Student Cluster Competition

SC12 will again feature the Student Cluster Competition as an opportunity to showcase student expertise in a friendly yet spirited competition. Held in collaboration with the Communities Program, the Student Cluster Competition is designed to introduce the next generation of students to the high-performance computing community. Over the last couple years, the competition has drawn teams from around the world, including Europe and Canada, China, Costa Rica, Germany, Russia, and Taiwan.

In this real-time, non-stop 48-hour challenge, teams of six undergraduate or high school students design and assemble a small cluster on the SC exhibit floor and race to demonstrate the greatest sustained performance across a series of applications. The teams have to partner with vendors to design and build a cutting-edge cluster from commercially available components, that does not exceed the 26 amp power limit.

New at SC12 is the addition of a second LittleFe Track to the cluster competition. This track follows the format of the traditional standard "big iron" competition, however, teams will use LittleFe systems. Eligible to apply to this track are teams of any educational institution that has not previously participated in the Student Cluster Competition. Institutions are not allowed to send teams to both tracks.


Questions and Answers

Please, go to to find answers and post questions.


  • Submit proposals via the SC12 submission site at
  • Apply for either Student Cluster Competition: Standard or Student Cluster Competition: Little Fe.
  • The deadline for submissions is May 27, 2012.
  • All teams who consider participating in either competetion should contact the SCC committee prior to the submission of the proposal.

Competition Details

Prior to the competition, teams work with their advisor and vendor partners to design and build a cutting-edge commercially available small cluster constrained by the 26 amps available during the conference. Teams must also learn the four open source competition applications and are encouraged to enlist the help of domain specialists.

During SC12 in Salt Lake City, teams will assemble, test and tune their machines and run the HPCC benchmarks until the starting bell rings on Monday night at the Exhibit Opening Gala where they will be given the competition data sets.

In full view of conference attendees, teams will execute the prescribed workload while showing progress and science visualization output on large high-resolution displays in their areas. Teams race to correctly complete the greatest number of application runs during the competition period until the close of the exhibit floor on Wednesday evening. The showcase portion of the competition, allows teams to spin their wheels and show off what they've learned, and what they can do with the equipment. Veteran HPC experts will be present to judge the visualizations and to interview each team on their cluster and application knowledge.

The winning team will be awarded based on a combined score for workload completed, benchmark performance, and interviews & outreach. Recognition will be given for the highest LINPACK and SCC Fan Favorite. The winning team will be recognized at the SC12 Awards Ceremony luncheon on Thursday.


Competition teams in the Standard Track comprise six (6) student members and a supervisor/mentor. Teams in the LittleFe Track have five (5) student members and a supervisor/mentor. Student members must be enrolled at an educational institution, but MUST NOT have been granted an undergraduate degree (as of the start of the contest). High school students are also eligible and encouraged to participate, either as a team member on a college team, or as a member of a team made up of all high school students.

The required supervisor must be an employee of the team's educational institution. The supervisor is encouraged to mentor the students leading up to the competition. During the competition, the supervisor is responsible for the team at all times and must be available 24 hours a day. While the supervisor is not allowed to provide technical assistance during the competition, he/she is encouraged to run for fuel for their team and cheer during the long nights.

Team members must agree to a number of safety rules for the event. These rules are intended to prevent injury to students and to prevent damage to the facility and the equipment. Among a number of safety rules, contestants will be limited to a maximum of 12 hours per day in the contest area. A safe competition makes a fun competition!

Vendor Partners [Standard Track only]

Teams must partner with one or more vendors, who minimally support team activities by providing cluster hardware for the duration of the competition. To ensure competitiveness of the sponsored team, vendors should provide their team the cluster hardware prior to the competition for practice and preparation, ideally for one month or more.

Vendor partners should provide the necessary technical assistance to ensure the proposed configuration remains under the power budget for the competition.

Vendor partners are strongly encouraged to provide training and interact closely with their teams in designing the computational systems. Vendors may also provide additional financial support, including travel support, booth decoration (signage, swag, and collateral material), etc. As a vendor partner, not only will you be supporting and inspiring the next generation of HPC, but also will benefit from added exhibit floor exposure and having 6 very enthusiastic students describing your technology.

If you are a team in search of a vendor or a vendor in search of a team, please, contact us immediately at to allow us ample time to facilitate a suitable match. Vendor partnerships must be solidified by the final architecture proposal deadline.


Standard Track

The computational hardware (processors, switch, storage, etc.) must fit into a single rack. All components associated with the system, and access to it, must be powered through the two 120- volt, 20-amp circuits, (each with a soft limit of 13 amps) for a total of 26 amps, provided by the conference. Power to each system will be provided via metered power distribution units. The equipment rack must be able to physically hold these metering power strips.

Electronic alarms will be sent if the power draw exceeds the soft limit, and penalties will be assessed for excess draw and/or not responding appropriately to the issue. Other systems (such as laptops and monitors) may be powered from separate power sources provided by the conference.

