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Problem Solving

The Power of Parallel Problem Solving

After a completely online 2020 the 2021 student teams for this year’s CIUK Student Cluster Challenge were able to meet and compete onsite at Manchester Central. Having weathered four online challenges and with only a point separating them, Team Durham and Team Bristol/Bath entered the convention centre as equals ready to face the onsite challenges set by this year’s sponsors.

Having built up their knowledge on GPUs and the Alces Flight environment, the Flight Crew wanted to see how well their newly acquired skills held up through a set of three challenges. Utilising public cloud on Microsoft Azure and compute nodes provided by Dell EMC, the teams were set a ‘practical’ challenge on assisting a researcher with their simulation project, a ‘traditional’ benchmarking exercise… and an HPC scavenger hunt.

“We wanted the finale to touch on all aspects of supercomputing,” said Cristin Merritt, Program Manager for Alces Flight. “In our first challenge we were focused heavily on technical skill sets. But now, with the opportunity to interact in-person, we wanted to see how the team would work together strategically to solve problems that had them interacting with conference organisers and exhibitors.”

The three challenges were designed to run in parallel, allowing both teams the opportunity to play to their group strengths. “In the field of HPC we have many groups and individuals working together to solve problems. In each challenge we gave the students a brief that would be very similar to ones we see in our integration work. From bringing new researchers into an HPC environment, to ensuring the hardware we install and manage is in prime shape, to reaching out to partners and collaborators to get answers to questions — in two hours the teams got to see a little bit of everything HPC has to offer.”

The teams were set to tackle:

OpenFOAM RSE Challenge

Using a researcher brief the teams had to tease out what a typical user wished to achieve — installing, running, and optimising a workflow in OpenFOAM on an OpenFlight HPC cluster built on Microsoft Azure.

HPL System Administration Challenge

Utilising identical Dell EMC compute nodes the teams had to reconfigure their hardware, install and run the HPL benchmark looking for the highest Gflops rating… and navigating a few purposeful barriers set up along the way.

HPC Scavenger Hunt

Teams were handed a list of keywords, people, and activities associated with the CIUK Conference, HPC, and even the city of Manchester. Utilising phone cameras (and a lot of creativity), the teams set about finding and capturing each item.

In the end Team Bristol/Bath took the challenge by 6 points, which set them on the path of winning the overall CIUK Student Cluster Challenge.

“We were so pleased to see the students working together and taking all three challenges in parallel,” said Cristin, “Big congratulations to Team Bristol/Bath, and the Flight Crew looks forward to returning to the CIUK Student Cluster Challenge in 2022.”

If you would like to talk to the Alces Flight team about how we build, manage and grow HPC clusters and cluster environments you can read more or get in touch.

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