at the University of Texas’s, Texas Advanced Computing Center and the headquarters of Dell Labs. Following this they travel to the International Super Computing Conference to participate at the International Student Cluster Competition, in Hamburg, Germany against competitors from all around the world.

What's it about?

In the SCC selection round up to 20 teams of 4 undergraduate students from universities and academic institutions across South Africa come together to learn about the fundamentals of high performance computing (HPC). This is a weeklong training event that takes place in the winter vacation period. The selection round features daily lectures, workshops and tutorials where students are given the opportunity to theoretically and practically learn about HPC and what it takes to configure an HPC system. Over the course of the week the students take what knowledge they have gained and use it to design an HPC system optimised to solve a particular application problem. Although a challenging experience, the selection round equips students with HPC knowledge and skills that are not presently available to undergraduates in South Africa. Student progress throughout the week is evaluated by a diverse team of judges. The 10 top-performing teams are given the opportunity to compete at the Nationals Round of the competition, which takes place in the first week of December at the CHPC National Conference. 

During the SCC national round, qualifying teams are given a chance to put into practice the knowledge they gained during the selection round. Prior to this event, student teams are given a budget and can procure HPC equipment to build a cluster of their choosing. The designed cluster must be put to the test, with student teams competing for the fastest benchmarking results for several provided applications. The pressure and the stakes are high at the national round, with a plethora of sponsored prizes for the top three teams. The winning team of four, as well as two reserves that are selected from the runner-up team, are awarded the opportunity of a lifetime competing internationally at the student cluster competition at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Germany.

During the course of January and February each year, the winning team of 4 students, 2 students selected from the 2nd and 3rd placed teams, and 2 reserves (students from any of the ten teams, who specifically demonstrated exceptional initiative and excellence), travel to Austin, Texas in the United States of America.

The students spend time at Dell Technologies Laboraties, where they attend intensive technology evaluation sessions on the latest developments and offerings that have been integrated by the vendor. These offerings range from those of AMD, ARM, Intel, NVIDIA and various other technology developers and innovators.

At International Super Computing (ISC) Conference’s Student Cluster Competition (SCC), six students from the winning team travel to Germany to compete on an international stage against teams from across America, Europe, and Asia. The ISC team members undergo rigorous training in the months prior to this event. South Africa’s Team CHPC has historically performed exceptionally well, with four gold medals, three silver medals and 1 bronze medal.