The computational hardware must be commercially available at the time of competition start (Monday morning) and teams must display, for public view, a complete list of hardware and software used in the system. With the exception of spare components, all computational hardware must be present in the rack and powered at all times, even when idle. It is extremely important that the configuration may not be changed by physically turning equipment on and off.

LittleFe Track

Teams will be provided with the latest version of the LittleFe at the competition site. The hardware components have to be assembled, and teams need to install their choice of operating system and software. Technical specifications of the system can be found at

Prior to the competition teams should get their hands on one of these systems, or build a similar configuration on their own.

Standard and LittleFe Tracks

Teams will be provided a large visual display (LCD or projector), upon which they are to continually showcase their progress through display of the visualization output from the applications and other dynamic content the team chooses. The contest area is in the public area of the conference and the intention is to attract visitors to the contest activities.

A network drop will be provided for outgoing connections only. Offsite access to the computational equipment will not be permitted. Wireless for laptops will be available throughout the convention center via SCinet. Computational hardware may be connected via wired connections only - wireless access is not permitted.

Booths will be 12 x 12 feet and back to a solid wall. Teams must fit into this space for all activities and must have the display visible to the viewing public. Since thermal issues may be a factor, teams should exhaust hot air vertically from their systems.


Teams may choose any operating system and software stack that will run the challenge and display software. Teams may pre-load and test the applications and other software. Teams may study and tune open source benchmarks and applications for their platforms (within the rules, of course).

As part of the SC12 Student Cluster Challenge, each team will be required to run a set of scientific applications. The applications are described below.

  • Classical Molecular Dynamics: LAMMPS

    LAMMPS is a classical molecular dynamics code, and an acronym for Large-scale Atomic/Molecular Massively Parallel Simulator. LAMMPS has potentials for soft materials (biomolecules, polymers) and solid-state materials (metals, semiconductors) and coarse-grained or mesoscopic systems. It can be used to model atoms or, more generically, as a parallel particle simulator at the atomic, meso, or continuum scale. LAMMPS runs on single processors or in parallel using message-passing techniques and a spatial-decomposition of the simulation domain. The code is designed to be easy to modify or extend with new functionality.

  • Quantum Dynamics: QMCPACK

    QMCPACK, framework for Quantum Monte Carlo simulations, implements advanced QMC algorithms. The code development is led by J. Kim and the main contributors are the members of the electron structure group of Profs. Martin and Ceperley at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Climate Modeling: CAM

    The Community Atmosphere Model (CAM) is the latest in a series of global atmosphere models developed at NCAR for the weather and climate research communities. CAM also serves as the atmospheric component of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM).

  • Reactive Flow Modeling: PFLOTRAN

    A number of environmental problems of national importance, e.g. geologic sequestration of CO2, require detailed modeling of reactive flows through geologic media. Typical simulations are very computationally demanding, involving 10 or more chemical degrees of freedom on a grid of millions of nodes. A massively parallel 3-D reservoir simulator, PFLOTRAN, that can model multiphase reactive flows in geologic formations based on continuum scale mass and energy conservation equations has been developed at LANL, PNNL and ORNL through a SciDAC-2 research project. It employs the PETSc toolkit's modular and efficient Newton-Krylov solver framework.

    Domain scientists at LANL, PNNL and ORNL will assist students using PFLOTRAN. A webpage for SC12 cluster competition participants with instructions for building and running PFLOTRAN is coming soon. In the meantime, participants can view the (out of date) web page at and can check out the code ('hg clone') using Mercurial from ''.



A complete team (6 student members and an advisor) must be designated at the time of application submission. Teams must submit a proposal describing:

  • Team members (bios and pictures are appreciated but not required)
  • Why are you participating?
  • Why do you believe that you1ve put together a winning team?
    • What sorts of diversity in skills does your team possess?
    • Why will your team work well together?
    • What experience do you and your team members have?
  • How will your team work together to tune and optimize the application set?
  • General overview of your desired cluster hardware and software configuration (i.e. nodes, cores, memory, interconnect, operating system) [Not applicable for LittleFe track.]
  • For the showcase period of the conference, what demonstrations do you anticipate to impress and attract conference attendees?
  • Explain the commitment of the institution to educating the broader student community about the usefulness and the accessibility of High-Performance Computing at your institution; explain how cluster computing is integrated in the educational curriculum of the proposing institution.


Team selection will be based on the team proposal submitted and will be judged by a panel of high-performance computing experts from industry, academia, and the national laboratories.

For the Standard Track competition a final architecture proposal is required of each accepted team by September 16, 2012. Failure to submit a final architecture proposal will result in automatic disqualification. The final architecture should be closely determined with vendor partner(s), taking into consideration the competition applications. Hardware and software combinations should be generally applicable to any computational science domain. While novel system configurations are encouraged, systems designed to target a single application or just HPC will generally not be favorably considered.

The proposal should contain detailed information about both the hardware being used and the software stack that will be used to participate in the challenge. [Only software for LittleFe Track.] The detail should be sufficient for the judging panel to determine if all the applications will easily port to and run on the computational infrastructure being proposed.