SC20 Student Cluster Competition Moves to the Cloud

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Dell Technologies

A record number of teams will compete in a 100% virtual, cloud-based competition

Since 2007, teams of high school and undergraduate students from around the world have converged at the Supercomputing (SC) conference to pit their prowess against the best of the best in the much-anticipated Student Cluster Competition (SCC). As part of the Students@SC program, the competition is designed to be a microcosm of a modern high-performance computing (HPC) data center or lab, requiring multi-disciplinary skills to beat out the tough competition.

Participants showcase their talents during a 72-hour challenge where they must complete a set of benchmarks and real-world scientific workloads within the competition’s parameters. In addition to bragging rights, the competition also gives students a chance to network with the HPC community at large, with the goal of both teaching and inspiring students to pursue careers in supercomputing.

The competition at SC20 is unique in two respects this year. First, because SC20 itself will be a virtual conference, the SCC has moved to the cloud, and is now called Virtual Student Cluster Competition (VSCC). Teams are still comprised of six students, an advisor and a vendor partner. Microsoft Azure is providing the cloud credits for the competition. One of the new wrinkles to the competition is that teams must stay within a cloud budget instead of a power budget, as has been the case in years past.

Holding the competition in the cloud introduces some exciting opportunities for the students to learn how to adapt their HPC models to the cloud, deploy them with Microsoft Azure, and optimize them for a novel environment.

The second unique factor in this year’s competition is that a record number of teams — seventeen altogether — have signed up. According to SC20 VSCC Co-Chair Verónica G. Melesse Vergara, from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “Holding the competition in the cloud also allows us to reach a much wider audience by providing access that before would only have been available to in-person participants. Plus, the virtual format reduces cost barriers that have prohibited smaller institutions from applying to the SCC in the past. This will be a great opportunity for the teams to learn a whole set of extra skills in addition to HPC. Having experience in cloud environments will also provide students with an advantage when they enter the workforce.”

The experience is sure to give participants an advantage as they embark on their future careers. Hybrid cloud HPC has already taken hold in large enterprises and is making significant inroads into the small to medium business (SMB) segment, where the cloud allows companies to pay for HPC and artificial intelligence (AI) capacity as needed without large capital expenditures. In fact, 90% of SMBs reported that they will access AI capabilities in some way this year and 75% said they plan to or are already training employees on these technologies.[1] It’s clear that companies of all sizes will be looking for staff with experience running HPC workloads in the cloud.

Good luck to all the participants!   

To learn more:

[1] Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper Commissioned by Dell Technologies and Intel, “AI, HPC and Cloud: A Spotlight on SMB,” August 2020.

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