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Stony Brook ­niversity Students Win Sc09 Cluster Competition

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A team of six computer-savvy Stony Brook University undergraduates won first place honors in the SC09 Student Cluster Competition during the annual, internationally-acclaimed Supercomputing Conference held at Portland, Ore., November 14-20, 2009. The Student Cluster Competition comprises teams of university students who deploy cluster computers and then run scientific applications to obtain optimum performance.

Teams taking part in the Student Cluster Competition were charged with showing a proficiency in two categories — specialized benchmarking, and use of specific scalable scientific applications. Students were asked to efficiently integrate and install the cluster application using vendor-sponsored hardware. The project had to be achieved while working under the constraints of limited power of no more than 3,120 Watts (120 volts and 26 amps).

The victorious Stony Brook team was led by Aaron Pellman-Isaacs, a senior in Biology from Brooklyn, NY. Pellman-Isaacs was joined by Anthony Biondo, a freshman in Computer Science from Syosset, NY; William Chan, a senior in Applied Mathematics from Manhattan, NY; Yuwei (Ethan) Gui, a senior in Computer Science from Nanchang, China; Jan Kasiak, a freshman in Computer Science from Syosset, NY; and Xin Cheng Zhang, a sophomore in Mathematics and Computer Science from Fuzhou, China.

Professor Jim Jiao of the Applied Mathematics and Statistics Department took on the role of faculty coach for the team.

"It was incredibly exciting to win," Pellman-Isaacs says. "The conference itself is staggering in scope and scale. Winning was a gratifying confirmation of the ability of Stony Brook students to work together. The dedication was remarkable and I was proud to have them as a team."

Stony Brook edged out three formidable teams in the final of the SC09 Student Cluster Competition — Purdue University, the University of Colorado, and Arizona State University.

"The feeling of winning was pretty intense because I felt like it was a very close competition," Chan says. "All of the teams were putting in a lot of effort pulling all-nighters. I was pretty nervous when they were about to announce the winners. I just didn't expect the victory."

Among the many challenges the Stony Brook team had to deal with was when one of their initial hardware vendors backed away from the project a month before the Portland conference. Fortunately, Dell stepped in to provide the team with hardware a week before they left for Portland.

In earning first place, judges complimented the Stony Brook team for their overall body of work, and in particular cited the SBU team for their ability to excel in applications runs as well as for the presentation and visualization of their results.

"The students worked very hard during the competition, which lasted three days," Jiao says. "They slept very little, but always maintained high spirits. They coordinated very well in the running of the applications, resolving unexpected hardware failures, and also in post-processing the results of the application runs. Their incredible efforts led to the winning of our team."

The Stony Brook team was sponsored by three major forces in the world of computer technology — Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Dell Inc., and Mellanox Technologies. The winning system the Stony Brook team integrated for the competition was composed of five Dell PowerEdge M905 blade servers, with 20 AMD 6-core "Istanbul" Opteron processors, with 384 Gbytes of memory, and Mellanox's QDR 40-Gbits/second InfiniBand interconnect. The software applications all teams used in the competition were the NWChem chemical modeling tool, the VisIt scientific visualization and graphical analysis tool, the Weather Research and Forecasting model, and Chombo tools for solving complex partial differential equations.

The SC09 supercomputing conference is a comprehensive symposium that highlights high-performance computing, networking, storage and analysis. The conference is considered the biggest international convention of its type and attracts over 11,000 researchers, scientists, engineers and computer experts.


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