The cluster challenge is one of the coolest events at SC07. Six teams of undergraduate students build small clusters on the exhibition floor and then race to complete a long set of computational benchmarks. The teams are limited to 26 amps of electricity, which puts a premium on power-conscious hardware. The benchmarks include standards (like HPCC) alongside GAMESS, POV-RAY, and POP. The organizer of the challenge told me that he doesn’t expect any of the teams to successfully compile and execute all the benchmarks.
Today I helped setup the cluster challenge and chatted with several teams about their hardware. Most teams are using multi-core Xeon architectures, with various flavors of Infiniband. Indiana University is using an experimental Myrinet interconnection, which is probably very fast but a headache for driver-support. Purdue is the only team using an Opteron chipset, which might introduce unexpected electrical limitations. Stonybrook University is using a large number of relatively slow Xeon CPUs (1.86 Ghz), with a total of 100 processing cores. Stonybrook’s strategy might give them an advantage with respect to parallelism.
The annual exhibitor party was held at the National Bowling Stadium, a.k.a. the “Taj Mahal of Tenpins.” This place is so ripe for parody, I’ll bite my tongue. After the bowling fest, I met T.M. from the University of Tennessee. This is interesting: TM is a philosopher who now works in high-performance computing. He recommends the writings of Charles Sanders Pierce.